Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Really Freakin' Good Day

So far:

1) I weighed myself, and over the course of the month of January I have lost 10 lbs! Hurrah! Now, of course, I have like 40 more to lose, but the point is, hurrah!
2) My chair, after guilting me for never seeing me, wants to nominate me for Very Awesome Campuswide Award. Apparently I'm going to have to put together a bunch of crap for it (for what's an award if one doesn't have to do a bunch of annoying crap in order to get it), but in my secret heart I've always wanted this award? Am very excited and very flattered that my Chair wants me to be in the running! (There are like 4 other people in my dept. who'd be eligible this year, so it's pretty amazing that he's chosen me.)
3) It's payday.

Yes, I think that's all.

ETA: Holy fucking shit! The day gets BETTER and BETTER! a) I am having delicious potato/cheese soup for lunch (because I have been without the potato for weeks and I am missing it and would like to marry the potato) and b) I just received correspondence from Really Fucking Awesome Journal that my MLA paper came to their attention and they'd like to consider publishing the full length article! (which, of course, does not exist, and this was going to be my year of no research, except clearly I will be writing this article because I really want to be published in RFAJ and, well, clearly I'm a workaholic). I love today! Today is the most awesome day EVER!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why I *ENJOY* Teaching (which is TOTALLY not why I teach "Lit'rature")

This post is inspired by New Kid.

  • I enjoy shaking my students up. I enjoy shaking them out of complacency. I enjoy when they say, "I totally don't believe in any of the things that seem to be foundational to this course but I'm excited to see what I might learn."
  • I enjoy when they're all talking and all I'm doing is saying "Ok, you're 1, you're 2, and you're 3, 4, and 5," and they just talk and talk and talk about the material.
  • I enjoy when I read a reaction paper that says "I was worried when I took this course that it would be a 60-year-old woman who hadn't had sex in three years teaching it" mainly because I'm vain and that means that they think I actually have regular sex just from looking at me:) (Perhaps that's too much information, but it did make me feel better about myself today.)
  • I enjoy that I have students who are freaked out about difficult material and they email me to say that they don't know how to ask for help, even though that is actually asking for help, because they're comfortable enough with me to know that I won't judge them for being totally insecure. (And the material is wicked-difficult, and this student is awesome, and I love that this student is that comfortable with me and at least intuitively knows I won't judge her.)
  • I enjoy those moments when I'm teaching material that shocks them where they think that what I've built up as shocking is totally fine and normal.
  • I enjoy when my students notice the language of a text - talk about it as great writing - when it challenges their persona belief systems.
  • I enjoy that I know what's going on in my students' lives and when that contributes to my interactions with them, even though I like at first to come off as a meanie.
  • I enjoy that so many of my lit majors who've taken multiple classes with me and who are brilliant and engaged have absolutely no interest in grad school but rather that, because of what they've read in my classes, they would rather become novelists (Literary novelists, at that). Because they'd rather make art than criticize it.
  • I enjoy that my students seem to think that the books that I choose for them to read are fun to read (and yes, this is another vain thing, but still).
  • I enjoy that students are engaged enough to take classes with me that are outside of their immediate areas of interest, just because they learn from me (god, I'm so vain. I bet I think this song is about me).
  • I enjoy when my students say a brilliant thing that has nothing at all to do with me but rather with what they bring to the texts that I teach ( and this is ultimately more gratifying and more interesting than all the things I've listed about me).
And, at the end of the day, I enjoy teaching because I *totally* enjoy just getting to know my students. I enjoy when they resist me, and I enjoy when they have that epiphanic moment in a class that changes the way they've thought about things. I enjoy teaching students who are non-majors and showing them that literature is for them, too, even if it's not something they're totally invested in as a career path. I enjoy that moment when they realize that they're not just taking a course for a requirement but when they're actually getting something out of it.

So those are things that I enjoy about teaching. I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones that occur to me right at this moment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Scaffolding and the Writing Process

So one of the things that I'm doing this semester is I'm putting together an online course (for the first time) that will serve as a capstone to an interdisciplinary program on campus. This will be the very first time this course is offered in any form, so other than having to meet the requirement that it's writing intensive and that students do their own research, and that it's online, I can do whatever I want.

I've been working on this course over the past week or two (conceptualizing it - I'll be dealing with the tech stuff once I've got the other stuff going a bit) and most of my time has been spent thinking about how to foster conversation in a class where we will never meet. Also, given the writing intensive requirement of the course, I've been thinking about how to structure writing assignments and link them together so that the course builds to a crescendo in terms of sophistication and difficulty.

One of the things that I've spent the most time thinking about in this context, though is how informality and conversation are essential to strong formal writing. In the material classroom (as opposed to the virtual), it is rare that I lecture in more than 5-minute increments, and I think that one of the things that I do best as a teacher is to get a conversation going in a classroom, in which students are responding to one another and not just spitting out answers to questions that I ask. I do a lot of small group discussion and activities that get students jotting down ideas so that they can then bring those ideas to the larger group. On the one hand, a benefit of this sort of teaching style is that it makes the time in class fly by for them and for me. On the other, though, students are getting practice with taking risks because in these situations, they can't labor over each sentence, ponder the consistency of their responses and eliminate anything that offends consistency, think about what I want to hear from them and then produce it. There just isn't time for all of that, all of that which I think we typically associate with written - as opposed to spoken - language.

As I've taught more, I've come to really see these sorts of informal forums for analysis (whether it's group work, participating on a class discussion board, trading incredibly rough drafts in peer review) as crucial to pushing students beyond competent and yet somehow stale writing. I've built more "levels" of writing into my syllabus, so that students are doing some writing that is no-stakes (in-class, not to be turned in); some that is low-stakes (informal but to be turned in for credit though not assigned a formal grade); some that is medium stakes (more formal, assigned a letter grade, but worth only a small amount of the final grade); some that is high stakes (conventional analysis essays or research papers, worth a substantial portion of the final grade). By building in these four "levels" of writing activity, I think I've provided my students a framework within which they've become deeper thinkers, more complicated thinkers, and stronger writers.

And in thinking about this, I've also been thinking about the ways in which I practice writing or do writing (notice: I'm not using the word "produce" here, which I associate only with the most formal writing) and I think that most frequently I write at the first three levels, and only rarely do I engage in the fourth. If I were to break it down, I'd say that no-stakes writing would be my journal; low-stakes would be emails to friends; medium stakes would be my blog, syllabi, other work-related documents like emails to colleagues and students; high stakes would be reserved for publication-type writing. All of the other kinds of writing that I do contribute to the high stakes writing, but they aren't as pressured, and I am much freer in those forums than I am in my high stakes writing situations.

I suppose the point, though, is that I see each of these "levels" as part of a whole and I don't tend to value one over the other, not really. Sure, as the levels increase the difficulty becomes greater, and that should be acknowledged. When I'm writing in a high-difficulty medium I don't deem the others in which I write valueless. And I definitely think the lower levels of writing in terms of what I do in the classroom are much more important to me than the higher levels. I see my students thinking in levels 1-3, and I see their process. So no, I don't blast them for being inconsistent in that kind of writing, and I welcome inconsistency not because I'm uncritical but because to me that's where new ideas happen. It is possible to enter into conversation with those ideas, not uncritically but with generosity and a willingness to explore where the other person might have been coming from or what they might have been trying to articulate. Those conversations allow students and me to explore inconsistency and in trying to resolve the dissonance between inconsistent ideas we come up with new answers to old problems. So when my students offer inconsistent or ambivalent or confused responses outside of Level Four writing situations, I ultimately think it's a good thing. When *I* do so outside of Level Four writing situations, I think it's a good thing. Or if not a good thing, I certainly don't think it's a failure.

The thing that attracts me to blogging is its flexibility. That it operates for me as a space in which I can do Level 2-3 writing, a space that otherwise wouldn't be available. I know that other people conceive of blogging in a much higher-stakes sort of way, because it is writing that is public. I wonder, though, if we conceive of all public writing as high stakes writing what that means in the online classroom. When conversation is written, does that mean it's automatically ok to blast one's peers for something like inconsistency? When conversation is written, does that mean that one can't risk speaking an idea that might be off the wall or that one can't offer an idea to which one isn't whole-heartedly committed? I'm sure you can guess my answers to these questions. Obviously I think there's something great about the notion that one can think through writing and converse through writing without having it be a high stakes activity. And that, I've got to say, is my biggest goal in the online class: to facilitate that kind of medium-stakes and low-stakes conversation and to take steps to foster engaged conversation as opposed to dogmatic debate or silence from the students while I pontificate. This is what happens in my classroom in real life, and I don't want to lose that when I teach online.

And, in fact, it's this desire for a new way of thinking about writing and through writing that led me to blogging in the first place. I was excited by the freedom of movement of this genre, and the ability to operate in writing outside of discursive conventions that drive my published academic writing, conventions that don't really feel natural to me (because they are masculinist? because I'd rather talk less formally? Because I tend to like writing that's a bit messier than the finest that the PMLA has to offer?). It felt like a form of writing that not only allowed for conversation but also that generated it. There are times when I wonder whether I was an idiot for thinking that I'd find all of that in this medium. Because there are many out there who aren't really very interested in conversing. Not that they're not interested in commenting or debating or critiquing - for they are - but they're not really interested in conversing. And I think that is because they see this medium as one with much higher stakes than I do. I think that they don't see it as flexible or as offering an opportunity to chat with friends. So does that mean I'm an idiot, because I see it differently? Nah. I think that it means that I've found the right niche for what I want from the blogosphere. Because I find all that 99% of the time on the blogs that I read. It's only that 1% that makes me question the possibility of such exchange.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Frustration, Irritation, Etc.

You know, I spend a fair amount of time wondering what it would be like if I wrote as my actual self - or I suppose under my given name, if we're going to quibble about subjectivity-related issues - and not as a person called "Dr. Crazy." I wonder how it would change people's responses to me, or whether it would make me change my approach to blogging. I suspect it would have some effect on both, and obviously I think that effect wouldn't be entirely positive or I would have gone the way of writing under my real name long ago. Most days, I like the "Dr. Crazy" identity in the blogosphere, and I like the people whom I interact with through the blog. Most of the time I'm pretty pleased with myself in those interactions.

Today, I'm left frustrated, irritated, and with a general frown on my face related to all of the above. This happens periodically, and I know that I have a role in it. Somebody comes along - somebody who's outside of my regular readership, or who at the very least isn't an active commenter. And they use something written on this blog to make some kind of a point about hysterical, insensible, "odd" people, and then it whips me into a pissed off frenzy. Now, the thing is, I shouldn't be in a pissed off frenzy. I should just refuse to engage. But rather than do that, I somehow, no matter what my original intentions, am drawn into attempting to defend myself. And because I'm angry, I allow the false positions into which I've been put to define the terms of the debate, and I end up attempting to engage in a debate in which I'm never going to be on equal footing with the opponent.

And so yes. This is frustrating and irritating, and it makes me wish that I only had a hundred readers and that people who normally don't comment or respond to me would stay the fuck away. I know, not generous, esp. when so many people who aren't the usual stoppers-by have been directed here lately.

So, a few things and then I'm going to fill my day with work and put this from my mind:

  • I'm not some sort of voice of the working class or of underprivileged college students. Sure, I think that we need to talk about how their experience of higher education is different, and I think that we need to talk about the higher education that they actually experience rather than pretending all higher education experiences are basically the same. Sure, I think we need to acknowledge that actual experience and not attempt to abstract it in order to make ourselves more comfortable. But I'm not trying to tell anybody what they should believe about their own students. I'm just talking about my experience, and if you don't like what I have to say, even enough to admit that what I say might have merit as you disagree, then just leave me alone.
  • This blog has a personal voice. I don't want it to have a more formal one. I like to feel like this blog is a place where I am in conversation with people - not where I'm "fostering debate" or where I'm at my fucking job. If you don't like the voice I've chosen, if you have a strong reaction against inconsistency or if you find somebody writing in a loose way about the topics that I choose "odd," your prerogative. But if you can't engage with the blog on its own terms, or with me on my own terms, then just leave me alone.
  • I'm fucking tired of being used for other people to further their own agendas. I'm tired of being used as a selfish, hysterical, wrong-headed, uncommitted, delusional postergirl through which other people can grind their axes. Dude, if you need me for that, then you really probably don't have a leg to stand on. And thus, you'd be better off leaving me alone.
  • Whenever I feel frustrated like this and post this sort of thing, people blab about me only wanting people to blow sunshine up my ass and to agree with me and to praise me, as if I'm some sort of attention-whore. Not so. But you know what? Hold on a minute. Yes, I'm just going to go out on a limb and say, sure. That actually sounds pretty good. No more fucked up and harassing comments, no more using something about which I post to be an asshole to me. Yep, just make me feel good if you want to come around here. Of course, you can disagree with me, but only if you're nice to me. Actively nice. Maybe flatter me a little bit before you express your disagreement. Or tell me that my hair looks great today. Something like that. Because you know what? There is no honor in welcoming people to respond to me in ways that make me feel like crap on my own blog or because of what I write on the blog. So if you feel like that would censor you, then - you guessed it - leave me alone.
I'll probably take this down in a few hours. I'm sure it's only going to make things worse. But I've been feeling so crappy that I felt like I needed to say this stuff in order to clear my head enough to accomplish some things.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Why We Teach What We Teach

Ok, while I've been under the weather, lo, these many days, people have been very busy responding to a call to write about why they teach what they teach, a meme that came out of this post that I did directly after MLA, at the suggestion of Craig over at Free Exchange On Campus. I've been reading people's responses - responses that range across disciplines - with interest, while consuming vast quantities of tea and feeling sorry for myself. A few responses.

1. First of all, I am unbelievably flattered that anything I wrote served to inspire such an interesting conversation that crosses disciplines and types of institution and academic bloggy readership. I'll admit, when I wrote the post, I didn't imagine that it would inspire much of anything. I was letting off steam more than anything else. So, to all of the people who engaged with the question, and to Craig who spurred the broader discussion across the academic blogosphere, just wow. I feel like I should thank all of you, as I feel like it's a huge compliment for people to have run with something I posted off the cuff and to write such thoughtful pieces from their own perspectives.

2. Second, at least one person had a problem with the logic of the reasons that I listed, thought that my last couple of reasons in particular - that the study of literature aids in class mobility and that it gives students space for pleasure that they wouldn't already have - were wrong-headed. What's interesting to me about this is that I'm not certain about why all of one's reasons for anything have to be consistent. I think it's possible to have reasons for any action (from why we teach to why we write to why we choose what to have for dinner) that are contradictory or that lack consistency. As I noted, when I wrote that post I did so off the cuff. I really didn't think much about what the post would or wouldn't inspire, nor did I see the reasons as intrinsically linked - it was more that those were the disparate reasons that came to mind when I thought about the question. In other words, I wasn't writing a conference paper or something that I thought of as a coherent whole so much as I was jotting down what came to mind. Any one of the reasons that I listed probably could have served, more fully developed, as an individual post. Now that I've read some of the criticisms (on blogs, in the comments to my original post) I see where the criticism comes from, but I don't think that it's entirely fair to call my post "odd" or to indicate that I was attempting to "justify error on personal grounds." First, I don't really think I have to justify *my* reasons for why I teach what I teach to anybody, nor do I think that because my experience is different from that of a graduate student teaching at UC-Irvine (or from the panelists on the MLA panel to which I originally responded) that I'm "wrong". Perhaps it's not about "wrong" or "right" but rather about different. Second, just because my reasons aren't identical to those of others, I don't think that makes them or how I wrote about them "odd." I'm not claiming that my reasons are universal, nor am I claiming that my reasons are the Only Valid Reasons for teaching literature. My point (to be clear) was that there are many reasons beyond those that generally get the most publicity in the discipline, and that reasons vary based on student population, institutional context, region of the country, etc. And our reasons for why we teach what we teach may be different at different times or with different texts. For that point to be elided, and for the discussion to be turned into a competition for what are the "best" reasons or the "valid" reasons for teaching, seems to reinscribe the very hierarchies that I was interrogating in the original post.

3. Also, in sending the meme around, Craig asked people to address why academic freedom is integral to their teaching, something that I didn't really discuss in my original post and which I did want to address after seeing the meme. In my context, academic freedom has meant everything to reaching the students that I teach. Underlying every one of my reasons for teaching literature is the basic necessity that I make literary texts accessible and interesting to my students, and for me that enterprise depends on being free to experiment with what I assign and to present material in ways that make difficult theoretical and literary texts most accessible. Because I have almost complete freedom (I say almost because obviously one has to comply with accreditation standards, etc.) in the classroom, it means that I can take risks in my teaching and pursue conversations with my students that cross certain kinds of boundaries. In order to teach the material that I teach, the classroom must be a free space - both for me and for my students. In fact, I would argue that academic freedom is perhaps more central to my enterprise as a teacher than it is to my scholarly work, in that a lot of what I tend to teach really challenges the values with which students enter my courses. If the freedom to challenge students in that way were limited, or if students weren't free to explore ideas that they might not see as "proper" in the context of my courses, there would be a limit on their potential to learn and to engage with things that might make them uncomfortable. In some respects, I think academic freedom is really about the freedom to pursue those things that make us uncomfortable and to try to deal with those things intellectually. While it's true that this is a cornerstone of scholarship as well, there is something about the immediacy of the classroom experience that makes such freedom there even more crucial for me. The classroom needs to be a safe space in which to have conversations about all kinds of ideas - a safe place in which to play devil's advocate and a safe space in which to enter into debate. It needs to be a space in which one can try out ideas without fear. When that freedom is curtailed, it forestalls the production of new knowledge.

But so if you've not read the responses to the meme, you should check them out. And if you'd like to contribute to the conversation, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stupid Germs

Sorry I've been so quiet. I've been sick for the past couple of days - with apparently the same cold I had at the new year that's come back to me again. I guess I'm just lucky. So anyway, last night I went to bed at 7:45 (no, I'm not kidding), and I'm actually feeling a bit more chipper today, if congested still. If this is the same cold I had before, I should be back to normal in a day or two, but man, this really sucks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh, that FB

He'd been joking forever that he was going to give me this as a present. (I will note that I never requested it, nor did I even want it.) Guess what I got in the mail today, which I'd never expected he'd actually get for me? I'll admit, I laughed as soon as I saw the package.

He claims it will change my life. I somehow think that I'm too much of a natural slob for that to happen (my room looks like it's been ransacked by hooligans as we speak), but I suppose we shall see :)

edited to add: So apparently FB expected me to update this post to sing the praises of the F-F (and, I suppose, of him, which I guess I can do since I've been kind of mean to him at times in this space and in life, so perhaps he warrants some publicity for his good deeds). At least that was what he seemed to indicate last night on the phone. Ok. I hate to admit it, but this gadget really is quite something. For shirts especially, it really does a) make things take up less space, b) eliminate the problem of the tower of folded clothes that falls over when you're almost done with folding. And it's fast. I know. You don't believe me. That's ok, because I didn't believe FB when he tried to convince me of this thing's effectiveness months ago. And yes, I'm a little embarrassed about how excited I was actually to like the thing. Medusa surmised that I didn't really like it but rather that it's been so long since I've gotten an unexpected present that my brain didn't know how to respond. There may be some merit to that (although the thought is depressing).

In other news, I actually spoke to FB about his choice of Pepto Pink for my F-F, and apparently I am pink to him. Not green, not blue, not yellow. I'm not entirely certain what that means, but when he gave that explanation, the image that popped into my head was the pink peg that goes in the car when you play the game of life to signify "girl." I wasn't sure why I thought of that, as I've not played the Game of Life in years (although A. and I did mean to play it over Thanksgiving weekend...), but then I did an image search and it was clear to me:

That's the exact plastic-y pink of the F-F. Lord only knows why FB thinks I'm a "Pink person" but there we are.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Meme about Class

As seen at Anastasia's.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home. Probably 90% of which were mine
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 Indeed, I had the working class dream: tap-dancing lessons (note: my friend A. wasn't allowed to have those because her mother said they were "trashy"). Also ice skating and ballet, and I took like 6 weeks of guitar lessons from a nun at my parochial school. My mom believed in lessons.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed Um... I don't know how to answer this one. The tv show Roseanne was my upbringing to a T. And I suppose now people who dress and talk like me are in the media....
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp I guess high school newspaper stuff counts as that....
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them Um, it cost 300 bucks. And then my second car cost 800. And then my third car was bought at a police auction and was a hand-me-down
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home To quote Anastasia, "they paid the mortgage, if that's what you mean." But after the divorce, that house went into foreclosure. And it was like a $40,000 house.
25. You had your own room as a child Because I was an only child.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 Only to visit family, though. To put this into context, I took a Greyhound Bus to a journalism workshop in high school, a trip that was like 12 hours long.
31. Went on a cruise with your family
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

If this shows anything, I think it shows how important to my development it was that my parents only had one child.

Thanks for the Private Harassment!

I just permanently deleted evidence of a rude comment that a person left for the previous post and then himself/herself deleted. So in other words, I got the benefit of seeing it because all the comments here are forwarded to my email, but none of you did. All that was left in the comment thread was "this post has been deleted by the author." It annoys me when those are left to clutter up a comment thread, so I deleted it permanently.

I write about this for a variety of reasons. One, because I really do not understand what the benefit of such harassment is for the harasser. Two, because it's this sort of thing that makes it impossible to have honest conversations about ambition in this profession. I'm a pretty stubborn person, and as much as this sort of shit gets to me, it doesn't stop me from writing, although it has quieted me down for brief periods in the past (just check out how infrequently I blogged and with what little substance after the whole Unicorn Gumdrop Kerfuffle). But imagine if I weren't that stubborn? I suspect one reason a lot of these conversations don't happen is because people don't want to deal with this sort of shit that comes out of the woodwork, and I don't blame them. I don't want to deal with this shit either. So I've noticed there are a number of new commenters to the blog lately, and I figured that this was a good time to just put it out there that while I don't expect everybody to support me when I post about something or to agree with everything I say, I do expect that people contribute to the conversation and that they don't treat me like crap. And I'd say that's not too much to ask.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

And yes, the title of this post is stolen from the title to the Sinead O'Connor song. But I said I wanted to write about the general feeling of goodness that I've been feeling about life of late, and about how that relates to job satisfaction specifically.

Here's the thing: I really, really like my job. I really, really like the students whom I teach, and I like and respect my colleagues. So why have I been on the market 2 years running, if that's true? Why haven't I appreciated that I *enjoy* the job I've got? Why, since I got that job, have I been basically waiting for the moment when I'd leave it (which has had consequences that have vibrated out into all of the other parts of my life here)?

Well, because I'm ambitious. And the contours of ambition in this profession are such that the only way to excel is by ending up at the "right" kind of university. If you "settle" for an institution like mine, for a job with a teaching load like mine, for the kind of students that I teach, some might say that you're not a "real" scholar. That your working conditions mean you can't be. And so if you "settle" for that, then you are, somehow, mediocre. Now, here's the thing: I did not choose to go to grad school because I wanted to be a glorified high school teacher. Nothing in the whole world wrong with teaching high school, and I deeply admire people who do so and do it well. But I was not "called" to teaching. The thing that got me excited was research. That's why I went to graduate school. Period. I wanted to read books I loved, and I wanted to have a life where I got to think about them. I wanted the autonomy to choose what I read and thought about. And sure, I found out that I liked teaching and I was good at it, when I was in graduate school. This was a good thing. But I never gave up wanting to be respected as a scholar. And all of the signals I got from scholars whom I respected most indicated that there was no way for me to be a "real" scholar in the kind of job I've got.

Except you know what? I am. And I've thrived at an institution where "real scholars" aren't supposed to thrive. And yet. There was this disconnect between my lived experience and what I perceived as the only way to excel in this profession. And so I pushed myself and freaked out and stopped myself from allowing to like where I am. I saw my context through the eyes of people who ultimately have absolutely no experience with that context and the very real benefits of it.

And so I was rejected everywhere this year. And I thought to myself, "Self, you can be miserable about this or you can really take a look at why you went on the market and what you hoped to gain from it." And so I took that look. And I realized that I was looking for the job I've got except less teaching because I was feeling burdened. And then I realized that everything I've been doing here has made the teaching less of a burden than I'd built it into being. I blamed teaching for feeling burdened, when teaching isn't really the thing that makes me feel burdened. (I realized this when I actually considered turning down the offer I got for course releases this semester.) The fact is, this job leaves room for a life. And I don't dread going to campus, and in fact, I actually look forward to it. That should mean more than the voices in my head that tell me that only an idiot would be happy exactly where I am. I mean, let's look at the benefits:

  • I'm near to family and old friends. Not in the exact same place, but in a good location, my first shot out of the gate.
  • The place where I live has the potential to be really great. If it hasn't been, that has a lot to the fact that I've been checked out since moving here, even as I've done stuff that was supposed to give me more of a life. It's really hard to have more of a life when you don't imagine yourself staying beyond a few years.
  • I have complete autonomy over everything I teach, and that autonomy has only increased the longer I've been here.
  • There is a strong likelihood that in coming years my teaching load will be permanently reduced.
  • Even if it isn't , I teach a really manageable number of students.
  • Did I mention that I like my colleagues and students?
  • I've had a lot of opportunities to grow as not only as a teacher but as a scholar and into institutional leadership positions. Those course releases I've got this semester are allowing me to develop an online course as well as to do a bunch of neat curricular development stuff. I have the opportunity to shape this institution. Would I have that at another institution? Maybe, but maybe not.
So here's the thing: I've never before now been able to conceive of my ambition, something intrinsic to my personality, as something that can flourish right where I am. After the fucked up run at the market this year, it became clear to me that this may be the best place for it to flourish, and, indeed, the only place where I'll ever have the opportunity for it to flourish, given the state of the market. So it's time to turn the volume down on those voices that say that somebody at this kind of institution counts as nothing more than a wasted talent or somebody who doesn't aspire or who's given up. Those voices have had far too much airtime in determining how I've approached my life in the past 4+ years. And so yeah. That's where I am now. And if I decide I want to leave this place, it's not going to be because of those voices nor will it be because the Job Market Gods bless me. It will be on my own terms.

RBOC: Sunday Morning Edition

  • Update on the resolutions: This week I made it to the gym 5x, drank enough water for a small country, and kept paying attention to what I was eating (and didn't go hungry), and I lost 1.5 lbs. This with going out to dinner one time and eating whatever I wanted when I did so. Apparently, there really is something to the whole "changing your lifestyle" business.
  • In other news, I've been thinking about how I'm going to build rewards into the whole fitness thing, and I've decided that for every 20 gym trips I'm going to get some kind of reward. (Rewarding the positive lifestyle change, not the loss of weight, although the loss of weight is a corollary and really a reward in itself.) I think my first reward is going to be new perfume. Once we get out of the depths of winter, I think that I'm going to make the rewards less about buying stuff and more about going out and doing fun things that I wouldn't regularly do (thus incorporating the fun resolution). Otherwise, the finances resolution will suffer.
  • Speaking of the finances resolution I got my reimbursement check from MLA and so finally opened a savings account! Hurrah! And I've got it set up so money is automatically transferred from my checking every paycheck. Yes, I may be an actual adult.
  • The reward for the above is that my mom and I have decided that we're going to do a long weekend in NYC for her birthday in May (she's never been). We've talked about doing this for years, and so I'm really excited that we're finally doing it. In addition, in April I'm going to visit High School BFF for a long weekend. Love my lovely teaching schedule that allows for such treats.
  • In annoying news, I ran some errands yesterday and I went to this Crappy Low Rent TJ Maxx-esque place and got some sunglasses for 7 bucks. They're great. The problem? They didn't demagnetize them or whatever, so now I make all shoplifting detectors beep when I go through them. This means, I imagine, that I need to go back to the CLR place to get them de-magnetized. This place is going out of business so it's a total madhouse. ANNOYING.
  • Other than that, the week was good. I wish that I had more to report, or that I were in more of a blogging mood. I know I've been pretty quiet considering how much I have historically tended to post. I suppose it's just that usually I use the blog to work out things I'm thinking about, and well, everything's going along pretty smoothly. I'm sure there will be things as the semester gets more solidly underway, but for now, I'm just kind of doing my thing and all is well.
  • Perhaps I should start posting some of the recipes I'm making? Perhaps I'll do that on Sundays - like a recipe a week. I've realized that I don't tend to make stuff that is actually "diet food" but rather that I modify recipes I like so that they're lower in fat and have more veggies in them. Or I invent stuff (sometimes with greater success than others). And can I just say how happy I am to really be cooking again? The food I make for myself is infinitely better (tasting) than any of the crap that I eat when I'm not really cooking, plus cooking relaxes me.
  • Maybe that's why I've not been blogging very much, too. I'm totally not stressed out. Between the exercise and the cooking, I've been - dare I say it? - on a totally even keel. Again, the whole lifestyle business seems to make a huge difference.
  • But probably a lot of this has to do with my teaching schedule this semester, too, and also that I've finally come to a kind of acceptance about the job that I have and even about the location that I have. Actually, that is a forthcoming post. I need to write about that here, I think.

And with that, it's time for me to get underway with my Sunday. More later, either in the form of the post I suggested in the last bullet or in the form of a recipe or both.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Other Shoe Should Be Dropping Any Moment Now

Look, I don't want to be some Pollyanna academic blogger who just talks about how great her job is and how great her students are and all that, but I've got to say, the start of this semester has me positively glowing with happiness (though it's kind of a blurry, tired happiness, too, because I've been really busy). Why?

  • Ok, I've got a lot on my plate besides teaching (an admin. gig, taking over advising a student publication, directing an honors thesis, in addition to the usual committee work and such) but I feel totally psyched about all of those things that I'm doing that are not teaching. For the first time in 4+ years, my time feels totally filled by things that I believe are meaningful and that give me some pleasure.
  • I'm feeling totally appreciated by my institution lately. Nothing special is going on, but I've had a few instances where people have expressed excitement about stuff that I'm doing or where they've expressed that they've heard great things about me, and you know, that goes a long way to improving morale.
  • I had a student defect from one class taught by a colleague of mine into BNC, which isn't exactly a hot course here. (Remember how I'd fretted over the enrollment?) It is petty and not very generous, but I was excited that the student chose me over my colleague. In addition, how exciting that this student, who wouldn't seem to be the obvious audience for a course like BNC, would actually have the intellectual curiosity to take the chance and switch courses! Huzzah!
  • I met with my student whose thesis I'm advising, and I'm *so freaking excited* to be doing this. Now, of course part of this is because I'm working with a terribly bright student, whom I really, really like, and who seems really ambitious about what she wants to accomplish. But also, and this is cheesy, the student's topic is not unlike my own undergrad thesis topic, and it's like this whole coming full circle thing where I'm being given the chance to be a great mentor like my own thesis adviser, and really like all of the mentors that I had at my undergrad institution. And speaking of my great mentors at my undergrad institution, one of them came to my MLA panel this year, and that was so freaking cool I could hardly stand it. NO ONE from my grad institution has ever bothered to do that. So why have I been trying so hard to get praise from those people when they don't really give a shit about me? Why have I been trying to meet some standard of acceptability held only by people who don't really support me, when there are so many great people who do (including my colleagues and mentors at my current institution)? Why have I been unwilling to accept that maybe this is exactly where I belong and that I'm really thriving here in terms of work?
  • In other student news, I've got a former student from a couple of years back, a non-major, taking a class with me again, a student who was a total pleasure to have in class the first time around, and he told me yesterday that he has been accepted into med school! Huzzah! And my class is among those he chose to take in his final "fun" semester! Huzzah again!
Now, obviously there are some less good things happening, too, but those seem pretty minor in the context of the overwhelming good feelings that I have about all of the above. So, sure, I've got a student whom I anticipate is going to be a Problem Student in one of my classes, and just the thought of that is exhausting. Sure, I know I'm going to find certain things about the publication advising annoying and time-sucking throughout the course of the semester. Sure, I've got to be really careful about protecting my time when it comes to the admin gig I'm doing this semester, and I do feel some pressure to do exceptionally well at it so that I can legitimately be on the radar for some other potential opportunities that could appear in the next year or two. So yes, the other shoe will probably drop soon, and I'll be back to my usual bitching. But God, I'm feeling so satisfied with myself right now. Satisfied with my job, and satisfied with what I've made of this job for myself. I figured like I should note it while the mood was striking so that when I go back to my regular bitching you can remind me that I'm actually really freaking happy exactly where I am.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And So It Begins Again

The semester, that is. Today I taught my first class of the spring, as well as had a number of meetings related to other things I'll be doing this semester. I have to say, I'm wicked-energized as I think about all of what I'll be doing in the coming months. That's not to say that I won't have to work my ass off, but I feel like I've got new and interesting challenges in front of me this semester, rather than the continued slog on old challenges, if that makes any sense. I suppose a lot of my excitement does have to do with having a clear-ish research plate (I actually do have some loose ends that I need to tie up, but no new projects in process) and so I feel almost... I don't know... liberated? It's not that I don't care deeply about research or that I don't enjoy it or find it rewarding, but I'm feeling very happy to be in a position where I can put it on the back burner without feeling angsty about it.

Also, I had my first meeting with the Brand New Class (BNC from this point forward) that promises to challenge me as a teacher in ways that I've never been challenged before. I don't want to talk in depth about the topic on the blog (although I have brought it up in the past, so with digging you could figure it out - I just feel like if I want to post about the course regularly I should probably be a bit more circumspect in the interest of being able to speak more freely about it) but suffice it to say that I'm teaching something that is outside of my direct area of expertise, although it has figured into my research. For this reason, I do feel like I'm a bit out on a limb with the course. Sure, I do feel confident about my ability to teach generally, but because I'm doing something more far afield with this course, I wonder whether my tried and true techniques will work in this context. It's strange, because I thought that I was insecure about the new class that I taught in the fall, but that was more because the content was potentially controversial, not because the kind of content wasn't part of my repertoire, if that makes sense. This semester, I'm not really concerned about the content itself - it's pretty standard fare, I think, for a course of its type - but because I've never taught this kind of material before.

So, the first assignment in BNC is a definitions assignment. The idea is that most of the students are coming in totally unfamiliar with this kind of material. With that being the case, I figured that better than launching right in would be to start by having them define a long list of terms so that when they get into their reading, they will have a vocabulary to jump-start them. So here's the assignment, and I'll post again to give an idea of how it worked. It strikes me that this assignment would be adaptable for intro sorts of classes, and so that's why I post it here.

Today, on the first day because I'm a meanie, I gave them the assignment sheet. On the front was a list of directions and of decent sources for finding the definitions, on the back the list of terms. First, students had five minutes to look over the terms. They were directed to put a check next to the terms that they already knew, a question mark next to those that they'd seen before but about which they weren't sure of the meaning, and an x next to the terms that they'd never encountered before. There were around 50 terms on the list. (They're going to turn the sheets with their notations in to me next class, so this also works as a diagnostic for me to let me know how much they know before they really get into the reading.)

Then, I'd broken the students into two groups, and they were to meet with the groups and introduce themselves and then divide the terms between them equally. This brief meeting was first intended to get the students talking to one another. Also, it means that each student in the class is only responsible for defining about 10 terms a piece, which I believed was a doable amount since they don't really have a reading assignment. (These are pretty specialized terms, and they're likely to have to consult specialized reference materials to find them, or at the very least to wade through lengthy entries in wikipedia to come up with a workable and brief definition.) Before the next class, they are to email me their definitions so I'll have an electronic version of them that I can review. Since the class is in two groups, I should have two definitions per term (unless I get some weird drops, but if anybody drops, then there should be at least one definition per term unless something goes totally wacky).

Now, you'll note that I told the students where to find the definitions. That's another thing that this assignment was designed to do: to point them to sources that will help them to find definitions for other terms that come up in their reading with which they aren't familiar. So while I chose the ones that I thought were most important, they will have the tools to find this sort of information on their own when they encounter stuff in the reading that they've not seen before.

But so, when they come to class next time, they will have already submitted their definitions to me electronically, and they will also have one hard copy of their definitions with them. At the start of class, the groups will meet again to go over their definitions together and to come up with any questions that they still have about any of the terms. Again, this is partly just about getting them comfortable with talking with one another. (I know about half of the students in the class, and I divided the groups so that the ones who know each other are separated, so after this activity nearly every student in the course will know nearly every other student.) It's also about having them hear the definitions that they didn't themselves look up.

Then, we'll convene as an entire class, and I'll project the definitions onto the screen so that we can talk about them (some in more depth than others) together, and I will address any questions that the groups had. (So now they're seeing all of the definitions and going over them a second time, as well as continuing to discuss them and having me make connections that might not be readily apparent.) Finally, after class I'll post the definitions to our course site so that students will have access to them throughout the semester.

While obviously I'll have to see how this goes, I feel like it's a really strong assignment, whether for a course with difficult material or for an introductory course where students might not have a strong vocabulary for discussing the material when they enter. (I've already been thinking about how I might incorporate such an assignment for literary terms into my lower-level courses.) So I figured I'd post it here, in case it seemed like something that some of you might like adapting for your own needs. Obviously, if the whole thing goes horribly awry, I'll be sure to give you the 411 so that you can abort any plans of using such an assignment in your own classes.

So those are my thoughts as this semester starts. I'm feeling energized and like I'm doing cool stuff. I can't think of a better way for the semester to begin.

Random Thoughts about Juno

***There will be spoilers in this post, even though they probably won't be terribly integral to plot. Consider yourself warned.****

So I went to see Juno last night with BFF, and I found it really... troubling. And I couldn't quite put my finger on why I found it so troubling until this morning. See, here's the thing. The general buzz I'd heard about the movie was something like the following from Entertainment Weekly:

"But director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody really don't give a hoot what you think about the right to life/right to choose/right to make jokes about teen sex. Their movie, a blithe charmer balanced somewhere between a life-should-be-so-neat fairy tale and a life's-a-real-bitch tragicomedy, leaves political debate at the ticket counter and focuses solely on what it's like for Juno MacGuff to be Juno MacGuff. And damned if the girl, as played by Hard Candy's radiantly no-nonsense Page, isn't who every whip-smart young moviegoing woman cheered by My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Daria, and the graphic novels of Daniel Clowes ought to aspire to be. Minus the unprotected sex."

Um, yeah, except I don't think that's a fair assessment of the movie. I think the movie does glorify Juno's choice to have the baby and to give it up for adoption (without exploring in a real way what consequences for such a decision might actually look like), but even more than that, I think the movie has a really dark view of what adult gender roles are supposed to look like and what it's supposed to mean to "grow up," at least as seen through the lens of the adoptive couple whom Juno chooses for her kid. What "growing up" means for the Jason Bateman character is selling out and giving up his dreams, his "real life" and stuff relegated to a room he's been given in his McMansion, and when he decides that he can't live like that, well, we hate him for it, in spite of the fact that his McMansion life really does suck in a great many ways. Now, I've gone out with the guy whom I'll call "The Sonic Youth Guy," and I understand the impulse to vilify that guy (Aside: I think I was one of only like 3 people who got why it was funny and laughed in the theater when Juno burst out with "I bought another Sonic Youth record and it just sounded like noise!" when TSYG showed his true colors), but I think the reason that his portrayal was disturbing to me is that he - much more than the Jennifer Garner character - is like an older (though less wise) version of Juno. And if Juno's options are to become one of the two, the movie seemed to pretty clearly endorse the McMansion Garner over the Indie Bateman, both in the portrayal of Garner at the end of the movie and in the fact that Juno ultimately chooses a relationship with Bleeker (because god forbid she remain steadfast in her claim that she wasn't in love with him and yet had sex with him anyway).

Another problem I had with the movie is my usual problem that I have with all movies in which pregnancy is featured, which is the pregnancy test scene where the female character is not content with just one at home test, nor with two, but takes more and more tests "to be sure." Now, at least Juno only takes three, BUT. Here's a tip, Hollywood: at minimum, a pregnancy test costs like 8 bucks (and that's if you buy the Walgreen's brand, and who is going to trust such an important thing to a generic test? I'm sure some people must, but the few times I've taken a pregnancy test, I've not been willing to trust the off brand for my answer), and a typical pregnancy test costs around $14 to $18. Let's say you're willing to invest and to buy two, just to be sure. (Assuming you don't buy the one that has two tests in it.) I'm betting that after the second one you'd call some sort of clinic or doctor, yeah? Especially if you were "poor" like Juno (which, incidentally, I thought was a bit of a stretch). So, Hollywood, do me a favor. The next time you have a character get pregnant in a movie, don't do the multiple pregnancy test thing. It's about as lame as when Hollywood movies have that scene with women dancing around a kitchen table or something (like in Practical Magic), which just doesn't really happen very often and makes me irritated.

So yes, the movie left me troubled. But the soundtrack was sweet.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Reward as Self-Sabotage

I was thinking about this today a bit as my mind wandered through 40 mins of cardio (for, potentially one of the best things about regularly working out is that I'm regularly in a position where my mind pretty much has to wander). I've always been a pretty reward-driven person. If there's a carrot at the end of a task, I'm much more likely to sail through it than if there's the threat of punishment. I'm also not terribly good with getting things done when there seems to be no reward at the end of it, so it's not like I can separate the things that give me pleasure from the work to be done, as if watching Rock of Love II tonight wasn't related at all to working out today, like if I hadn't worked out I could still have experienced that guilty pleasure with as much, well, pleasure. And if I'd not set it up so that RoL was the reward, would I have worked out? Well, I might have talked myself out of it, whatever my resolve. So at any rate, I'm sure that the way I've always linked the achievement of goals to rewards developed out of other people rewarding me for stuff when I was a kid, and so I found a way to do that for myself.

But the thing that I was thinking about is that a lot of times the kinds of rewards I've devised have ultimately kind of violated the spirit of the achievement. So, for example, if I've successfully stuck to exercise and diet stuff, the reward is pizza; if I've gotten a ton of reading done for work, the reward has been lying around and vegetating in front of the television until I'm sick of myself and until I'm up against the wall with another deadline; if I've had a good teaching week, the reward is often to procrastinate about grading. You see what I'm getting at here. I somehow set up the rewards so that I'd end up right back where I started, and while the rewards I've chosen have, in the moment, seemed like a great treat, after that moment passes, I end up feeling guilty about them. So that's been my "process" for as long as I can remember: work (of whatever variety), (self-sabotaging) reward, guilt.

It's weird, because I was talking to a friend tonight on the phone, and the conversation veered in the direction of this very topic, although we were talking about him and not me. And what was bizarre was I found myself advising him as if I were this enlightened soul who'd figured this problem out, when in truth it sort of took spouting all of this nonsense to him to make what I'd been thinking about at the gym click. See, I was thinking about it in this very narrow way, just as it relates to me and food, but in talking to him, after the conversation was over, I realized that this has been a pattern for me in all areas. It's central to how I've handled romantic relationships (and gotten involved in them); it's crucial to how I've achieved in this profession; and, indeed, it relates to the way I take care (or don't take care) of myself (physically, emotionally, whatever).

So the question is, now that I've had this epiphany, what do I think? Because ultimately I think that the ability to reward oneself for what one does is a good thing, and I don't think that the answer is to throw that particular baby out with the bathwater. I think the trick, and the thing that I've got to figure out from this point forward, is how to choose rewards that are in the spirit of the achievement. And probably I need to learn how to find the things I'm achieving pleasurable in the moment whenever possible, too, but Christ, I'm no saint and some things will just never be pleasurable in themselves. Some things just suck. But rewarding yourself with something that nullifies the achievement doesn't make them suck less. And when I do things that veer off the path, that shouldn't be a reward but rather, something that I see in the broader context of the "more positive" things that I'm trying to do in other areas.

So, for example, I have plans to go to dinner and the movies with BFF tomorrow. This means that I'm going to eat things that I've not been eating because of the whole fitness thing. But that's not a reward for having been "good" in the new year with the fitness resolution - it can't be. Instead, I think that I need to see it as fulfilling the "fun" resolution, and the challenge will be to put it into context with the fitness resolution, by doing extra cardio at the gym and by being careful about what I eat throughout the week. Why this all makes such clear sense to me now when it never has before I have no idea.

But so if something like going out to dinner isn't going to be a reward for success with the fitness resolution, or for finishing work stuff (another way I've tended to use eating garbage), what will I use to replace that? Hmmm. Well, you know, I think I already figured this out this weekend without intending to do so. On Friday, pleased with myself for having done as well with things this past week as I did, I decided to buy and read The Jane Austen Book Club and to make myself a fabulous dinner that was entirely healthy and that I'd never made before. (Pork chops with apple and onion, mushroom risotto with brown rice - and olive oil instead of butter and just the teensiest bit of parmigiano-reggiano as opposed to mountains of cheese, steamed carrots, if you were wondering.) It totally didn't violate the spirit of what I've been up to, and yet it was totally and completely a reward. Must think of more things like this, to apply in all areas.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Resolution Update - Fitness

Ok, so the fitness part of my resolutions for the new year is the one that's received the most focus in the past two weeks, and it's the one that I have the most on which to report.

First, though, let me say that I set up the fitness goals this year not with the idea of losing weight (although that's an obvious side effect) or of eating healthily and then "cheating" as a reward (which is what I think got me into trouble the last time I lost weight, as one day of cheating became 3 and then 7. Indeed, "cheating" last semester really meant eating something that was good for me. And then the last big thing is drinking at least 48 oz. of water a day (and most days I'm actually doing closer to 72, I'd estimate, because it turns out that once one is used to consuming water, it's really the only thing that satisfies one's thirst).

But so, I weighed myself for the first time since the start of the year, and I've lost five pounds. Now, I probably should lose like 50 lbs. total, so that does factor into the achievement of that, but still. Five pounds! And I've been sleeping really great, and I've been eating *delicious* meals and I've been decent about working out. The only thing that's irritating is all of the energy that I have, for it turns out I really don't like having more energy, as it makes me antsy and I'd really rather be lazy than energetic a lot of the time. I suppose I'll get used to it?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

On the Inability to Let a Thing Lie

One thing about me, which really anybody who gets to know me in any real way learns, is that I have a real problem with keeping my mouth shut and going about my business when I feel that I've been unjustly treated in some fashion. Now, you might be saying, "But that's a good thing, Crazy! You should stand up for yourself!" Except. Well, maybe sometimes I should take the high road rather than the road of self-righteous indignation, which is the one that I most often choose to take. Because I find myself calling people out on fucked up behavior not so much because I want them to change the behavior as it relates to me (indeed, there's no way they can take this sort of thing back once it's happened, even though I will ultimately forgive it) or to explain the behavior (in other words, my agenda is neither productive nor meant to give a person an opportunity for redemption) but rather because I want to make it clear exactly how much they suck for having behaved that way. I want them to feel badly, not just about how they acted but about who they are if they would dream of acting that way.

This, my friends, is not a nice quality to have. And I know it's not. And the more compassionate side of me does feel sorry for the people at whom I direct this kind of treatment. The problem is, and why I continue to behave in this way in spite of my more virtuous instincts, is that when this sort of situation comes up, I'm always convinced that the other person deserves to be told off in this particularly vicious way. And even though I feel sorry for the person after I've done it (notice: I feel sorry for the person, not sorry for what I myself have done), I continue to believe that they deserved it. I continue to believe that they shouldn't have been allowed to get away with whatever it was they did to cross me, and so a large part of me is pleased with what I've done.

I've been thinking about this part of my personality a fair amount lately because of how I responded to a recent situation. On the one hand, I think that I'm kind of an asshole. I think that a more mature individual would have kept her mouth shut and went about her business, since ultimately what the person did was nothing more than to offend my sense of good manners and fair play, and I didn't really object to the end result of what was going on. My problem was with the form - not with the content. And so I probably shouldn't have said anything. But on the other hand, I can't get past the feeling that people should be made to take responsibility when they behave in a bullshit way. So as much as I think I'm kind of an asshole, I also feel like sometimes people deserve to encounter assholes like me, and that without assholes like me, people who do fucked up things would just keep doing them in perpetuity because they'd think that there's nothing really wrong with their fucked up ways.

I could say that I'm not going to do this anymore, but that would be a lie. Every time I've vowed that I wouldn't do this anymore, I've always ended up doing it again. And I know that no apology I offer really works once I've done this, that I can't really expect a person to forgive something for which I'm not really sorry, or to forget something that is so downright mean. Those who have forgiven this sort of behavior on my part haven't done so because I've expressed remorse about it but rather because they've found a way to accept it as part of the package that is me. They've decided (I imagine) that my good qualities somehow outweigh this crappy one. (Not that this is the only crappy or difficult thing about me, but it is, I think, one of the most difficult for other people to take.)

So I don't know. I'm not really sure how to conclude these musings. There is a part of me that wishes that I did feel genuine remorse, rather than just feeling like through my own mean-spiritedness things have been resolved fairly. There is a part of me that wishes that I didn't feel quite so content and at peace with myself after having behaved in such a way. There is a part of me that wishes that I were better at letting some things lie, even though I know it's intrinsic to my personality (and, maybe 3 times out of every 10, good) that I don't.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Has RT Become a Political Blog? I Think Not. And So a Post about Teaching.

What with all of the blogging about politics lately, you might be thinking that Dr. Crazy has lost her way. Oh no, sir! It is not true! I shall continue to blog about all things mundane and academic. Never fear!

In this week that has been filled with syllabus and assignment design, I've been thinking a lot about how I've developed as a teacher over my 4+ years at this teaching-intensive institution. As I look at my courses for the upcoming semester, and with the assignments that I've designed for them, I think that maybe being at a teaching-intensive institution has actually enabled me to be, and sometimes forced me to be, an innovative teacher. Maybe that seems like a no-brainer to some of you, but I don't think I'd anticipated that this would be the case when I began here.

I think when I began, I thought my teaching would suffer because of having to teach so much. I think that I believed that because of the wide range of students I'd be teaching (in terms of ability level and preparedness) that I wouldn't really be able to do much that was interesting because it would be too difficult to do "fun" things or inventive things given the number of students and given the... lack of engagement of the lower third of students that I teach. I think I believed that I'd be forced to teach to the lower third, and that this would somehow mean I wouldn't be able to be creative in my teaching. And I thought that it would mean I'd have to lower my standards for student achievement.

But what I see as I look at the courses that I've developed, and the changes I've made in the kinds of assignments that I include and the way that I pace my syllabi, is that I was completely and entirely mistaken. Teaching the range and number of students that I teach has actually meant the reverse - it has meant that relying on "conventional" course design just doesn't make sense. And I think that the creativity that my situation and student population at this institution has engendered in my teaching has ultimately been a good thing for students at all ability levels whom I teach.

Let's take a trip down memory lane to my first year teaching here, and to two of the first courses that I taught in literature. The first was a survey course. I dutifully ordered the Norton Anthology, and I assigned a *boatload* of reading. There was a small grade for participation, two papers (equally weighted) that I gave students no instruction about how to write, a traditional midterm and final. Makes sense, right? I mean, that's what my survey courses looked like in college. And I taught a novels course. Now, I wasn't a fool. I'd gotten the memo that my students would never read a novel a week. BUT. I still tried to assign something like 10 (and some of them LONG) novels (and ended up having to cut one). I assigned some response papers (an assignment stolen from one of my undergraduate professors) and there was a research paper and a final and a small grade for participation. So what we see, looking at the brief description of each of these courses, was that my assignments and expectations were fairly standard ones. Straightforward. That was what the syllabi and assignments that my professors put together looked like, and so that must be how it was done. And if the students didn't perform? Well, that was because they didn't work hard enough.

Um, but no. I wasn't happy, and my students were... well, they weren't that into me either. I mean, some were, but it wasn't like I was some stellar success right out of the gate as a teacher. And so either I could keep doing things that way or I could.... play. That's right: play. I mean, it wasn't like things were going so swimmingly when I wasn't having a good time, so why not play around with it and see whether I could come up with something better. Something that still got the students from point A to point B, but that wouldn't feel like such drudgery for them or for me. And the results of my playing were the following:

  • Incorporating more small group work and discussion into my courses, to give students the chance to test their ideas out on each other before they braved testing them out in front of the whole class and in front of me.
  • More time in class, whether with group assignments or other things, spent on clarifying my expectations about student writing about literature.
  • Research assignments that veered off the traditional 8-12 page research paper path.
  • Smaller assignments (random quizzes, for example, or online discussion, or question/insight cards) that would give students more investment in just getting the work done for each class meeting.
  • Reorganizing my syllabi so that the toughest reading happens near the beginning of the semester and the end of the semester is reserved for "reward" reading to get them through the final weeks of the semester still working.
  • More one-on-one contact with and response to students.
  • Less lecture.
  • Less time spent writing screeds in response to student work (and on grading in general).
I'm not saying I've got it all figured out. I don't. But in the past few years, I've given myself permission to play more in my teaching, to create more, to invent more, and while the grades that my students receive are about the same, and while I still have a reputation of being a tough professor, my students are happier and I am happier. And I'm really looking forward to the start of this coming semester. Sick, isn't it?

Thought You All Might Find This Interesting....

According to this quiz, as seen over at A K8, A Cat, A Mission, as far as the issues are concerned I'm closest to Barack Obama. Except when you do the analysis by individual issue, there are some key ones that are really important to me (the economy, education) where I'm closer to Clinton. In other words, when Crazy says she doesn't know who will get her vote? Yeah, she really doesn't know.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Presidential Politics, a Woman for President, and "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" Feminism

When I wrote about the debate Saturday night, there were pretty much two responses in comments: "Ugh, you like Hillary?" and "Yay, you like Hillary!" I'll say now as I said then, that it's a long primary season. I'm not sure for whom I'll vote in my primary that won't mean a hill of beans, and it's still very, very early for anyone to have made up her mind in an absolute and irrevocable way. But do I respect Hillary Clinton? Yes. Do I think that people (liberals, conservatives, men, women, pundits, whatever) who seem to think that they can take gender out of the equation when they evaluate her her are foolish? Yes. And so that's why I'm writing this post. Not because I "like" Hillary or because I am in some way endorsing her, but because I want to talk about gender and power in this country, and I want to talk about it in relation to what I've noticed about the coverage of "Hillary" (Not Clinton, not Senator Clinton, just Hillary, sort of like Madonna or that Fergalicious Fergie) and my thoughts as I prepare to teach for the first time in the coming semester a class on feminist theory.

"Message, Not Gender, Turns Voters Off Clinton"

Or so said a Reuters article as recently as yesterday, and so said David Gregory on the Tim Russert show on MSNBC on Sunday.

(Speaking of gender and power, notice the next time you're glancing at the 24-hour news channels and the pundit shows how many pundits are men. And then notice how many of the people slogging away at the various campaign headquarters are women. And then ask yourself why it is that it takes Gloria Steinem to ask why sex isn't taken as seriously as a barrier to achievement, only the very next day to have Maureen Dowd say that Hillary came off in her victory speech last night like "the heroine of a Lifetime movie." If only Gloria Steinem is allowed to utter the F-word - feminism - in this country, like a blast to the second-wave past, and if everybody else is supposed to be somehow "beyond" taking gender seriously, or if by not taking gender seriously as a barrier it somehow proves that we are more sophisticated, and unlike those philistines who would be compelled by heroines of Lifetime movies, I suppose, well, that to me indicates exactly how insidious the impact of gender continues to be. But I digress.)

The thing that's difficult about discussing gender in the context of Hillary Clinton's candidacy is that if one admits that gender influences the way that we evaluate her, it can seem as if we're trying to make it a contest between gender and race as indexes of electability. That one is somehow more important or more of a detriment than the other. That one would be more "history-making." So the way that the conversation seems to be framed is that sex/gender are being taken off the table, at least as something to be discussed concretely or with any sort of specificity, while race remains on the table, with Barack Obama signifying just how far we've come as a nation and giving us cause for self-congratulation.

But I would argue that it's impossible for sex/gender really to be off the table in our evaluation of Clinton. If it were off the table, hecklers wouldn't have yelled "Iron my shirt!" at Clinton. I wouldn't have seen a bumper sticker last spring that declared, "Women belong in the house - Not the White House" with an unflattering picture of Clinton. (I looked for an image of this on google, but couldn't find one. I did however, find these, which make the point pretty well. Indeed, bitches do love Hillary.) So when I get the message that sex/gender aren't actually in play when voters choose to support Clinton or not, I am skeptical. Ultimately, by taking sex/gender off the table, all it does is validate sexist and misogynistic resistances against her, ones to which we all are susceptible (men and women alike) because ultimately, and I know this will shock you, our culture continues to be patriarchal.

Let's take, for example, the continued charges against Clinton that she is a "polarizing" figure.

I've been troubled by the emphasis on this for a while now. First of all, I find it troubling because we elected a "uniter, not a divider" in 2000, and look where that got us. Even when I disagree with Clinton, I've got to say, I don't mind terribly that "uniting" the country isn't the first thing on her agenda. Perhaps I'm a pragmatist, but I'm more interested in what a candidate will do about real life issues like the economy first and only in a secondary way does their ability to make me have a warm and fuzzy feeling about my country being united matter. I feel like if some of the fucked up things about our country are fixed then unity will follow. How we can talk about unity without the fucked up things having been addressed, well, I'm not entirely sure.

But aside from that, it strikes me that the attachment of the word "polarizing," with all its negative connotations, becomes even more negative because Clinton is a woman. Let's go back to Women's Studies 101 for a moment. What qualities are associated with femininity? Nurturing. Compassion. Reconciliation. Passivity. An emphasis on "feelings" over ideas. And the list goes on. Women are supposed to be more about being relational - to keep the homefires burning and all that. Now, if a woman is "polarizing," what does that translate into, given the cultural baggage that weighs down the figure of Woman? Well, friends, it translates into something like, "Hillary is a ball-breaking bitch who doesn't know her place." To my mind, we can talk about a few other candidates on the ballots this primary season as "polarizing" - Mike Huckabee, anyone? Rudy Giuliani? God, even John McCain - but we don't. The media doesn't. Because, at the end of the day, we don't expect the same things of men that we expect of women. And if a man does talk about "uniting' the country, he's not evaluated negatively for that "vision" but rather he's seen as having a "vision" whereas, I suspect although I could be wrong, that if such were a female candidate's emphasis that she would be seen as *lacking* in vision because she'd be performing within the bounds of prescribed femininity, which equates with weakness. In other words, when it comes to the whole "polarizing" thing, I think a woman candidate is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't. Just as she's damned if she does "tear up" and damned if she doesn't convey to voters that she has "real" emotions.

So what does all of this have to do with my thoughts as I prepare to teach feminist theory?

Well, the students whom I will teach for the most part fall into that "generation of younger voters" who, by all reports and from my own conversations with students, are attracted by Barack Obama. They, for the most part, fall into a generation that is reluctant to self-identify with the term "feminist." Moreover, they come from a region in which the term "feminazi" still comes up in conversation (indeed, it's a real flashback to 1992 here in that regard) and has even come up on a few choice student evaluations of mine. In other words, I teach students who come from fairly conservative backgrounds who at the same time are compelled by the idea of radical change.

It strikes me as I finalize the syllabus for my course that I am incredibly invested in the idea of demonstrating the ways in which "feminism" continues to be a radical political position, even as it has in many respects been institutionalized by the academy. Even "theoretical feminism" (as opposed to a more activist, grass-roots sort of feminism), for me, constitutes a mode of inquiry and resistance that often is dismissed in contemporary conversations about power in our culture. For students who believe in a "You've come a long way, baby," Sex and the City style of feminism, for students who see women as having achieved equality with men (in spite of the fact that women still make around 76 cents on the dollar), I think it's important to highlight the ways in which sex and gender still inform our perceptions and choices in a culture that continues to position women as second-class citizens. I think it's important to have a language for talking about women and gender that moves beyond "she just turns me off." If Hillary Clinton turns my students off, I want for them to have a sense of *why* she does so and to be able to situate those reasons in the context of how women are perceived generally in our culture. I want them to see that sexist responses or attitudes aren't solely the territory of men, but rather that in a cultural context that is patriarchal, even women's responses to other women are shaped by sexist attitudes. I want them to see that it's not a contest about which group is more marginalized - African-Americans or women - but rather that both groups are marginalized in our culture and that even a vote for Hillary is a vote against the status quo, regardless of the political capital that she holds or some of her more conservative positions.

So will I vote for Hillary? I don't know. Will I have the chance to do so? For me, that is a more interesting question than many of the others that are asked about her candidacy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Problem with Motivation

I have managed to get myself completely off schedule and completely into the zone of laziness over the break. Well, over the past week, really. Today I *must* get a good list of things done, and yet, here it is, 10:30, and I'm only just drinking some coffee and beginning the rationalization and attempts to bargain with myself that have led me to this point where I just don't really do much of anything that really needs to be done on any day of the week.

What's funny, though, is that as I'm thinking about it (and procrastinating, I cannot tell a lie), it occurs to me that the lack of motivation in this area is directly linked to my forced motivation in the healthy eating/healthy living area. When I'm being conscientious about the latter, it's like I use up the conscientiousness that I generally reserve for work stuff. Conversely, when I'm in a work-obsessed place, the healthy living/eating stuff falls by the wayside because I just don't have the mental energy leftover for motivating myself in those areas if I'm giving so much to work. I wonder whether I'd feel the same way if I had a job that was less self-directed. Eh, I'd probably just find other excuses not to get done that which needs to be done :)

But one thing that I most definitely will be doing is to go for a (fitness) walk today as opposed to going to the gym, for it is 65 degrees and sunny, and if one can't at least enjoy the effects of global warming than really, what good is it?

Ok, so in the past 2 hours I accomplished two things on my list of things to do. Now, before I do anything else, I'm going to eat something small and get the workout in, to continue with the work productivity upon my return.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Tell Me Again Why I Ate Like Crap for Months?

Because the thing is, I've eaten better (i.e., more delicious) food since the new year, while "dieting" than I did for months. I love the food that I cook for myself. I love vegetables. I love cooking.

So far, I've made the following:

  • chili
  • my own doctored lowfat no noodles or rice version of chicken paprikash (I substitute noodles with green beans; I use boneless skinless chicken breasts instead of a whole fatty chicken, and it only takes one hour to make)
  • a delicious western scrambled egg thing for breakfast this morning
  • stir fry for dinner tonight that smells fabulous and which I will be eating momentarily
So why? Why did I deprive myself of all of this stuff? Well, I think it has to do with having the time not only to actually make these delicious dishes but also the time (and mental space) to make detailed grocery lists and menus. Because let me tell you - cooking like this all the time is time consuming. That said, I would be a really excellent stay-at-home wife for somebody who wanted to eat yummy and healthy things. (Though I would suck with the house-cleaning and other duties, so perhaps that's why I've not pursued this "care for another" thing as a potential path....)

In other news, I've stuck to my resolution to drink 48 oz. of water a day, and let me tell you, my skin looks amazing, as does my hair. I think I've been dehydrated my whole life.

I have no idea whether I'm actually losing weight - I'm not allowing myself back on the scale (ooh, that was a rude awakening on New Year's morning) until next Sunday. But I did go to the gym today (didn't start with that as quickly as I'd planned to do because I was sick) and I have plans to go throughout this week, thus getting myself into the routine before I'm back in session with school. Whatever the case, I think that the new year is getting off to a good start in terms of the fitness goals.

So that's all the news from here. Other than that, there's been a lot of quality time with the Man-Kitty and a lot of recording what I watch on TV for the Neilsen People (and, incidentally, I am learning that I watch less tv than I thought I did. Interesting.)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Brief Thoughts on the Democratic Debate

  • Bill Richardson's hair is fascinating. Indeed, it may be as fascinating as Donald Trump's Hair.
  • I thought Hillary Clinton was awesome. And I was pissed that she was most often referred to by the other candidates as "Hillary" and, even once by Charlie Gibson, as Mrs. Clinton.
  • And I was pissed off at the way that Edwards and Obama ganged up on her.
  • And hell yes it would be a huge change in this country if we had a woman president.
  • And another thing: what was with the quick cuts to Chelsea by the camera? Mommy President much? Though I suppose they did quickly flash on the spouses of the other candidates, though as far as I could tell not nearly as much.
  • And finally, for Charlie Gibson's comment that two professors at St. Anselm College would make around $200,000/year, I join my own BWAHAHAHAHA! to that of the audience.

I believe that's all for now. Now time for the pundits.

A Question

Ok, so I'm watching the New Hampshire Debate amongst the Democratic candidates and I've got to know: Is it PACKistan (rhymes with can) (ala Midwestern-accented Clinton and southern-accented Edwards) or is it POCKistAHn (ala Obama and Richardson)? This is a serious question, and because of my own Midwesternness, I do not know the answer. (I grew up saying Iran and Iraq like "I ran" and "I rack" so I'm at a loss here.)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Who Even Knows What to Title This

Ok, so I had a conversation with someone today, and talk turned to New Year's resolutions. I'll recount the conversation for you here:

He Who Shall Remain Nameless* (HWSRN): So one of my resolutions is to spend no more than one to two hours on the computer each day.

Crazy: Well, that's a good resolution for you. (This is a person who is often pretty much chained to the computer.) But what are you going to do with all of that time you're spending not on the computer?

HWSRN (who enjoys offending Crazy's delicate sensibilities): Well, probably masturbate.

Crazy (chuckling, and then wryly): That's one way to spend all of those newly free hours. I mean, what else would you do with all that time?

HWSRN (in all seriousness): But now with my primary source for porn no longer available, I may need to kick it old school with the magazines.

Crazy (confused): What? (In part Crazy was confused because she'd thought he had changed the subject somehow, and that he was conveying information about fleshbot having gone out of business or something. And no, she's not going to get into how she knows that this is/was one of his porn sources. She doesn't even know why she knows that.)

HWSRN (totally serious): Well, you know, I get most of my porn off the internet, but if I can only be on the computer one to two hours a day, and if I have to do work....

Crazy (finally catching on): Bwahahahaha! You're not serious!

HWSRN (laughing, and yet indignant): Of course I'm serious! It's a real problem!

Crazy (in hysterics): Bwahahaha! That certainly is a problem! Guffaw!

And then, after much laughter on both sides, the conversation continued, and HWSRN told me that I should post about this because not only is it ridiculous and hysterical but also it is, as he says, "true." I hardly know what to say, other than that whenever I think of his earnest concern about what to do for porn, I find myself laughing out loud. I wish I could adequately recapture his earnestness here, but there just aren't words. Back to more serious posts about resolutions, the profession, getting ready for the coming semester, et. al., tomorrow.

*HWSRN asked not to be named with a "regular" pseudonym, as makes perfect sense given the embarrassing nature of the conversation. But HWSRN also gave me leave to post about this, and indeed, told me that I should post about this. I'll admit, I hadn't thought that I *would* post about it, but I really couldn't keep this conversation to myself. (Though I did do so for approximately five hours, which is something.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why Teach Literature?

One of the panels that I attended at this year's MLA had the above title, and I should admit at the outset that I attended as a resisting audience-member. From whence came my resistance? Well, this is a complicated question that has to do with much more than the panel itself. It has to do with the hierarchies within English as a discipline on which the MLA convention shines a bright and unflattering light. See, here's the thing: when we talk about why we do what we do as professors of literature, when we talk about the direction of the profession or the discipline, often only a small range of elite voices make pronouncements on these matters. Those who make claims about why we teach literature often teach very little and teach to a very specific sort of student population; those who talk about trends in the discipline often have very little connection to the vast majority of practitioners within the discipline.

The reality is that the vast majority of students study literature with professors who teach a minimum of 3 courses each semester. They study literature with contingent faculty (adjuncts, lecturers, instructors) or graduate students; they study literature with faculty on the tenure-track not at research universities or elite SLACs but at community colleges, regional comprehensive universities, or non-elite SLACs. And so it sticks in my craw just a tiny bit when professors who teach perhaps one to two classes in a semester (when they're not on sabbatical) to a student population that is almost entirely engaged, motivated, and very bright try to tell *me* why "we" teach literature. My reasons are not, ultimately, the reasons that the panelists offered.

To give a brief and inadequate overview, the panelists primarily focused on the "big picture" reasons for teaching literature - the conversations and questions that come out of reading literature that inspire discovery of new ways of thinking, the ethical and political ramifications of reading literature carefully (politically reading can empower us and give us agency; ethically reading can be a vehicle to greater responsibility and it trains us "in accessing the other"), and the way that teaching literature to students can give them greater capacity to handle complexity without rushing to judgment. I don't dispute that these all can be the results of teaching literature, and they all constitute pretty good reasons for doing so. But.

Because there's always a "but" when I do this sort of post. Someone asked in the Q & A why no one mentioned "pleasure" in the discussion of why to teach literature. The panelists looked confused and ultimately concluded that they thought it went without saying that students would find it pleasurable to study literature. This was the moment in which my suspicion about this panel was confirmed. Because guess what, folks? Depending upon the student population that one teaches, "pleasure" is not a given. Nor is an interest in engaging with literary texts. Nor is finding out about "other worlds" beyond their own. This is not to dismiss those students of mine who do come into class from these perspectives (for some do) but I teach a much broader range of students than do those at Columbia, Yale, and even the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While there might be one or two of those sorts of students in any class I might teach, the other 20-30 do not fall into that category.

So I thought I might give a list of why *I* think it's important to teach literature to the kinds of students that I teach - a list that is much less ambitious than thinking about the sorts of issues that these panelists discussed. So, why teach literature?

  • To inspire curiosity. Many of my students do not enroll in college with any innate sense of curiosity about the material that I teach. They see their degree as a vehicle to better career opportunities. They do not read for pleasure; they do not see education as something that is potentially transformative, and, in fact, they fear any transformation that education might enact.
  • To disrupt the consumer model of education that my first point hints at. There is no practical reason for students to read literature or for me to teach it to them. Literature is not ultimately linked to job training. And yet, I do believe it's important in terms of giving students new ways of seeing the world and to challenge the idea so pervasive in our culture that the reason for education is entirely linked to success - that it's something one buys in exchange for a better job. Fuck that. Education is about much, much more than that.
  • To insist on complexity and fine distinctions for understanding the world. To insist that students take care with their approaches, words and responses. My aims here are neither explicitly political or ethical. Rather, they just have to do with wanting students to be more engaged in the world around them and to go deeper in the ways that they consider their position within that world. Perhaps this will have positive political or ethical consequences, but those are not necessarily my agenda. I just want students to be more interested and more interesting.
  • To give students a vocabulary for discussing things that are complex, which is ultimately about socializing them to talk, think, and feel in ways that allow them to be upwardly mobile. Most of my students do not come from families that discuss books over dinner - or art, or advances in science, etc. If they don't learn how to have conversations about these things, they face a disadvantage when they leave college and enter the broader world. (I should say, I think this may be one of the most compelling arguments for the humanities in the context of higher education at my kind of institution, as it doesn't matter what degree one has if one can't hobnob with people from higher class backgrounds when one is done.)
  • To offer students a break from the other demands on their lives. It's true: I see my courses as offering students a kind of pleasure that they wouldn't otherwise experience when they've got full-time jobs, families, etc. that make extraordinary demands on their time. They wouldn't be reading if I didn't assign them the reading. And yes, I think it's important that they *must* schedule this kind of pleasure into their lives, which they probably wouldn't otherwise do.
So those are Dr. Crazy's reasons for teaching literature. And while some of them do have things in common with what the panel discussed, well, I think they're a lot more basic and concrete. I wonder whether, had the panel included a more diverse range of voices, whether some of those reasons might have been put on the table. As it is, however, those reasons surely inform most people who teach literature, but in the context of this discipline, those reasons only rarely get discussed, and even more rarely are those reasons discussed at the major meeting of our discipline.