Archive for February, 2008

be careful what you wish for

February 27, 2008

I’ve always been an avid reader.  I guess most English studies-type people are.  As a result, I’ve often thought the perfect life would involve mostly reading and thinking, with some good food, good wine, and baseball thrown in for good measure.  In fact, my response to the familiar conversation question, “If money was no object, what would you do with your life/time?” has always been: build a huge, beautiful, accessible library, fill it with books, invite others to enter, sit around and read.

***

I’m working on the last chapter of my dissertation right now, but I’ve been lately frustrated by my inability to articulate my ideas.  I have a tidy, somewhat clever framework, about seven pages of rambling introduction, and a burning desire to say something, but I find this week that I don’t have enough to say.  Which means only one thing:  time for more reading.

This realization brought with it an enormous, shuddering sigh, the kind that admits defeat so thoroughly, so palpably, that it nearly forces one to sit down.  After years of reading for classes, reading for comprehensive exams, reading to put together a prospectus, reading to write each chapter of my diss… well, for a moment there I was a bit put out by the likelihood of an additional two weeks of reading.

***

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the fact that I’ve chosen this life and worked hard to achieve it. The pressure and the deadlines get in the way of the pleasure and the gratitude. But not today. Today, I’m going to savor the fact that part of my job description, my “duties” if you will, includes reading and thinking.

***

In other news, I’m having a near-perfect hair day.  Why can’t these things occur on days I actually interact with other people?  I will probably not speak to or even lay eyes on another human being today, yet my hair is so right I’m tempted to grab someone off the street to say “Hey!  Check this out!  It’s my hair, and it’s beautiful.”  Ah, well.

small hilarity. but also? alarming!

February 25, 2008

I keep a teaching journal that, for the most part, I use to write about sundry classroom experiences.  Most entries deal with my mistakes (um, because that’s usually what’s going on), a few herald my accomplishments (or at least try to catch that lightning in a proverbial bottle), others offer a glimmer of hope or a moment of utter frustration and anger.  Fairly benign, all told, though my language maybe leaves a bit to be desire in the decorum department.  Nothing scandalous, or even interesting for that matter, and certainly nothing to think twice about.

Or so I thought.

Today, while waiting for an appointment, I pulled out my journal to record a few thoughts about some planning I did today for the remainder of the semester and I noticed some unfamiliar handwriting at the bottom of my most recent entry.  Um, let me state that again:  some handwriting in my journal THAT WAS NOT MINE.

My first thought? 

BREACH!

I mean, really, that was the word that crowded my mind.  Breach.  Not as strong as “penetrate,” not as simple as “trespass,”  but definitely a transgression.  Another person had been “in” my journal, had pulled back the little elastic strap and put pen to paper.  And while I’m sure it was out in plain view—DAMN.

I’m certain the party who wrote me a note in my journal simply saw it as a way to communicate with me because the message inside was encouraging and interested and kind.  But I ain’t lyin’ when I say that seeing that writing there really startled me.

Final thought here, and perhaps a question. 

First, when I write in my journal, in any journal-type space, I try to imagine that I’m writing to/for someone.  Even if that someone is a future me.*  But seldom have I entertained the possibility that anyone might actually read my words.  Especially in the realm of the print journal.**  Again, let me be clear.  I’m not upset per se—there’s nothing particularly incriminating in my teaching journal—but when I went back to read some of my entries, I felt… well… I wished for context, I suppose.  I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in there or not.

My question?  Has anyone else had a journal breached?  What did you think?  As noted in my title, I am at once amused and aware.  It seems both funny and scary that someone out there knows I’m bad at teaching and stupid at the same time!

*I don’t care what you say, you diligent journal writers, you.  You’re editing as you go—maybe because you think you’ll be immortalized as a famous writer someday, but mostly because you can’t bear to read your old shit and think: was I ever that naive and/or self-absorbed?  Projection?  I have no idea what you mean….

**Writing for a blog is entirely different.  I know anyone can read this stuff and it’s presented accordingly.  It’s still vapid, but it’s a special brand of vapid just for you.

what is wrong with me?

February 21, 2008

This morning I grabbed a coffee before driving to work.  Instead of my usual—small soy latte with two shots of espresso—I ordered a medium.  I was “hungry” and I knew I would probably have a late lunch.  When I received my drink, it was a large instead of a medium, and I was disappointed.  What is my problem??

Remember when we were young and getting an “extra” was awesome?  When an incorrect drive-thru order that netted some bonus fries was a monumentally happy event?  As I was driving away with my vat of soy and espresso I wondered if the near-constant offers to upgrade, supersize, “add value” have spoiled me for the occasional happy accident.  (With apologies to Bob Ross.)

I couldn’t drink the whole thing, even though I really wanted to so that I could have the foam.  I was overwhelmed at the half-way point…

analog weekend

February 19, 2008

I didn’t set out to avoid everything digital this past weekend, but avoid it I did. No phone calls, no email, barely any web surfing—I checked the weather a few times, and clicked through the Times, but otherwise not much in the way of computer interaction.  And though we did watch a couple episodes of The Wire (Season Four), those hours were the only two we spent watching the tube between Friday night and Monday night. Instead, we spent our weekend unpacking (we’re finally out of boxes!!), walking (we walked to Oakley Square one day, up to Hyde Park Square the next), visiting the museum (exhibition of quilts at the Cincinnati Art Museum), reading (I began and finished a novel on Sunday in two two-hour sittings) and eating.

Also, I did a good bit of knitting, and my sweater is almost finished:

hourglass v.2

The best part, honestly, was the reading, even though I did not enjoy the book (Atonement).  I had not immersed myself in a book for a long, long time—I almost forgot how it felt to churn through a novel.  Anyway, I know it’s probably next to impossible, but I’d like to try to have at least two “analog” weekends per month going forward.  My soul felt rested, if that makes any sense.  Truth be told, it was exactly what I needed, even though I’m not sure I would have been able to identify those needs on Friday before I tuned out.

Today, I’ve been thinking not so much about how great my weekend was (though it truly was a spectacular weekend for me) but rather how I managed to get to a point in my life where not working, not checking emails, not dealing with the phone, not reading online became the exception not the rule…

muscle memory: or, we’re here, but i’m still there

February 12, 2008

Yesterday, Monday, marked two weeks in our new apartment, though in truth the total number of hours we’ve spent here (awake) is relatively low. A combination of weekend trips home and late hours at work for both of us means that we’re still unpacking.

The funny thing about this move that sets it apart from other moves I’ve endured is that I have not adjusted to my space. I can’t seem to acknowledge? accept? the fact that I don’t live in my old apartment. On a conscious level, I know where I live, but somewhere in my subconscious, the connection fails.

For example, I cannot seem to grasp the location of light switches in this apartment. I’ll enter our bathroom and try to turn on an invisible switch above the sink. I’ve dropped the soap on the floor after washing my hands (old school soap receptacle was lower and to the side of the sink in old place). I continually try to step on the pedal to open the trash lid only to discover that the can is no longer to the left of the sink.  I’ve tried on several occasions to pull silverware from a place where it does not reside, and I’ve twice found myself in the wrong room, searching for an item that would have been oriented in that space in the old place. 

Last night, Russell picked me up from the airport late. Granted, I was tired and a bit out of it (frayed nerves from landing in snow), but when he turned away from 75 and headed up toward 71, I snapped “Where are you going?”

He looked at me and said, “Home?” with a bit of a question.

Yep. I forgot where we live.

Anyway, this whole transition has been strange.

also, to the powers that be…

February 9, 2008

Would you please make finding radiatore less difficult?  Even the super-stocked Kroger in these parts (has no fewer than 11 brands of pasta) doesn’t carry it.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

A girl who enjoys a high sauce to pasta ratio.

i’ll take dreams that nauseate for $200, alex

February 9, 2008

Answer:  What is “unsuccessfully spurning the advances of your cheesy but self-important boyfriend from high school”?

All I can say is ew.

Haven’t seen the guy in years.  Why pop up now?  Thanks, subconscious.

they’re just not that into me… and/or the class

February 8, 2008

Despite my firm assertion otherwise, I’ll admit it can be extremely difficult to avoid pandering to students.  Especially lately.  I’m not a big fan of the class I’m teaching right now, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the students.  For as tempting as it is to rail against the stereotypical student at my university, I can say in complete honesty that in five years of teaching (well over 350 students worth) I have only ever disliked one student.  One.  Them’s pretty good odds, I’d say.  And I’d even go so far as to include my first three years, too.  So eight years=one bad apple.

My concern this semester is the class itself.  English 112, entitled “Composition and Literature,” has so many flaws that it’s almost unteachable.  First, most students resent the hell out of the class itself.  I don’t care how much students “love to read for pleasure,” it doesn’t matter.  As second semester first-year students, they’re tired, they’re overwhelmed.  They made it through their first semester of college and are now fully aware of the time and effort it takes to do well.  They see that they are no longer “the smart one” from their school—universities like mine are ROTTEN with “the smart ones”—and they’re ready to get down to business… IN THEIR CHOSEN MAJOR.  Screw English 112.  Screw literature (pronounced, for those who don’t frequent an English department, “li-trit-ure.”)  I would guess, for the vast majority of these students, they simply want a B in second semester chemistry, or accounting, or whatever the heck pre-requisites mean something to their chosen field.  Unless these students plan to become English majors, they tend to doubt the necessity of the course.

And I don’t blame them one little bit.  I can remember absolutely loving my English 112 teacher, but also wishing I didn’t have to read so much because I really, really wanted to do well in my other classes, the ones that would count on my transcript.  (As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, I was a Microbiology major until I added English as a second major my senior year.  I recall very clearly realizing, even at that early stage, that I needed to dedicate more time to my major than my other classes.  That’s just how it is.)

Before I go any further, I should say that I’m not about getting rid of English 112.  And I’m also not for a strictly “writing across the curriculum” approach.  It is not the job of the English department to teach students to create lab reports, or to format in APA, or to understand the conventions of composing a memo.  We can certainly help out, and I think we should, when our assistance is requested, but it’s not our job.  Furthermore, literature does have a place, it is our job to teach students to read and analyze text.  I’m just not sure it should be set in stone that students need to take the class second semester of their first year, that’s all.  What if they signed up for the 112 course during their junior or senior year, when they know a bit more about what they’re planning for their future?  Then, a course in close reading, genre conventions, exposition, critical analysis, rhetorical analysist, life writing, etc, etc, etc.  would be a choice, not a hassle.

Which brings me to my point.  Obviously, I love teaching.  Even after days I feel terrible about my own teaching, I can’t wait to get back into the classroom to interact with the students again.  But trying to teach to an audience that, at times, thoroughly resents the class itself can be depressing.  I love writing and thinking about writing and reading and thinking about what I’ve read and talking to others and theorizing and just the whole experience of working with langauge.  But it can be a challenge to teach, to get in there every day and be the cheerleader.

And there’s the rub:  should I be the cheerleader?  Should I spend so much time and energy trying to get them to love it?  To love li-trit-ure?  Or should I simply go in there expecting that they’ve read, expecting that they’ll respect this material (despite the flaws of the course), that they’ll recognize the worth of the class?

Tangent # 657:  Most of my students, when asked to write about their past experiences with reading, cited a specific moment in time when they began to HATE reading.  With few exceptions, this moment occurred when they were forced to read something against their will, under a deadline, and with a test or writing assignment attached to it.  Good God it was a sad bunch of papers to read and respond to.  I felt guilty on behalf of every well meaning teacher out there (and seriously, seriously pissed off at a few not-so-well meaning ones.)

So that’s it.  Do I pander?  Do I cajole?  Do I try to inspire them to enjoy the reading?  Do I momentarily set rigor aside to ask: “If you were casting this book as a movie, what actors would you seek for each character role?” and then let them have at for 15 precious minutes?

I don’t know.

Or maybe it’s just me.

quick and dirty

February 6, 2008

Okay, maybe not so dirty, but this post will be brief and spartan.  I really, really want to dedicate some time to a few of these items, but they’ll have to wait for now.  Until then, here’s a list of topics for future posts:

•  We’ve moved.  I know, I know, who moves at the start of a semester?  No one in their right mind.  We took up the idea to move on January 11 (the date of my last post), chose a new place on the 14th, and moved the 28th of the same month.  In that time, we packed up our stuff, painted five of eight rooms in our new place (one a two-tone job) and moved.  The unpacking?  A work in progress.  Every new box is like Christmas.  Most commonly uttered sentence:  “Oh that’s where ____ ended up.  Funny.”

•  Second semester is underway.  I actually have a draft of a post entitled “they’re just not that into me…or the class.”  It promises to be a long semester in that regard.  The real question is:  do I care?  The answer:  I’m not sure.

•  Campus visits.  Oy.

•  New apartment, new area of town.  We’re basically in the East Egg portion of East Egg.  Too many runners, too many Audis, too many Starbucks-toting, Uggs-wearing citizens.  We got a deal on our apartment.  No, it’s not in Oxford.  Why do you ask?

•  Knitting?  What’s knitting?  My fingers itch at the memory of holding needles.  Phantom limb for the wool and needle set?  I have about half of one sleeve left to go before I attach the sleeves and begin the yoke:

hourglass with sleeve start

Check back with me in April, when cashmere will most certainly be the least appropriate fiber for the rainy, sticky, pre-Spring evenings.

 •  And finally, Opening Day can’t come soon enough.