Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Which I Feel Shame for an Institution of "Higher Learning" in My Home State, and Make a Request

Ok, so I've dropped the ball on getting the word out about this, mainly because I've been swamped with grading and students on ledges and preparing to go on a trip with my mom. But this is important, people. Because I am so behind the times, I'm going to direct you here for an overview of the situation (thanks to New Kid for writing such a brilliant post about it!).

You need to sign this petition. Really. Because what's going on at the University of Toledo? It's fucked up.

(My apologies for such a lame post, but really, that's the bottom line.)

Oh, the Ledge. The View Might Be Gorgeous, But That Hardly Makes Up for Feeling Like You Might Plummet to Your Death.

Sometimes I think that this job has a great deal in common with being that person who gets called in when somebody is threatening to jump off a building or a bridge or a high cliff. And sometimes I think that being a student can feel like you're that suicidal person who feels like the only answer is to swan-dive from the highest tower. And both of those roles, well, they suck.

When I was a student, I had a fair number of Ledge experiences. Typically I was far too proud ever to get a professor involved (though there are a few exceptions to that). Most of the time I just went ballistic on my mom or on whatever boyfriend was handy. But the pressure of being a student can sometimes be so great, and one's fears about failure can be so great, that one becomes totally paralyzed and lost. And one doesn't quite know how to handle all of the pressure that one feels, and that takes a serious toll. And you feel alone and confused and horrible, and there seem to be absolutely no solutions other than to stand on that Ledge and to hope that somehow you'll get talked off of it.

Now that I'm a professor, well, it's weird. It's weird to be the person who talks the stressed out people off of the ledge. And yet, at this time each semester, I find myself in that role. Sometimes I blame myself for being the kind of professor that puts students on the Ledge. Maybe if I were "nicer" somehow, or less demanding, or less scary, they'd never get there in the first place. But then I think, well, I can't be all bad if they actually come to me in order to be talked off of that Ledge. I'm doing something right if they come to me. But then I think that they wouldn't need to come to me if I were different. It's a vicious cycle.

So this afternoon I took my place on the Ledge, beside a student who is so, so bright and so serious and who's afraid of the future and freaked out about my class, and in a conversation that started on the verge of tears (though thank god the tears didn't come, as my office is woefully ill-equipped for such things) ended in the student smiling and feeling (I think) ok. And while I often see myself as not being a terribly "nurturing" professor, what I'm thinking right now (perhaps because I'll be spending the weekend with my Mom, who's not conventionally "nurturing" either) is that maybe it's true that I'm all about the "tough love" but that at the end of the day, there is love there and nurturing, just not in a sort of warm and fuzzy and I'm your best friend sort of a way.

My friend A. and I joke that her mom is totally the epitome of nurturing and is all about supporting even the most ridiculous things, so for example, if A. came to her mom and said that she was in love with a troll who lived under a bridge that she'd be like, "That's so great! Love! A troll! You can totally make his lair under the bridge homey!" whereas my mom would be like, "Crazy. You do realize that he's a troll. And under the bridge is filled with disease and hooligans. I mean, come on." And, see, I think I'm kind of like that, too. It's the whole thing of telling it like it is, even if it hurts somebody's feelings thing. But in times of real trouble, my mom is totally hard core and resilient. She's practical and gives the best possible advice. And she's always got my back, and she'd kill that troll if he did me wrong, whereas A.'s mom would probably ask what was so bad about the troll and couldn't we two crazy kids make it work. Anyway, I think that's kind of how I am with my students.

I'm hard on them. I tell them when I think they've done crappy work, and I push them really hard, and I'm not always "nice." I don't protect their feelings. And maybe I should do more of that sometimes, and maybe the fact that I don't puts some of the more sensitive ones on the Ledge. But see, this is the thing. I really care about getting them off the Ledge not in a way that erases what the original problem was but rather in a way that helps them get through that problem. And I do think that this is a good thing about my "style" (whatever that is).

But so anyway, one of the things that I said to this student was that when I was a student, I thought I was the only person who wigged and freaked out and lost it under the pressure to perform academically. What I realize now, after 10+ years of teaching, is that it's a totally normal occurrence for people to crack under the pressure. Hell, I still crack under the pressure sometimes. I'm trying to find better ways to express it and to notice the patterns that guide my freak-outs so as not to cause too much collateral damage, but I also forgive myself more for when I crack. I realize that I'm not a freak, even when I'm insecure or when I fuck up. Change is scary, high expectations (either of a professor for you or of one's own for oneself) are scary. And it's ok to be scared. It's ok to fuck up and to freak out. It's not the end of the world.

And you know what? It's scary to learn new things, and it's scary to think about things in ways that aren't comfortable. So this doesn't end when one stops being a student. It's different, but there's no point in time (as far as I know) in which one is immune to those feelings. As one gains experience, one does (I hope) get (at least slightly) better at handling it. But one's never "cured."

This student of mine.... I have such high hopes for this student and I really believe in this student. And I wish that my class hadn't put this student onto the Ledge, because the Ledge blows. But I hope, and I do think, that this student is going to get something out of going onto that Ledge, going out on that limb. Sometimes I think that without those experiences, it's impossible for us to grow.

Anyway, this is rambling and vague, but I suppose I wanted to post it because it seems that every time I face this situation with a student they always seem so ashamed for having gotten themselves into this situation, and I want to put something out there that says that there is no shame in this insecurity, or fear, or stress. Your professors, at least some of them, will have seen this before, and they won't judge you for it. In fact, they may have their own experiences that mirror yours. And I want students to know that once they get off of that Ledge that they'll see things differently, and that it really will be ok.

Having cracked under the pressure doesn't make a person a bad student or a bad person. It just makes a person human. And even though it sucks, it's probably really positive. Even if it doesn't feel that way at the time.

These Kids Today! (*Shakes Fist*)

Ok, so I've somehow gotten back into the habit lurking on the Chronicle's forums, and in particular I've kept up with my regular blog reading, and it's that time of the semester when professors, burdened by grading, like to complain about how the college students of America have no skills, no respect, no attention spans, no brains, no commitment to becoming educated, no curiosity, whatever.

This shall not be a post in which I say any of those things.

Instead, I want to think about what I actually see in my classes, and about some of the underlying assumptions that often guide such professorial complaints. This isn't to say that I'm not a complainer in my own right, but I often find myself baffled at the complaints that others wage and the vitriol with which they wage them. (It should be noted that I don't think that the Chronicle Forums are perhaps the best index of anything about teaching, as they seem to attract a lot of disgruntlement. But whatever.)

Complaint #1 - Abuse/misuse of technology in the classroom: Texting, cell phones ringing, and laptops, oh my!
Well, is true that back in olden times when we were students that none of these were an issue. But there are two things that get me about this complaint. First, I have fond memories of my studenthood in the dark ages of totally not paying attention in class. That's right. I was not totally attentive. In a fair number of classes, sometimes even ones in my major. I would do reading for other classes, doodle, nod off, write notes, make notes for papers that I had coming due, do the crossword in the student newspaper, daydream, make lists of things to do. Now, if I had the technology, would I have been guilty of the abuse/misuse of technology in the classroom? Who are we kidding? Probably I would have. I like to think that I would have avoided some of the more egregious displays of such abuse/misuse, for those are disruptive, and really, not paying attention while still appearing to be a good student is a fine art that really does require some subtlety. But at the same time, would I have been guilty of the laptop offenses (checking email, doing research for another class, working on another paper, etc.) if I had the power to do so? Of course I would have if - and this is the crucial part - I knew that I didn't need to pay attention (a) or I was bored out of my skull by the class (b). One can put all the policies one wants on a syllabus, but the real trick of encouraging students to engage and to maintain focus isn't about saying that you'll confiscate their cell phone - it's about making it advantageous for them to turn it off and put it away. I've got to say, I don't even have a cell phone policy on my syllabus, let alone policies related to anything more specific. And yet I somehow don't have problems with students engaging in these behaviors in my classes except for in rare cases. (I think twice I've caught students texting, and I stand over them and stare until they're red in the face. That nipped it in the bud. Cell phones ringing? Same thing - class stops, we all glare at the person, and it doesn't happen again. I'll admit, though, that I typically teach small classes, so they know that I *see* them. As for laptops, I think students are only just beginning to abuse this in my courses since most don't have them and many don't have even their own computers, but as long as they're not disrupting others? Well, it's their grade, and I suppose they can torpedo it if they choose.)

Complaint #2 - Abuse/misuse of technology outside the classroom: Email.
Ok, I'm going to admit, this used to be a huge complaint of mine. Huge. The inappropriate emails, the rude emails, the emails filled with demands and entitlement, etc. ad infinitum. But I only rarely get an email that is truly awful now. Again, I don't have grand policies about email etiquette on the syllabus - I've just gotten very good at keeping perspective with email. Student emails after business hours on the night before a paper is due? Well, I don't need to respond. Student sends long and whining email of excuses? I respond only to the question that is being asked, with perhaps a brief nicety thrown in. (This was one of the best pieces of advice that I got from a colleague: only respond to emails when they need something from you.) I've also gotten really good at copying and pasting portions of the syllabus into emails. The point is, if you do all of these things enough, word gets out and students no longer come calling via email in large numbers or in inappropriate ways. It's like magic.

Complaint #3- Students don't take advantage of office hours.
I don't know who your students are, but mine sure do, and I teach at a campus that has a ton of commuters and where students typically work full-time or close to full-time. Make the assignments challenging, and encourage them to come, and they make appointments. Not all of them, obviously, but a good many. If they never come, they either think it won't be helpful (a) or they don't need your help (b). Or you've scheduled your office hours at a ridiculous time and don't make appointments outside of that time, which sends a message that you don't want them to come, which maybe you don't, but then you can't really complain about their lack of initiative.

Complaint #4 - These kids today can't write!
Oh lord. Where do I even begin with this one. I suppose the first thing that I'd say is that if you teach them how to write, they will write passably well. Now, it may be true that students used to come into college more prepared for the writing that was expected of them. But is this the fault of students? Of technology (on which this is often blamed)? Of the fact that these good-for-nothing Millennials have been cosseted and babied to the point that they can't do anything properly for themselves on the first go around? Gah! No. It's none of these things. First: We've got to look to K-12 and what kinds of writing have been emphasized in all but college prep (AP) courses, which is typically not "academic" writing. This has to do with NCLB and the culture of testing that grows out of it. Now, does this mean students "can't write"? I'd argue no. I'd argue they're actually better at a lot of writing skills that previous generations of students needed to work on, like understanding audience, like finding their own writing voice, like writing descriptively and creatively. Between blogs, Facebook and Myspace pages, email, texting, and IM, I'd wager that students today do a lot more daily writing than most students of yesteryear did. The problem is, the writing skills that they develop out of those writing activities aren't the ones that academic writing typically values most highly. And thus, there is a disconnect between what professors expect (an extended argument, logical organization, a formal tone, adequate and proper citations, analysis) and what students have learned how to do. And then you say, oh, but first year writing is supposed to take care of this! Well, to some extent it can. (I've got lots of reasons why I think it doesn't, but I'll leave that be.) But remember: most people teaching first year writing are either literature specialists or comp/rhet specialists. We don't actually know the intricacies of writing within other disciplines. So guess what? Most of us focus on what we know best. Which means people within the disciplines lament that students don't know how to write a philosophy/chemistry/political science/whatever paper. The deal is, with the way it's currently set up, it's really on you to teach them how to do that. All first year writing is doing is making up for the fact that they didn't learn how to write with research at all in high school. But it's not the students' fault that any of this is the case, and it's not that they "can't" write or that they don't have the capability of learning to write effectively in an academic context.

Complaint #5 - Lack of intellectual curiosity/unwillingness to engage
This is one of those situations in which we've got to remember that the vast majority of our students are not future academics and that we can't really measure them by our own experiences. I have a hard time believing that a whole generation of people is less innately curious or more recalcitrant than the generations that came before it. I think that they often have many more distractions than I had when I was a student, and I think that they are much more likely to think of themselves as "consumers" of education than they are to think of themselves as students. But they do have curiosity, if they can find the room for it in their overbooked schedules. Part of my job, I think, is to find ways to instigate (notice I don't say inspire) curiosity in my students and to trick them into engaging. And while it's true that I don't think it's possible to do that for all students, I do think it's a valuable goal. And part of learning to do that has been in realizing that they're not just going to be into stuff because I'm into it, or because it challenges them, or whatever. They are not the student that I was. And you know what? That's not a failing in them. It's just a fact.

Complaint #6 - Grade-grubbing/students as consumers, aka "I just want the piece of paper so I'll get a better job."
You know, I don't really think that going to college for increased economic opportunities is wrong. That's why I went. I did not go to college thinking that I'd pursue Knowledge and Truth and Enlightenment there. I went thinking that I'd get a journalism degree and that I'd make more money than my high-school-educated parents. Any sort of "education" that happened would be a bonus, really, and was not ultimately the point. I suppose given the fact that this is my own background, I really think it's wrong to malign students for wanting the same things that I wanted. I'd rather focus on giving them the bonus of the education than on lamenting the fact that it's not their raison d'etre.

So I need to do loads of things, as I'm going to NYC tomorrow with Mommy for her birthday. But what other complaints can you think of that we should really just chill about? There've got to be more, and I feel like the list of things that we can let go might help us all to destress a bit at this end-of-semester time :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interesting (and Yet Painful) Grading

So I'm grading the papers from X class, a very theory-heavy course intended for advanced undergrads. Only 8 remain on the roster (this class is not for the faint of heart), and so I'm sitting here with their papers (when I should be doing work for my admin gig) and giving them lots of feedback.

Now, the paper assignment was a toughie and one that really pushed these students beyond what they normally must do in writing papers at this university. They were expected to write a 10-15 page paper in which they 1) made an argument about a primary (literary, film) source and 2) advance that argument through the integration of theory and criticism that 3) they synthesized with their own ideas about the primary text.

In other words, I set up an assignment that tried to force them to do a version of what they see critical and theoretical sources doing in their reading.

But so now I'm looking at the papers, and.... hmmm.... I'm not sure how I feel about them. On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that these are the most interesting papers as a group that I've read as a teacher. That said, they are also.... messy. The execution is off, whether because of how they're integrating sources or how they're organizing their ideas, or in some cases it's a matter of the writing feeling forced and tortured. And often its a combination of these things.

Now, as I'm going through, it's fair to say that every one of these papers would probably be head and shoulders above what most instructors at my university, in my department, see from their students. It's clear that they are really pushing themselves hard to stretch themselves intellectually and to attempt to think about things that are much more complicated than they typically think about in their writing. And I want to reward that. But on the other hand, I think it's important to take the messiness into account. Yes, this was the first experience with this sort of writing for them all, and I don't want to be a meanie, but at the same time, I want to give them real feedback. It's just BAD WRITING if every single sentence in a paragraph is passive, or if you use quotations to speak for you, or if you don't actually explain why you use the theory that you use. And so I feel like I'm in a weird position with all of this. So far I've just been commenting without thinking about how I'm going to grade the papers themselves. As I write this post, I'm thinking it could be really beneficial to assign grades for the different parts of the assignment. Yes. This is what I shall do. Because the paper is worth 30% of the grade, so I can divide the grade into 3, with 1/3 of the grade being for the proposal and following directions, 1/3 being for the technical/formal stuff with the writing, 1/3 being for the ideas and analysis. Yeah, I think that's the best approach. And that means that I can continue with the commenting as divorced from the grading, and just really engage with what they're writing, and then evaluate each later with the rubric that I'll design to arrive at the grade.

I so love writing here when it helps me figure stuff out. Now I think, however, that I should take a break for lunch.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Long and Winding Saturday Night Sort of Post

So between the whole workweek experiment and the end of the semester and the Music Meme that Ate Crazy's Blog, I've not done a post about much of substance recently. I fear that it is essential for me to use bullets, as I have no energy to organize my thoughts in any sort of systematic way. That said, these aren't really random bullets, as they'll be too lengthy for that, I suspect.
  • So today I cleaned my kitchen (like for real cleaned, as opposed to just spot-cleaned). It's part of Housecleaning Weekend of Preparing for the Arrival of Crazy's Parents, which happens Thursday. See, Stepdad will be staying here with the Man-Kitty (they are BFFs) while my mom and I go to New York. I've got to admit, while I'm theoretically excited about this trip, I've been so swamped with stuff I'm not really ready or excited in practice. I'm hoping that this changes in the next day or two.
  • Did I mention that I never mailed off that article I'd aimed to have done and mailed off Apr. 1? Well, I knew there was something wrong with it, so I let it "age." And having gone back to it, I've figured out the problems, and I should be able to send it off on Tuesday. I actually was thinking about how that worked when I read Sisyphus's update on her dissertation. See, because this is the thing that I've realized about myself: I can't do the "write first" thing, nor can I do the "little bit every day" thing when I'm trying to get actual usable pages hammered out. I need to just binge on the writing for that. Now, I can do the little bit every day thing once that's done - when I'm editing, when I'm fleshing out, when I've got it solidly in hand. I can also do a little bit each day when I'm in the research only phase at the very, very beginning. But in the early writing to middle phases, I need to just immerse myself in it and binge on the writing. What that's meant in this job is that I've used whole weekends during the semester, or breaks, for "real" writing. Realizing that about myself has gone a long way toward eliminating guilt. Also realizing that I'll never be a person who "writes first" before doing anything else. Exactly one time I've gotten up in the morning and done something for a publication first, and that was a bibliography. While this may happen again sometime, I don't bank on it. And you know what? That's ok. It's not about writing the "right" way - it's about writing the way that is productive for you. It's what I tell my students, and it's good advice for us all. But so yes, the "article" is almost at the point of actually being an "article."
  • In other research news, I've got to do some (small) changes to the book manuscript that would never be finished. I know, you all thought I was done with the manuscript. So, too, did I. However, in negotiating for one of the crucial copyright permissions, it has become apparent that I still have a wee bit of work to do. This should take like two days to accomplish. I plan to get on that in the week after this. When this is done, the confirmation of this final essential permission should have arrived, and I will send my stuff off to my editor, and then, in theory, this means the book will be out in November. Just at the moment when, if all goes well, I will be presenting at the absolute perfect conference at which to advertise said book to people who will care about it. I've already got at least two people who've committed to reviewing it (one of whom contacted me out of the blue because he'd just heard about it - from whom, I've no idea), and a third I can probably count on for doing so. In other words, the book nonsense comes ever closer to being a reality.
  • With all of the book stuff coming to a close, as with tenure looming, I've been thinking a good bit about where I go from here publication wise. Dare I say it - I want to start on another book project I think! But a lot of that desire comes from my desire to apply for a sabbatical immediately upon receiving tenure. (We get no pre-tenure sabbaticals here, and a book project would justify the application.) But another part of me thinks that maybe I'd like to focus on articles for a while. Probably I could convince the committee who considers such applications to give me a sabbatical with a proposal to use the time to develop 3 articles or something. But I'm not sure whether or what I should do. On the one hand, a book project would be best in some ways.... Articles have sort of fallen into my lap, and a semester of sustained time would allow me to make excellent headway on a new book. This would make me marketable for a move (if I want that) or it would put me in a position to apply for full in the next 7 years. (Yes, I've already got my eyes on that, if I remain here. Because, shit, promotion to full would mean that I'd be at the top of the pay scale. And yes, it's only money that motivates my desire for that.) But then I think that I could focus on articles instead and maybe do a textbook, which would also put me in position for full here, and which could (potentially) make money. Hmmm.
  • In other news, I've been thinking a lot about my Imminent Kitten. I've procured a scratching post for said kitten (an (un)used one from BFF's kitty Flo - Flo rejected it because she loved her One True Scratching Post from her kittenhood) and I've been doing a fair bit of thinking about naming and pseudonyming. See, here's the thing. On the one hand, I am no longer as paranoid as I once was when I felt that the Man-Kitty needed a pseudonym because people would potentially identify Crazy through her cat. On the other, it would really be mean to the Imminent Kitten if he didn't get respected as much as the Man-Kitty - not getting a pseudonym when the Man-Kitty has one. Thus, I need two names - not just a "real" name for the IK, but also a pseudonym. I shall think on both in the coming weeks. By the by, the Mother of Crazy is supportive of the addition to the family, which is certainly a good thing since she will be watching the kitties when Crazy is in Lebanon.
  • I did not mention this to you all, but last weekend I had an excellent shopping trip to the Macy's, where I procured the following: new handbag (orig. $75 - on sale $33), blouse (orig. $59 - on sale $17), blouse ($50 - on sale $19), cardigan (orig. $130 - on sale $26), 2 sports bras (orig. $39 each - on sale $7 each). Might I just note that all of these things are fabulous (a) and that the sports bras are the most comfortable I've ever owned (b)?
  • What else? Well, I'm concerned that two of my students in the Best Class Ever did not submit their papers, worth 30% of their final grade? Not cool, friends. Not cool at all. (I'm especially worried about one who's a really good student. The other, well, I'm not so surprised.)
  • I should also note that I'm SCARY and that one student had some sort of INCIDENT that I feared related to a paper he had to write for me. BFF and I consulted, and it turns out we had this student in common and she feared that the INCIDENT was because of a novel she'd assigned. The point is, wow, students freak out at this time of the semester.
  • You want to know about Crazy's personal life? Dude! I've been busy! FB hangs around, sickly and grumpy. I've been thinking about getting back on Match, though I'm quite exhausted at the moment.
  • Moonlight might be the queerest (in the most politically correct way possible) show on television. Oh, Mick St. John. You slay me.
  • In other news, I've discussed Imminent Kitten with the Man-Kitty. The first of these conversations occurred upon my return home yesterday, when the Man-Kitty smelled an Interloper (or two). In other words, I went to pet him, and he smelled Kittens. I explained the situation to him. His response? Well, initially there was a great deal of purring, and then he proceeded to mark me with his mouth and neck. And then he meowed for dinner. I believe this is the best response for which I could hope. To put words in his mouth, I believe he attempted to communicate: "I'm not sure about this, but at least it's not a dog. And you do realize that I continue to be the King of the Castle, yes? Still, I shall enjoy having someone whom I can force to play with me, unlike you, you lame, lame owner."
Yes, I believe that's all the news.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Really Shouldn't Be Talking about This

But let's just note that there is a litter of wee kittens being fostered by Crazy's Kitty Dealer (indeed, kittens are a drug) and that CKD knew that I've been thinking for ages that the Man-Kitty needs a companion, and well....


Now, I met them all today (and they are so sweet! and only about four weeks old!) and they're all boys, so that takes that part of the decision out of the equation. Now, one of them is stripey

But the others are all black.

Now, I've got to say, the stripey fellow really took a liking to me immediately, and I really do feel that we bonded. But then there's also the fact that one of the black kitties HAS SIX TOES on one of his little paws. How can I resist a Hemingway kitty cat? And after Mr. Stripey Fellow mewed until I picked him up, then Mr. Hemingway Kitty attempted to leap from the box in which he was kept to make an escape and then was very happy indeed when I abandoned Stripey to pay attention to him.

And no, I will not be taking two kittens. I will not go the way of three cats until I have an actual house. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

But so anyway, the Ever-Excellent Man-Kitty should be getting a... brother? Partner in crime? Nemesis? BFF? in about 3-4 weeks. This promises to be quite the adventure for all of us :)

(And I have been giving some thoughts to names, although I do not feel it's wise to name a kitty until you've gotten to know it a bit and you can tell whether the name fits the kitty. As I see it, there are two ways that I could go - I could either choose a name as officious as the Man-Kitty's real life name, or I could choose a name that is the total opposite of that, thus making the pair of them more hilarious together. It's hard to know which way to go. That said, I shall NOT be one of those English Professors with cleverly named cats that show you how clever I am. No indeed, for I feel this is kitty-cat exploitation. As soon as I've got real pics of the kitties I shall post them, which some might also call exploitation, but who doesn't love sweet, teeny, wee, kitties who were ABANDONED at a Petsmart? JUST WHO?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ok, so I've got to do this Meme again, For I Love It

It's because others get to play along! It is fab!

The rules, again, should you have missed them the first time around:

Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right I'm bolding because I can't be bothered to the html for striking through:)
Step 5: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING. So is looking at my feed for the last hour or so…

  1. She called me up today
  2. I had my eyes on you for such a long time
  3. I guess the time is right for us to say
  4. As soon as I get my head round you
  5. I would rather suffer in sweet silent solitude
  6. Charlie Hudson was a good man
  7. When it hurts so bad
  8. There's no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard
  9. There was a girl back in my town
  10. I don't wanna be no man's woman
  11. Ah, chocolate girl, well you're looking like something I want
  12. Better I, better I stay up
  13. You sit there in your heartache
  14. Was it destiny? I don't know yet.
  15. English girls are pretty when they play guitar
  16. This speech is my recital, I think it's very vital
  17. Tomorrow's coming around a hairpin curve in the road she's got a run in her stocking and she's missing the heel of her shoe
  18. Is it cruel or kind not to speak my mind and to lie to you
  19. I got ladyfingers ,baby, I got kid gloves, baby, I got heart
  20. Oh, my mama told me
  21. What you did to me made me see myself something different
  22. Spread your wings
  23. Careless in our summer clothes
  24. I was talking not two days ago
  25. This is the first day of my life

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Crazy's Workload, Day 7 and the Week in Review

2 hours - prep, email, deep thoughts. home
2.5 hours - teaching, designed a grading comment sheet, met with a colleague.
4 hours - grading, email. home
1 hour - commented on a student's thesis draft home
1 hour - looked over article and made decisions about incorporating notes (because no, I've not yet sent it - I felt it needed to "age." Fake deadlines are the bomb.) home
10.5 hours

Which brings me to a grand total for the week of..... (drumroll, please).... 38.5 hours.

Totally reasonable, yeah?

Now, is this a "typical" week? This was a question Curmudgeon asked in a comment to yesterday's tally. Well, what I'd say is that it's a "typical" light week. I doubt any week goes by during the semester that I work fewer hours than this. Now, heavy weeks, like the ones preceding this one.... They probably come in around at 60-70, and there are more of those than of these light sort of weeks (I estimate that I have about 5 of these in a 16 week semester). He also asked me about the shift in my workload that's happened this semester. To be honest, I don't think that the shift has really lessened or increased the tally in a demonstrable way - it's just changed the rhythm of the work that I do. So, for example, were I teaching 2 sections of intro to lit right now instead of doing the admin thing, I also would have registered no work this week for that course, as the prep is done and there would have been no grading. The admin thing was almost non-existent time-wise this week because it's been really heavy in recent weeks. So it all balances out.

But so anyway, I do have some closing thoughts on this experiment.

First, on the experiment itself: When in doubt, I chose to underestimate (esp. on things like email and meetings). I did this intentionally because as we all know it's easy to moan in a proportion that far exceeds the actual work that we do. Hell, I've done that at times on this here blog. The point for me was not to justify the profession by crying about the many, many hours I spend working. Or to get people to feel sorry for me (which sometimes is my intention, for it makes me feel better). But honestly, I don't think that the profession needs that justification, or that I need the pity. I think that the work that we do is valuable - however many hours it takes or doesn't take. I also think, however, that it's really valuable to give an estimate of how much time that all of the parts of the job take, as it gives a much more real sense of the work that is involved in educating people. It's not just a matter of talking about shit we love, or of hanging out with students and colleagues. It's a lot of the time a huge amount of bureaucracy (an amount I never could have anticipated even though I taught throughout grad school), a huge amount of busy-work, in addition to the normal teaching, grading, research part of the equation that is most visible. And it does require one to manage one's own time and to be very self-motivated.

One thing that I noticed about my own habits from the experiment is that I've totally internalized my new 3-day-a-week schedule. I get more done when I've got stuff to do, and so this semester, as opposed to in one's previous, I've loaded the bulk of my work into that 3-day period, and the other days are much more slack-filled. When I was on the 5-day-a-week schedule, I was much more inclined to work in shorter bursts - so each workday would be, in a light week like this, about 5-6 hours, and then the weekend would be free. What I see here, though, is that I'm really good at protecting what I conceive of as "my" time. I've kept Mondays and Fridays sacred in all but the rarest of cases (four times over 15 weeks, if I recall correctly), and even if it means working like a dog on the days when I teach, I'd rather do that than make work for myself on my "free" days by going into the office. (This is not to say that I don't work on Mon. and Fri., but it is to say that I don't go to campus and don't do work that always seems to extend for hours and hours and does very little for me).

In general, though, I'd say that what makes the work that I described here different from a "real job" in the "real world" is that every hour clocked was one in which I actively was working. Indeed, the one little block of time where I wasn't I penalized myself. I think back to my hours doing administrative assistant type work in grad school and over summers in undergrad, and I'd estimate that I spent maybe 25 of a 40 hour week (and that's generous) actively working and mentally focused on my work. A workweek was tallied not by time spent productively laboring but rather by hours with one's butt in a cubicle. Now, admittedly, I didn't care about those jobs and none of them was terribly challenging or competitive or meaningful. I was a cog in the machine. But, I'd argue, in looking at what friends not in the profession describe about their lives, that they do not actively work during the entirety of their 40-hour weeks. And so that's where my 38.5 tally doesn't really tell the truth. Because the reality is that if this were a "regular" job, that 38.5 would probably translate into a 45-50 hour week. And so, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that claiming a 60-hour week for academic jobs is probably totally sensible, as even in the light weeks, we're actively working much more than regular folks actually work at work. (At least in office jobs.) And the truth is that in heavy weeks we should probably clock our time in not at 60-70 hours but rather at like 80-90. Because work that requires a lot of focus and concentration is hard. And if that's all we're clocking, is the time spent, then we're fools.

Now, finally, you may be wondering how you, too, can achieve a 38.5 hour week. Because many would claim that they've never experienced such a thing, even if they've got a lighter teaching load than I typically do (and I've had similar weeks when doing the full 4-4). So here are the tips I've got:

  1. Protect your time. Confine meetings and other such stuff to days that you teach whenever possible. (Obviously sometimes this can't be helped. But if a meeting is scheduled on a non-teaching day, then deal with other meetings and administrative crap on that day, too.)
  2. Grading expands to fill the time that you allot for it. Don't allot so much time. That batch of 5-7 page papers I graded in 4 hours? I spent no longer than 15 minutes per paper. And I give a good many comments. This is where I've got to say that having some sort of sheet with comments that you'd give to everybody helps a TON. It also helps with quality control to have such a sheet. The curve - with no tweaking? 2 A's, 4 B's, 4 C's, 4 D's, 2 F's.
  3. Figure out what works and keep doing it. Got a course you had great success with? Teach it semester after semester. Only change one or two things if you get bored or if one or two things didn't work great. See that you can't really accomplish brand new research projects during the academic year? Reserve your "breaks" for that and give yourself permission to slack during the semester.
  4. Teach similar stuff across all of your courses. Maybe not identical, but let's say that you deal with Concept A in a survey. Develop an upper level course that is a more focused look at Concept A. All of your background prep is then done.
  5. Develop a stable of teaching activities and assignments that work across all courses that you can draw on for all courses with very little tweaking.
  6. When students are doing group-work or peer review, do your own shit. I know, this is against all of the Tenets of Good Pedagogy. But interrupting them just makes group stuff take longer and it doesn't necessarily help. Really: you can just make a trip around the room once, and it's fine. Otherwise, you can eavesdrop and do your own shit and it will be fine. That said, I always reconvene after group stuff, and I collect some written record of it, so it's not like there's no accountability. It's just that I use the time I've got as efficiently as possible.
  7. Forgive yourself when you cut corners. Make your priorities and stick to them, and if something at the bottom of the list doesn't get done, well, then, fuck it.
I'm sure I could come up with more, but I'll tell you, these are the ones that immediately come to mind that have served me well and have made my life on the tenure track in a not-so-cushy job totally tenable. That said? My first three years were BRUTAL. Never a week under 40 hours in that first 3 years.

Ooh! A Music Meme!

As seen at Anastasia's and Scrivener's....

Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right I'm bolding because I can't be bothered to the html for striking through:)
Step 5: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING. So is looking at my feed for the last hour or so…

  1. I'm in a sad mood tonight
  2. The moment I wake up
  3. Been tryin' to meet you! Mmmmm.
  4. Take my photo off the wall if it just won't sing for you.
  5. You'll never see the courage I know.
  6. Birdie in the hand for life's rich demand
  7. A single rose in your garden dwells
  8. White lines on your mind
  9. Inside your pretending
  10. I looked at your face I saw that all the love had died
  11. It seems this boy's bathed in ridicule
  12. Dark I am yet lovely as tents of Kedar
  13. An open road where I can breathe
  14. Days like this I don't know what to do with myself
  15. Leaves are falling all around
  16. She said do these seats fold down
  17. Man I promise, she's so self-conscious
  18. Black birds slow and softly breaks a glass of wine
  19. I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
  20. We know it's wrong to let this fire burn between us
  21. Don't touch, kid, sleep with the lights on
  22. I've been thinkin' that you've crossed the line
  23. You keep on tellin' me these pretty little lies!
  24. I took the train back, back to where I came from
  25. All the world just stopped now
Ok, now back to the grading. Le sigh. But might I just say that I was very excited by what the shuffle picked. I was waiting to have to include some reading of Byron from the Brit Lit anthology survey disk I've got in here.


Thanks for the feedback, y'all who've weighed in. I think I'm going to give the student a zero and offer limited feedback (the student will get the comment sheet but no comments on the paper itself after the plagiarized material). Of course, I could change my mind, but I'm thinking not.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Crazy's Workload, Day Six

Another light day, though productive as it needed to be, I suppose.

1 hour - book-related stuff, some tasks at school
1 hour - email
1 hour - grading
3 hours

It'll be interesting to see how tomorrow goes.... I may end up proving it's not necessary to work 60 hours a week :) At least not during some weeks.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Crazy's Workload, Days Four and Five - Weekend Edition

Yesterday, I did absolutely no work. And sure there was stuff I could have done, but whatever.

1 hour - Looked over stuff for a student publication I advise.
.5 hour- Book-related stuff.
1.5 hours

Tomorrow, however, will include a marathon of grading as well as a bunch of other stuff. I could do some more tonight, but screw it.

In Which Medusa and I Are Lame

Sorry about the fact that Crazy Medusa's didn't happen last night. This was primarily my fault - I was wiped out and didn't feel like socializing; Medusa, in spite of her efforts, couldn't convince me. And this is why it's important that Med and I never actually schedule any social plans. See, one of us always screws them up. But so yes, we are lame.

In other news, today I must accomplish many things. All I want to do is to go back to sleep.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Crazy Medusa's?

Do you guys remember this watering hole? Well. Medusa and I are thinking that perhaps around 7 PM Eastern on Saturday that we may well head over that way. Perhaps you should check in around that time? Of course, I will keep you abreast of all developments.

Crazy's Workload, Day Three

Well, today was a weird day in my workload because a lunch meeting with a colleague ended up extending into a meeting that took an entire afternoon (not unpleasantly). But so I didn't do many things I'd imagined myself doing this afternoon, but I did have good collegial bonding and we discussed lots of things related to some courses we're developing, tenure, curriculum, service, etc. In other words, we weren't just gossiping but rather we were ironing out a lot of things that could well come into play in concrete ways in the next year. In a week of meetings, this was my best meeting so far.

In other news, tonight I have to go to our honor society's induction ceremony/dinner. (Well, I suppose I could have said no, but they only invite select faculty and I really think that it's important to attend this sort of event because we really don't do enough of this sort of thing with our students.)

So, my workload today:

5 hours - meeting
2 hours - induction (I'm estimating here, because I haven't actually gone yet, but I imagine that will be about the length of time).
7 hours

Now, some would say that I shouldn't count these things as "work" because they are pleasant. That is so totally bogus. It's like saying that my friend who works in the insurance industry shouldn't count cocktails with clients, even though she's expected to wine and dine them, because it's "fun." Here's the thing: I think one is *lucky* if the work that one does is fun, but I don't think that somehow that means it isn't work. One of the problems with how people characterize academic work is that they think that if a professor enjoys something that they do that it shouldn't end up in the tally. Like research "feeds the soul" or something and thus it's not part of the job. I blame the Puritans for this sort of nonsensical view of things. Work doesn't need to be punishment for it to *count*. So today I didn't set foot on campus, but by 9 or so tonight I'll have put in a full day's work. Sure, that work will have been conducted at two restaurants, but it is *not* how I'd have spent my time if this weren't my *job*. So whether meeting with my colleague or going to this dinner for students is pleasurable for me really isn't the point. Sure, I wouldn't count this "work" in the same way as I count other kinds of work that I do, mainly because I like doing it more than some of the other kinds of work that I do. But that doesn't make it Not Work somehow.

You know what I'm liking most about this experiment? I'm liking that I'm articulating (to myself more than anything) the many different kinds of work that make up my specific job. I think one of the reasons that I've thrived at this institution is because the types of work that I do for it vary so much. I'm never bored. I've worked other jobs, and they've been boring. That sucks. In this job, well, I do some boring things, but most of what I do is really stimulating. And even the boring things are punctuated by things that are not. And I think this is one of the benefits of this career path, even though one has to give up other things in exchange (ahem, money).

So no job is perfect, and I'm not saying that mine is. And I'm also not saying that this is what every academic job looks like. But when we think about the mysteries of "fit" and the vagaries of the tenure process, I think that this sort of experiment goes a long way toward demystifying and clarifying. And yes, I work hard, and I work a lot. But every day is different. And I do lots of different things. And I decide what I do and when. And you know what? That really works for me. It doesn't stress me out, even if it means that there's a lot of uncertainty that goes with the territory. And that is perhaps the biggest lesson that I'm learning from doing this: that I'm really well suited to the work that I'm doing, in terms of my personality and in terms of what talents I bring to the table.

In other news, my summer courses have made their enrollment and Project Pay Off Credit Cards is progressing according to plan. But now I've got to get ready to go and hang with students and colleagues.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crazy's Workload, Day Two

1.25 hours - teaching
.5 hours - meeting re: admin thing
.5 hours - email
1 hour - office hours for admin thing (I could count this as 1.5, but since I didn't accomplish much (i.e., anything) I figure it makes sense to give myself a penalty.)
1 hour - looking at materials related to publication I'm advising
.75 hours - Pointless Meeting
.5 hours - grading

5.5 hours

(As with yesterday, I'll update should I do anything else tonight, though I think the possibility of that happening is very small indeed.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today in Crazy's Workload - a Week-Long Series

First, the rules:

1) What counts as work:
  • Meetings (even if they happen over a meal or in a hallway, if something substantive is discussed)
  • Chatting with students (again, if that conversation covers something substantive - not just hey how are you)
  • Grading/responding to student work
  • Time spent in class
  • Time spent planning for class
  • Research (because, dudes, that is work)
  • Email, if work-related.
  • Service activities
  • Admin Stuff (time spent in office + any outside time spent)
2) How time will be counted: In increments of 15 minutes. If the time spent falls in between, I'll round lower or higher depending, i.e., 7 minutes or less is rounded down; 8 minutes or greater is rounded up.

3) I will designate work done at home as such.

Today's tally:

1.5 hours - commenting on drafts for one class. home
1. 25 hours - reading/prepping for one class. home
.75 hour - prepping for another class (included compiling some stuff and planning an activity)
1 hour - attendance at Important Event Related to Our Non-Existent Budget/also prepping for meeting (I am a multitasker).
1 hour - meeting for standing committee.
1.5 hours - department meeting
.5 hour - responding to email, prep for meeting
2.5 hours - teaching, grading (again with the multitasking while students did an activity.
.5 hour - 2 conversations with colleagues related to program administration stuff.

10.5 hours

In this tally I did not count hanging in a colleague's office for 10 minutes to gossip, nor did I count a chat that I had with BFF. I also didn't count travel time to and from meetings. 2.75 of my hours clocked took place at home, which would make it appear that I had a less than 8 hour workday, and that's only if we notice all of the meetings. If we only notice classtime, then my workday was a brief 2.5 hours. Note that no research took place on this day, and actually no service, unless we count meetings as service (which I do like to do). This is a fairly typical Wednesday in the Life of Crazy, with some activities changed out for others. It's worth noting also that advising is basically over for us, so the week's activities that I will recount between now and next Wednesday will actually be a low-time-commitment time period, in which I don't have a tremendous amount of grading (only one batch of student papers - >20) or student meetings happening. In other words, the time clocked here will likely be lower than it would be at other times during the semester.

Ok, so more work happened tonight.

.5 hour - designed peer review sheet for upper-level course research paper home (though did not type it, and yes, I suppose I could have composed on the computer, but I can't think in typing for certain things, and this is one of them and since it should take me like 5 mins to type that shouldn't be a padding to the total for the week). Also alphabetized papers from another class (and yes, that is work).

That brings me up to 11 hours for the day.

Random Thoughts on Professorial Workload

Maggie posted about how many hours professors do/should work per week yesterday, and it's a post I've been thinking a good deal about. On the one hand, Maggie asks, "I mean, who in their right mind becomes a professor because it's an easy gig? Who in the world gets a PhD and expects to work no more than 40 hours a week, dammit, as if it is their Right and Entitlement? Really? Would you like a punch card and a time clock, my friend?" but then she further asks, "Is it unrealistic to dream about a place where professors work 45 hours a week, get weekends off, and don't teach summers? Is it unrealistic to assume that one can be a professor, and also have a life?" In other words, Maggie is torn between thinking that profs who complain about workload are misguided in their complaints while at the same time she wonders whether it's really so wrong or delusional to expect to have a life with more balance between work and other areas. There's a lot to which to respond here.

On the one hand, Maggie talks about (also in the comments) the fact that we ourselves are responsible for the time that we spend working. You know, that's kind of true and kind of not. Yes, I can choose to assign more or less writing, and I can choose to spend x amount of time grading and commenting. Some parts of this are in my control. I think on the other hand, though, that if we put the responsibility for professorial workload entirely on the shoulders of individual professors that we make a mistake. The reality is that I'm not entirely in control of my workload. I don't control how many courses I teach or how many students are enrolled in them. I don't control how many advisees I am assigned. I don't control tenure expectations at my institution, nor do I control the ways in which I will be called upon to "serve" (though obviously one can say no to some things, you can't just say no to them all, or to all the ones that are time-consuming, or whatever). What do I control? I control the type and number of assignments in a course (within certain parameters of course, as one can't exactly get away without assigning papers in a writing course). I control the amount of reading in a given semester. I control my research agenda. I control some parts of the service that I agree to do.

So when I think about workload, and complaints about workload, I start thinking about the invisibility of so much of the work that I do. Here's an example: student advising. Now, I care about advising and being a good adviser. That said, advising now counts as teaching in the tenure requirements at my institution, an institution with a 4/4 load already. It does not count as service. One major reason for this is that by counting advising as teaching, departments that don't want to advise the students in their majors can justify hiring people whose primary job is to work as advisers, counting x # of advisees as a course (although I think they've got to use course releases or lecturer lines for that purpose, which takes away from course releases for research or course development within the department or from permanent teaching hires, which exacerbates the reliance on part-time adjunct labor). What this means in a department that doesn't take that approach is that advising for faculty already teaching a full load ends up being completely invisible because you don't need more teaching evidence. So, one response could be to ignore your advisees, which would be a pretty sucky response I think, or it could be to limit your availability to them. However, if word gets around that you're not available to students, that's bad, too.

So anyway, my point here is not that advising students shouldn't be part of the job (in fact, I think the full time adviser thing is a wack way to go for many reasons and I think it's important that faculty active in their disciplines do at least some advising, especially of students close to graduation) but rather that if it is part of the job that it should count for something. It should be considered meaningful. As it is, I get little credit and no compensation (well, other than the warm fuzzy feelings that fill my bitter, bitter heart) for this work. And this work takes time. I put the time in because I care about my students. The institution takes advantage of the fact that I will do that for the good of the students in spite of the fact that they've worked it out so that this work goes almost entirely unnoticed in terms of my performance review or review for tenure.

This is just one example. I could come up with many more. The point isn't to arrive at some litany of grievances about how tough a professor's life is (hint: I do not think it is very tough at all, ultimately), but rather to note that a lot of what professors do is mystified to such a degree - even within our institutions - that depending on one's context one can become really freaking resentful about issues related to workload. It's not about the hours put in. It's about the lack of control over how one spends those hours and the lack of acknowledgment of the fact that we spend them.

Now, I feel like I should note that I don't feel terribly burdened in this way at my institution. Or at the very least I don't feel so burdened that I am filled with resentment and anger over it. Do I think that some sort of shift needs to happen that realigns how faculty jobs at my institution are seen and evaluated? Sure I do. But I'm not constantly pissed off. Part of that is that within my department I feel very valued and I feel like my hard work and quality of work is recognized. That's not true for all people in my department, though, nor is it true for all people at my university. Now, this may because these people just tend toward disgruntlement, but I really don't think that's the answer in all cases. I think that some people end up being "favorites" and others don't. Some people are more about self-promotion and other's aren't. And so some people feel recognized and rewarded while others don't and it ultimately has little to do with difference in performance, I often think.

But so anyway, I don't think people make it through graduate school and into a tenure-track job with the expectation that they won't work hard at the job. I do think that they think a benefit of this career path is that they will choose the ways in which they work hard (within reason) and that they will receive respect for the hard work that they do (from students, colleagues, administrators, whomever) and the necessary support that it takes to do that work well. Considering the pay for professors, and considering the level of training required and all the rest of what comes before actually acquiring a full time gig, it does seem unreasonable to think that we should work 60-hour weeks doing crap that is imposed upon us and for which we don't receive credit or adequate support.

You know, I think I may do an experiment next week where I log my work-time and how that time is spent. That might be a fun way to address this issue. Hmmmm.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In Which I Rule (Well, Sort Of)

Well. It's two weeks from my self-imposed deadline on that article, and after much squeezing of blood from stones, etc., I do indeed believe I have finished. I'm not terribly happy with it, but well, at a certain point one needs to just accept that a thing is what it is and hope for the best. Why am I not terribly happy? Let me do this in bulleted form:

  • Remember how I'd never intended to do this thing as a full-length article? Well, that leaves me with some lingering insecurity about the structure of it, which I'm still uncertain about.
  • I think I succeed at that dubious enterprise of both doing way too much and way to little. I think that the basic idea is cool, but I'm not sure I actually am convincing in my articulation of it.
  • I just hacked 1200 words off the thing (to bring me in under the 10K word maximum), which was probably for the best, given my loquacious tendencies, but who knows if those 1200 words were the right words to cut? Never fear: I've saved the original much more baggy draft.
  • I'm just not feeling terribly confident about what I've produced. That said, I'm not certain what else I could do with it to make myself more confident. So what that says to me is that the only thing for it is to do the works cited and to be done with it. Maybe it's good enough to secure a revise and resubmit. That's honestly all I'm hoping for at this point. I really don't think it's terribly good.
  • Whatever. Not everything that gets published is terribly good, so maybe I'll get lucky. Points in my favor: I'm writing on one author who's sort of hot at the moment, and one of the texts I discuss by that hot author has virtually no criticism on it. (This, of course, could also mean that nobody cares about this text, but I really do think that they should.) Another point in my favor is that I'm making an interesting argument about [period] that I get to through an atypical theoretical approach. Also, I do think that I manage, even when not writing the best stuff, to have an engaging critical voice. While I realize that this isn't what gets a thing published, I do hope it has the power to dazzle and confuse enough to get my foot in the door. Well, and I should also give myself credit for being a good close reader, because I really do think that I do a nice job with that in nearly every case.
  • Blech. I hate writing.
Except of course I don't or I'd have not thrown myself into this project with such abandon. So clearly there's something about the whole "writing an article" thing that I enjoy, sick though that is. Anyway.

In other news, I also accomplished the following this weekend:
  • Big List of Things To Do.
  • Edited down an abstract for that fall conference panel.
  • Book-related nonsense.
  • Much relaxing.
  • Read for one of my classes.
Once I get the works cited done, I plan to do some laundry and housecleaning. In addition, I may (gasp!) drag myself to the gym. We shall see, but nobody should get their hopes up about that. You know why I finally was motivated to finish the article? More than anything it's because I want to put away all of the article detritus that litters my living room in messy piles. Nothing more horrible than the House of Writing Anxiety.

So yeah, I'm boring. That's pretty much all my news. Oh, except for that I had an entire telephone conversation in my sleep with somebody on Friday night. Like I answered the phone (apparently on the first ring?), the person chatted for a few minutes, and then I responded with the completely nutty, "I don't know why you continue to subject yourself to people who don't have your best interests at heart" - which incidentally had absolutely nothing to do with what the person was talking about - which tipped the person off that I was UNCONSCIOUS, and only the next day when I glanced at my caller ID did I even realize the person had called (at which time I called for a report on what I said). Now, this isn't my first sleep-talking incident in my life. There was one in college where I apparently woke a friend who was visiting because I sat straight up in bed and said, "No, I am not being uncooperative!" and then laid back down again. There was one in high school where I woke my mom up because I was screaming something about chickens. And yes, as a kid I was both a sleep-walker and a sleep-talker. So this is one of my things. But as far as I know, this was my very first telephone conversation that I conducted entirely in my sleep (though I have previously woken up while already on the phone). Anyway, you know that loquaciousness that I mentioned earlier? Well, apparently I'm chatty even when I'm totally unconscious. This really can cause anxiety, as who knows what I might say if some evil-doer got a hold of me? (An ex used to do this actually - engage me in conversation while I was asleep just to see what I might say. Totally fucked up, that. Oh, and that reminds me of another ex who would wake up because he was talking back to me while I was talking in my sleep. That was weird, though not nearly as creepy as the first ex I mentioned.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Rambling Post

I think I have to accept the fact that I just can't do work on Wednesdays or Thursdays when I come home. I'd had all these high-falutin' notions about finishing the *final* editing on the Never-Ending Article, as well as doing some other things, but man. It just wasn't possible tonight.

That said, I have accomplished a great deal over the past couple of days, including:
  • Teaching and grading.
  • Obsessively checked the preregistration enrollment in my summer and fall courses.
  • Realizing that my summer courses are likely to go, figured out the course schedules for both.
  • Accomplished a bunch of stuff for the admin gig.
  • Met with some students.
  • Did some busy-work stuff related to to the Never-Ending Article.
  • Realized I've got some more book stuff to take care of after a second wild (and yet truly enjoyable) phone conversation with a person who shall remain nameless.
  • Attended a department event.
In other words, dude, it's totally ok that I blew off work last night and tonight. Tomorrow, I'll start fresh in the AM. My aim is still to get the article sent off tomorrow. I'm hopeful.

But so anyway, I've been mainly focused on teaching lately, although that's not necessarily apparent from what I've been posting here. It's really closing in on the end of the semester, and that means the usual activities of manic prep and grading, talking students off of ledges, and looking forward to the end, but the end that won't really be the end for me this semester since I'm teaching in the summer. In order to talk about the decision to teach in the summer, I need to talk about this semester first.

As you all know, I've technically got a 4/4 load. Now, unaccountably since starting this blog, I've not taught four classes in a semester. It's like the blog name was a kind of good luck charm in that regard, although I'll note that I've had to pay for those course releases with other kinds of work. No free rides for me. But so in Spring 2006 I got a course release to complete a journal article; I got course releases in Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 for doing some admin work (and in that time also churned out another article, got the book proposal out and got the book contract, organized an MLA panel and co-edited a small journal issue, which all were the real reason why I thought it would be good to take on the admin position that would offer me reassigned time because I was naive and didn't realize how much work I'd have to do for the admin thing), and in Fall 2007 I got a course release to finish the book manuscript. This semester, I thought I'd be teaching four courses, but at the last minute I was offered another admin thing that actually got me two course releases this semester. But so this windfall meant that for the first time I considered summer teaching, which will enable the paying off credit card debt goal that I've made for myself this year (summer teaching pays very well in these parts). I figured that with the lighter teaching load this semester, that summer teaching would not be such a terrible burden. And it is true that I'm not as burnt out as I normally would be at the end of a semester.

But that has everything to do with the classes that I'm teaching and less to do with the course releases, I think. For the first semester in my teaching life, I am not teaching composition. Hallelujah! Now, I know that I've got a lot of readers who specialize in comp/rhet, and what follows is in no way meant to offend, but I've got to say, I'm a better teacher of writing when I'm not teaching composition. My problems with teaching comp don't have to do with my commitment to teaching writing: they have to do with my utter abhorrence of teaching writing in a context that doesn't have to do with my discipline and my expertise and the fact that most students who take comp classes utterly resent (if not outright hate) having to take them. And I suppose the problem is that I resent teaching composition - in no small part because when I encounter students that I've taught in comp in subsequent semesters, it never fails that I need to re-teach them how to write, even if they'd come a long way in the previous course. They don't, as far as I can tell, internalize what they learn in comp. In contrast, when I focus on teaching writing in my literature classes (which I've begun doing more in the past three semesters) those students who come back for more really have internalized what I taught the in the previous course about writing. And I think it's because that writing instruction was less rooted in me walking them through every step - it was more independent - and because it was connected to material that they were into studying. The point in my lit classes is not the writing but rather their ability to express their ideas and their mastery of concepts and texts in the writing. Perhaps it should be that in composition courses as well and I just suck at making those connections within the confines of the composition classroom. That's entirely possible. But all of this is to say that, for me, teaching comp is incredibly draining. It's time consuming; I dread the grading; I dread the whole shebang. Not an ideal teaching situation, and a recipe for burnout, yeah?

Now this semester, there is no comp. None. And actually there wouldn't have been even without the course releases. And I am totally energized with teaching students to write and with grading student writing! And they notice! I've also incorporated a lot more writing instruction into both of my lit classes that I am teaching, even though they are upper-level classes, and it's paying off! In the course of this week, students have noted that they've never had to work so hard for an A from a professor and then in the next breath say that they've also never learned so much in a course. Any course. I've had students note that for the first time they realize that the whole point of writing papers is that they are supposed to be conveying their own ideas - that it's not just about recounting what other people think. And students are clamoring for appointments to meet with me so that they can do the best paper possible - not because I require them to meet with me but because they're totally excited to do the work. They're excited to think in writing. I even had a student thank me for encouraging her to write about what she found most interesting (but was more difficult) rather than to write (on an equally viable topic) about what would "work" for the assignment (and be "easy"). That's what teaching writing is supposed to be about.

And ultimately, that is so intrinsic to what I think teaching literature is, too. And they are all learning so much! They're like different people from who they were at the beginning of the semester! And they know that they're learning! It's not just me seeing it!

But so yeah, so I thought teaching summer wouldn't be a bad idea before all of that came to pass just because of the lighter teaching this spring, but given all of the above, I'm actually looking forward to teaching in the summer. I'm teaching one section of my absolute favorite class (which I'll need to post about more specifically, for it's not a course solidly in my specialization but rather a course that fills general studies requirements) and what had formerly been my absolute favorite class (another general studies one, actually - so perhaps I'm in no way suited for a research university because the teaching I love most is actually not highly specialized teaching). I'm teaching the two courses in the evening, so even though my break won't start until July because of the summer teaching, every day will be free. I think this will be a good set-up.

In other news, scheduling for fall has begun, and I'm wicked-excited about the coming teaching there as well. As I think I might have noted, I've worked it out so that I've got a T/W/H schedule for the next two years (even with the 4/4, should my run of course releases come to an end). I've managed this because I've developed an online course and because I've committed to teaching one evening class. It should be cool. At any rate, in the fall I'm teaching Notoriously Difficult Novels Class (in which students are enrolling at the speed of light, and because I'm a petty and vindictive person, I can't help but note that this is not the case for a colleague's course that meets at the same time), Favorite Class, the survey, and the online course. The only course that's slow to grab students is the online one, but that has everything to do with certain administrative things, so I'm not worried (yet).

But so yeah, the bulk of my time actually hasn't been spent on research this semester at all. It's been spent on teaching stuff - including building the online course for fall - and on the administrative thing. You wouldn't know that from the blog necessarily, but yep, that's actually where my head is at. Which may be why that article isn't done :)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

RBOC: A Brief Break from the Article That Will Never Be Finished

  • Except actually I am seeing a light at the end of the tunnel now, so the title of this post isn't really true. Whatever. This is taking longer than I want it to take.
  • One reason for this is that I realized I didn't read the fine print on the submission guidelines - yes they want Chicago style, but they want Chicago Style with in-text rather than all endnote citation. ANNOYING. And yet, with the aid of Refworks, which I might love more than any human or beastie, this was not that difficult to manage. Actually, had I had the time to experiment with Refworks more it might have done the whole thing for me, but I haven't had time to figure out all of its capabilities yet. It will, however, be doing my works cited for me. And that makes me want to make sweet love to it.
  • Why has this article been trying? Well, because I really had never thought I'd write an article based on that conference paper with which it originated. Remember: this was going to be the year of no research. But so that has meant that I've had to deal with a lot more organizational irritation than I normally would have to because the thing wasn't actually clear in my mind when I began to transform it.
  • I do not know how those of you with kids - or even with significant others - manage to complete any writing projects. The fact that you do really is so beyond impressive to me.
  • And so yes, I plan to be deadwood research-wise should I ever end up with child. Fuck off. I'll have tenure :) (I'm totally kidding, in case that's not clear.)
  • Today I actually accomplished a great deal, in addition to the article. I did some cleaning up around the homestead, made a vet appt. for the Man-Kitty's annual check-up, made a hair appt., met with a couple of students...
  • Tomorrow promises to be a jam-packed Wednesday, as they always seem to be. This is why the article is taking on great urgency tonight, because I know I won't work on it tomorrow, and I'm sending that thing off by Friday morning come hell or high water.
  • Problematically, this will mean editing it to tighten it on up by about five pages on Thursday. Eww. I wish I weren't so damned long-winded.
  • In other news, A. and I have been beginning plans for VPW 2008. Aw Yeah!
  • Ok, now I really need to get back to work. Life is pain.

The Best-Laid Plans...

So, heading into 2008, I'd "decided" a couple of things that were meant to help to alleviate some stress. I'd thought to myself, "self, you can't keep pushing yourself to the brink and be a well-rounded person, and being a well-rounded person is important. It's time to focus on the big picture instead of just going from thing to thing to thing without putting your whole self first."

Now, I was thinking along those lines because my tendency is very much to take opportunities as they arise without thinking about the big picture - or, rather, I am really good at thinking about the big picture of my CV or career, but not so much about thinking about the big picture of my whole life. So, for example, I've ended up doing way more research than I probably should have done over the past five years, and I've also ended up doing a lot more traveling than my bank account could really justify (all conference related - never really a "vacation" that was completely free of a work component).

So I thought, well, if I just make a plan, and I stick to the plan, that will be the answer.

It's the whole "sticking to the plan" business that apparently is not within my skill set.

Part 1 of the plan was that I wasn't going to do any new research projects, right? Well. If you've been reading the blog, you know that at the moment that I made that "decision" that two brand new things fell into my lap. And sure, I could have said no to one or both of them. But they're both cool (a) and, well, I justified the whole thing to myself by saying that it didn't make sense to deprive myself of things that I was excited about (b).

Part 2 of the plan was no travel. Or at the very least no out-of-the-country travel. Partly this was about the whole "let's get out of credit card debt in 2008" resolution, but it was also about giving myself a break from the stress that travel involves. While I love being someplace else, I don't love the whole front end (preparing for the trip, the actual traveling) and back end (the actual traveling, the recovery period) that traveling entails.

As you might imagine, Part 2 has resulted in two major trips that are upcoming between now and August. But guess what? Neither one is for work! And, even cooler than that, each involves parental bonding!

Trip #1:

For my mom's birthday weekend, I'm going with her to New York City. First of all, I've only ever gone someplace with my mom that wasn't family-related once, and that was when we went to Boston to look at prospective grad schools, so yeah, like 10+ years ago. She has talked about wanting to go to NYC forever (she's never been), and while I've been, I've never really been there with actual money. We're pretty much doing whatever she wants, so don't be surprised if you see Dr. Crazy holding up some lame sign on the Today Show some Friday morning not too long from now. I'm sure we're going to annoy the crap out of one another, but I also think it will be really great, if the whole Boston excursion of lo those many years ago is any indication. At least this trip will not involve a rental car (imagine the hilarity of me attempting to navigate a woman who regularly confuses left and right) or a train (as in Amtrak), so I think that there might be slightly less transportation-related angst involved in any case (although I also suspect that guiding my mother through the subway system will not be my favorite part of the trip).

But so anyway, that then leads to Trip #2, which I only mention now because I actually think that it is going to happen!!!!! Where will I go?

Byblos Harbor.jpg

After not having been in around 25 years, my stepdad G. has decided that it's time to make a trip to Lebanon (where he was born and grew up - he immigrated around 1980). And he wants me to go with him! Hurrah! I can't tell you how excited I am about this. My mom is not accompanying us (she won't have the vacation time at work, and also I think that the idea of bringing her along stresses G. out, which to be honest I don't blame him for, because my mom and he really do not travel terribly well together). But so my mom will be visiting with the Man-Kitty, and I will be on a trip with my G. (who really is my favorite parent, truth be told, which irritates my mom to no end. Not that I don't like my mom and all, but G. is great).

Now, I've got to say, when he first mentioned the trip, I really didn't think we'd really do it, as 1) G. likes to talk about doing stuff and then it doesn't happen, 2) G. is not a guy who travels - while the rest of the family goes to Lebanon regularly, he's very much a homebody and does not go anyplace let alone on big trips like that, 3) G. didn't even have a passport, and 4) usually he refuses to go anyplace for longer than like 2 days because he refuses to leave the store. But I started thinking that this might actually happen when he consulted with me about what dates would work for me (this is so not like him) and when I heard that he'd told people in the family and started figuring out where we'd stay. (Apparently we've got like 3 options already, as his niece Su offered her place but then his sister-in-law Therese said we could stay in her house, because she'll be in the mountains staying with her daughter, and I feel like there was another option, too. ) And apparently he went to apply for his passport yesterday, and if he's made that step, dude, we're going!

He is very excited about the following:

  • "You know, Crazy's Mom, Crazy will love it there and she will actually know a lot of people!"
  • "It's better that I'm going with her because she's so smart. I will teach her Arabic on the plane!" (He clearly overestimates my abilities, though it is true that I was better at picking up Arabic words when I worked at the vegetable stand that we owned in college where we had a lot of Arabic-speaking customers... of course, this means the only Arabic that I currently know is how to say hello, the word for "beloved,"the word for "slippers," many vegetable names, and I can count to like 5. Oh, and I also know a collection of truly filthy curse words. You're shocked, I know. I'm not sure how these words will serve me on my travels, but I think that G. has the idea that Arabic lessons on the plane will make me near-fluent. Ha!)
  • "We will go to where Khalil Gibran lived!"
  • "Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East!"
  • "You will love it there!"
I anticipate that the trip will primarily involve a great deal of visiting. What does visiting involve? Sitting, food, talking, Lebanese coffee, cards, lather, rinse, repeat. I also would not be surprised if the fact that G. and I are going means that a slew of other people in the family may decide to go, so as to be able to say that they witnessed G.'s grand trip. (I've already heard rumors to this effect.) I have a small concern that the trip may also involve some "introductions," as G. has some matchmaking inclinations, and I've been getting questioned for the past few years by his sisters, often with the suggestion that maybe it's time for me to go to Lebanon thrown in. Nosy, meddling family :) (Let me just note for the record that this is not some made-for-TV-movie situation where I will be kidnapped and forced into an arranged marriage. People have all these ideas when you say "Lebanon," which have absolutely nothing to do with my family. To wit: all Lebanese people are terrorists, you can't go there without a burqa, Lebanese people hate Americans and America, etc. All of these are totally fucked up stereotypes. Now, it's true that my experience will be colored by the fact that I'm going with a Christian Lebanese person (a) and by the fact that the Lebanese person with whom I'm going has raised me since I was 12 years old (b), and so while I'm not technically Lebanese, I was raised in the culture, and, as G. notes, I'll "know a lot of people" (apparently). With all of that said, that culture is traditional, and the family wants me to get married and have babies, for it is time, and so if I just so happen to meet somebody, and they know his family.... You get the picture. And yes, it's insane.)

But so anyway, that's what is on the agenda for the coming months. At least it doesn't involve work-related travel? I'm beginning to think that the way that my life runs is that I say one thing and the opposite ultimately happens, which means that there's no point in attempting to chart out the course of my life because obviously I never execute the course that I chart in any case. Or, perhaps I need to start charting a course that I don't want in order for it to work out the way that I'd really want? Except that I think that if one does that the universe "knows" and so that doesn't work either. Oh, damn it to hell - who cares if nothing goes according to plan! The next few months shall be awesome!

Monday, April 07, 2008

RBOC: Monday Morning Edition

  • Spring has sprung! It is already 55 degrees and the sun is shining brightly! Hurrah!
  • Except not hurrah because I'm *still* finishing up that article, which means that I'm not out enjoying the weather. Nor did I go out and enjoy the weather yesterday. However, I edge ever closer to completion. The I'd say I've got about 5-7 more pages to write, then I need to read through the thing on paper and add and subtract and tighten and such, and then I need to deal with the notes, and then the works cited, and then I'm done. All of this can easily be accomplished today/tomorrow. I just know it can.
  • Pet peeve of mine: when Americans use the phrase "spot on." It just feels like such an affectation.
  • Another pet peeve of mine is the fact that the only messages that ever seem to be posted to my department listserv are the equivalent of junk mail. And most often the people who post to the list are either a) grinding personal axes or b) advertising personal pet projects and whether it's a) or b) those messages are absolutely irrelevant to me and to most everybody else. And don't even get me started about people who forward shit to the list that is "funny" and intended to brighten people's days. Know what would brighten my day? If you stop posting irrelevant crap to the list and clogging up my inbox with it.
  • I wish that I were a cat and could spend my morning napping in a patch of sunlight. It sucks to be human.
  • You know what's delicious? Lowfat granola and vanilla nonfat yogurt. Delicious and nutritious.
  • You know what's not delicious? The coffee that I made this morning. I think I miscounted the number of scoops I put in the coffeemaker or something.
  • You know what's surprising? My fall course, Studies in Notoriously, Obscenely Difficult Novels, already has 6 students enrolled. And we're still only on seniors in the pre-registration schedule. I can only think that this is the case because of the time when the course is being offered or something. I find it tremendously hard to believe that this course is really attracting students without any effort on my part and without them actually knowing me in all cases but one. Bizarre.
  • Can you tell I'm procrastinating? I just found myself thinking that maybe I should take a nap. It's only 10:20 AM, people. And I only woke up at 9 AM. Pathetic.
  • So probably that means I should get back to work.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Is It Still a Meme if You Don't Do It Yourself?

Because although I've been intrigued with others' responses to the Photobucket Meme, but this kind of meme always is something I end up not doing because it seems like a whole lot of effort. I'm not one for the searching for images and putting them into posts. In contrast, Medusa loves a photo collage. Loves one. And she'd already done the meme for herself, and yet still wanted to stretch her creative meming muscles. And so she thought to herself, "Self, I know Crazy very well. I shall do her meme for her! Huzzah!" And so, courtesy of the selfless Medusa, I give you the Crazy Photobucket Meme (on which I have given my seal of approval, after a few minor adjustments) :)

1. Go to
2. Type in your answer to the question in the “search” box.
3. Use only the first page.
4. Insert the picture into your Blog.

1. What is your relationship status?

fake boyfriend

2. What is your current mood?


3. Who is your Favorite Band/Artist?

tegan and sara

Johnny Cash

4. What is your favorite movie?


Bridget Jones\'s Diary

5. What kind of pet do you have?

Orange Tabby

6. Where do you live?

midwest logo

7. Where do you work?

"In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as

8. What do you look like?

9. What do you drive?


10. What did you do last night?

the painted veil

11. What is your favorite TV show?

In Treatment

Greys anatomy

12. Describe yourself:


13. What are you doing today?


14. What is your name?


15. What is your favorite candy?


16. What is your favorite drink? (Luckybuzz's closing question)