Sunday, September 25, 2005

More like a history class? Really?

Finally, I’m getting around to that pedagogical post I’ve been planning on writing. But now that I’ve made you wait, it’ll probably be a big let-down, a total anticlimax. Oh well. Still, maybe you all can help my thinking with this one and post a few comments about it. A girl can hope, anyway. Oh, and I invite those of you who aren’t academics or former academics to comment from the student perspective or perhaps the general audience perspective.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I finally got around to reading my Spring teaching evaluations and one of them struck me. It wasn’t one of those infuriating stinkers – in fact, for the first time ever, the evals were uniformly positive – but it did stick out nonetheless because I’d never received such a comment before. In the midst of complimentary statements, the student wrote (and I’m mostly paraphrasing here) that sometimes my class seemed “more like a history class than a literature class” and that it would be good to be told how the material of the class connected (or maybe it was “related”) to other literature so that students would know why it was important. The funniest thing about that last bit – about needing to know why it was important – was that this was my Chaucer class. OK, the first lesson here then is: unlike Shakespeare, Chaucer is no longer automatically famous and important, at least not to my students. Good to know. At least I don’t have to un-teach that “father of English poetry” business. (For the record, that was Dryden’s fault.) And I can easily address, sometime in the beginning of the semester, the reception history of Chaucer’s works in general; for instance, I can talk about how he was set up as a model to imitate almost immediately, which was kind of unusual for a “vernacular” (i.e., not classical, not Latin) writer, or I can discuss how The Canterbury Tales was one of the first texts printed by Caxton (thus beginning the material process of enshrining it for generations to come). Or I can mention, as we read various parts of his work, who retold, translated, or recycled the same stories and motifs over the centuries. (That last part I already do, actually, but perhaps the student was absent when that happened?) These are all good lessons in what the canon was/is and how it’s materially and historically determined.

But I’m more puzzled by the “more like a history class” bit and the general desire for connection to other literature. Actually, puzzled isn’t quite the right word. Rather, it just made me think about my students and their expectations and where they come from. First of all, the comment sounds like someone who has been going to English classes in the 1950s, in the height of New Criticism, when it was all about the text in front of them with maybe a little literary history (but not social or cultural contexts) thrown in for good measure. In that world, Chaucer was important because of his poetic “genius” and that genius was clear because so many other writers had read and been influenced by him. That’s a little weird coming from someone around 20 years old. Of course, it’s not so unusual coming from some of my older colleagues, so perhaps the student has been, up to now, used to that approach. And while you could do this old style literary history with Chaucer – not that I really want to – what do you do with a text like The Book of Margery Kempe, which languished in someone’s attic (or thereabouts) until the 20th century? Is the first autobiography (however inexact that generic term is here) in English by a woman not important because it wasn’t read by centuries of writers? (Again, a good lesson in the material circumstances of what gets read.) In fact, so much of what’s interesting in the medieval period is interesting because it’s so uniquely medieval (or at least didn’t survive much past the renaissance – the dream vision genre, for example), which tells us something about how historically determined things such as “taste” are. Even with The Canterbury Tales we have that lesson: some of the tales seem “modern” (for example, some resemble the short story in the tightness of their plots and the details of their imagined worlds) but just as many seem distinctly medieval, yet it seems that Chaucer was consciously trying to forge a place for himself in what he saw as literary history. (At the same time, I can show students how the modern-seeming tales are very medieval and the medieval-seeming tales, even the ugly ones, are not so safely distinct from our own world. But I digress.)

But the medievalists among you might already see the irksome problem here. How do we emphasize the alterity of the Middle Ages without participating in its marginalization and therefore our own marginalization as medievalists? (This a very sticky problem that I think is deeply historically determined and goes way back to the Reformation itself, especially for those of us who work on English subjects, whether literature, history, art history, or whatever. But that’s too big for this post to deal with.) I try to walk a line between the continuities and discontinuities, but perhaps I’m just confusing students. They do like things neatly wrapped up for them. Or maybe I’m over-emphasizing the discontinuities as this student’s evaluation comment suggests.

And then there’s that pesky “more like a history class.” The historians among you would be horrified to think that anyone would mistake what I do as what goes on in a history class. At any rate, I think this student was referring to my presentations of the received wisdom of social and cultural history (and sometimes literary history, too) when I thought they were needed for students to really get the text. And I’m definitely not going to stop doing that. Not only do I think it’s necessary for “appreciation” of the text, but I also believe, as already suggested throughout this post, in the historically determined nature of any text. Or maybe they even thought class was more “history” than “literature” when I brought in a facsimile of the Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales and asked them to think about the physical text as well as its content. Hmmm….Should be interesting to see what the response is to my Early English Lit. class next semester, where I plan to make the material history of the texts we study a regular part of the content of the course.

Finally, I think what this student’s comment shows is that they often don’t know what to do with classes and professors with very different approaches to what is essentially the same subject (i.e., literature in this case). Some of my colleagues might not give any historical context at all for the works they teach (though I find that hard to believe, it’s possible). Like I mentioned, some of them are getting on in years and their approaches fit the generation they belong to. And maybe because those colleagues are older white men, the students see their approaches as “authoritative” and mine as, well, “more like a history class.” Perhaps I should be more transparent in telling students about how and why I approach literature. I did that in our gateway course – as I introduced them to various theories and methods, I told them about my preferred approach and even gave them an excerpt from one of my articles. But maybe I should do that in my other courses, as well, since god knows they don’t take any of their classes in logical order. And perhaps I should expose them to more scholarly writing, so they can see the differences in approaches in our writing, as well.

But good lord, I *do* want to have time to get to the text, after all! What do you think?

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's fall, therefore it must be Freak Season

So those of you who know me IRL also know that when I lived in the sprawling Big City, I was a veritable Freak Magnet, attracting the strange and the bizarre denizens of that metropolis on a regular basis, even when I was keeping my head down, minding my own business. Some of you even witnessed it and can attest to the fact that I generally did not call it upon myself – well, except for when I was doing loud chimp impressions in public, but then the only kind of person I attracted was a homeless guy who laughed his ass off.

Lately, since moving to this humble Rust Belt Town, my Freak Magnet has seem on the fritz. Either that or these parts are just too normal, too corn-fed for freaks to survive. There were a couple of freaky students my first semester and the woman who suddenly yelled at me in the library, “You! You look young!” but that’s been it. But fear not – though rare, the Midwestern variety of freak does indeed exist and members of this freakdom do apparently feel the inexorable pull of my Freak Magnet, especially on this campus!

The other day, on one of those lovely, confusing days when the weather says, “I feel like moving on to fall, but I’m just not ready to leave summer behind,” I was making the pleasant walk from the campus library to my office, across the shady central quad and into the interior courtyards of the collegiate gothic signature building of campus, where my office resides. (I have gargoyles outside of my office windows – how perfect is that?!) This building is one of those slightly confusing, sprawling structures built on a hill, so that on one side you enter on the first floor and on the other, you enter on the third floor. But on the back side, which I was entering, it also has two second floor courtyards which can be reached either from inside the building or from exterior, grand, arch-covered, stone staircases. Rather than enter the building on the first floor, in nice weather I like to walk up one of those staircases and across the courtyard that my office overlooks, because it’s just so pleasant and pretty, and for a moment I can pretend I’m at one of the posh universities that the architecture is imitating. (That is, until I get inside, where everything is drab, worn, and purely utilitarian. Still, it’s cool that this is a historic WPA building. I also like the fact that the grand front and main entrance face the main road, and thus the city, rather than being turned inwards towards the campus. That says something about the vision of the university. But I digress.)

Anyway, as I was walking toward one of the staircases, I noticed a man standing stock still in the center of the “up” side, looking out towards the quad. Though smokers often stand there in lousy weather between classes, it was a lovely day. Plus, I knew immediately from his stillness that something was up, so I took the other side of the staircase, putting the iron railing in between us. “Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact,” I kept repeating to myself. But just as I thought I’d passed him without incident, I heard, “Excuse me – do you have a class in this building?”

Crap. He knows. He felt the Freak Magnet. And I don't think he's a nice freak.

I know his question sounds innocuous enough, but the tone was indeterminable because his English was heavily accented. So I couldn’t tell if he was being aggressive (in the sense of “Hey! Excuse me!”) or just awkward in his use of what could be a polite interruption. So, despite my better judgment and my long experience I stopped and faced him and said, “I’m sorry, what did you ask me?” I figured maybe this would give him time to rephrase, because frankly, I wasn’t sure why he wanted to know if I had a class in the building. Was he lost and looking for someone knowledgeable to give him directions? But why would he be lost in what was the fourth or fifth week of school? I was confused and I probably showed it.

My confusion just made him more frustrated and, now it was clear, aggressive. “I want to know,” he said pointedly, “if you have a class is this building or…or…something.” OK, I thought, he thinks I’m a student and because I’m female and smaller (he was a big dude) he can bully me, so I’m going to pull rank. “I have an office in this building, but why do you need to know?”

“What? What?” Now he was really thrown off whatever game he was playing. “An office,” I repeated. “I’m a professor.” He didn’t quite look horrified at his mistake, but he did seem mollified a bit at least enough to explain why he had accosted me. But then he revealed his true freak colors.

“Well, well, you see,” he stammered, “I’m trying to figure out why people keep interrupting me. I’m, I’m just trying to have some privacy here and people won’t leave me alone. Why won’t they leave me alone, can you tell me?”

“Um, well,” I said as I began to walk calmly and steadily away so I wouldn’t startle the freak, “you are standing on public property in the middle of a main thoroughfare into the central building on campus. I suggest you try a bathroom stall.”

And on that note, I got the hell away.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I think I'm going to cry...

...tears of joy!

Today I got two pieces of professional validation. First, I received my merit score from the department merit evaluation committee and it's very nearly perfect. Yay me!

But the best news is the kind of anecdote that just makes a prof's day. One of my colleagues said she was discussing language change in one of her classes and brought in examples from various points in the history of English, including an excerpt from The Canterbury Tales. One of my former Chaucer students happened to be in the class and *volunteered*, *enthusiastically* (according to my colleague) to read the Chaucer aloud and apparently did so brilliantly and with ease. She then apparently spoke very highly of my class. Heck, I'm just thrilled with a student volunteering to read Chaucer aloud in front of her peers!

*Sniffle.* Warms the cockles of my heart! I *heart* that student. And I'm grateful to my colleague for telling me about it, too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A work in progress

Ack! My life has been consumed by the prof-eating renewal dossier from hell! For two days now I’ve been working on this thing. I thought I’d be done with it in a day. What is wrong with me? Oh, I know. I’m one of those writerly types who sweats bullets over finding just the right bon mot to describe how far “in progress” my various projects are or figuring out how to describe the fun my students and I had in Chaucer this year without making my class sound like a flaky free-for-all.

First of all, for those who might not know, at many universities like mine, each year tenure-track assistant professors have to turn in a massive notebook narrating and documenting their work from the past academic year and their plans for the coming year. Then after that, there’s the tenure file. Then you do the renewal dossier every five years or when you want to go up for promotion to full professor. Oh, and there’s another, briefer form that everyone does every year for merit evaluation, though it’s limited precisely to the fiscal year. Anyway, Dr. Crazy was working on her notebook last week, so I know her university’s requirements are similar, and some of her commenters said they have to do the same thing. So it’s not uncommon. But it’s not universal, either. It should be, though, because however burdensome a task it is, it creates a paper trail. And if there’s any question about your progress toward tenure, ideally it will get caught and noted early on in your career so you can take steps to fix it (more research, better teaching, whatever). I’ve heard horror stories about places that only have a 3rd-year-review or no formal review process at all – usually fancy-schmancy snooty places – where people are suddenly told that their one book isn’t enough for tenure or that it wasn’t with a prestigious enough press or whatever. So having to be reviewed yearly by the department, the dean, the college committee, the university committee, and the provost is a good thing because these are the people who will decide your tenure, too.

By the way, I think graduate schools should have such a formal process for evaluating “progress to degree,” as well. I know I could’ve used a yearly face-the-music kick in the pants, anyway.

So the point of all this is I still haven’t had time to write the thoughtful post I was planning on pedagogy, which also means the post on “how to talk about the humanities” will also be delayed. All because I’m busy sweating over that thin stylistic line between a charming “woo-hoo! look at what I’ve done this year! yay me!” and an obnoxious “god, I am so f-ing great that you should bow down at my feet now and worship my productive pedagogical and scholarly brilliance.” After all, I don’t want to offend or turn off the people who will decide my tenure!

Just thought I’d keep y’all in the loop.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Things I learned in the park today

This is just a quick post to give you something new to read while I mull over a thoughtful (I hope!) post on pedagogy, literary studies, and how we should give our students a better sense of our discipline(s), which will probably bore the pants off the non-academics reading this. (Or maybe I'm not giving you enough credit. Maybe you'll find it interesting.) And then sometime after that post, I will post on "how to talk to anyone about the importance of the liberal arts," as on Thursday, I will be attending a 3-hour seminar on that subject. No, really. And as I have been hand-picked to be part of a "cohort" of "liberal arts ambassadors" from my university (really!) I think it will be my duty to blog about the subject. Then y'all can tell me if I'm communicating clearly the value of the liberal arts. (Seriously, you know you can comment, right? I know you're reading -- Site Meter tells me how many people come by each day, so I know I'm not talking into the void.)

In the meantime, though, here's what I learned on my run in the park today:

  • The leaves are already changing here, even though today's high is supposed to be around 90 degrees. This is very wrong.
  • Golfers in this town seem to consist entirely of old white people, even on the public course. Or maybe it's just that particular public course. At any rate, I find this odd, especially on this course, given that the surrounding neighborhood is significantly black and that most of the walkers on the trail are young or middle-aged and black.
  • Apparently, I run with the stealth of a hunting cat and I am very, very scary. Every person I passed on my run was significantly startled as I ran by. Some people gasped or jumped. This puzzles me. How could they not hear me? To me I sound like someone doing Lamaze Method to a persistent 4/4 beat. The beat of my feet is so loud and persistent to me, in fact, that I often hear in my head: "Mama loves shortenin', shortenin', shortenin'; Mama loves shortenin', shortenin' bread." (I don't know why that song. I think I learned it as a kid and it stuck with me. The repetition, anyway, seems to suit running. The Boyfriend asks me why this doesn't drive me crazy. I can't answer that either.)
  • Falling acorns freak me out. I half think that crazed squirrels are purposely pelting runners. Perhaps these ideas are the effects of the endorphins. Or perhaps the shortening bread song has indeed driven me crazy.
Hmm...and the university trusts me to be an ambassador for the liberal arts???

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Diversions and a Cute Kid Story - Update: Illustrated!

Which would you like first, diverting links or the cute kid story? OK, the links. Here they are:

Topical and Political:

  • A remix of various George Bush speeches so that he seems to be talk-singing John Lennon's "Imagine." Eerie. Fabulous. If only. (Thanks to The Empress for sending me this one.) Click on the "Imagine This" link,– the last song on the "Mediacracy" collection. There's other good stuff there, too -- have fun!
  • The Legendary K.O. remixes and rewrites Kanye West'’s "Gold Digger" and turns it into "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People" (sampling West'’s quote, of course). (Seen at Apophenia.) Some of the best lines (imho):
Five damn days, five long days
And at the end of the fifth, you walkin' in like "Heeey"
Strictly Entertaining (and perhaps escapist):
  • Zach Braff has a blog! Who knew?
  • If you want your Kanye West remixes without Katrina topicality, here's a link to Lush Life's remix of West with the Beach Boys'’ "“Pet Sounds."” Really. (Seen at Not...Zombie.)
And now for something completely different: The Cute Kid Story

Now, first of all, I feel a little bit at a serious disadvantage in the blogosphere. I can't do Friday Cat Blogging because I no longer have a cat, and I don't have kids either, so I can't regularly tell cute kid stories like Bitch Ph.D. (among others) does. However, today, in honor of a gorgeous late summer day in my neighborhood full of happily playing kids, I am going to borrow a short and sweet story from my Boyfriend about his nephew.

Boyfriend's Nephew is a very cool little kid and as the middle boy between two girls, he's doing that 'figuring-out-who-I-am-and-where-I-fit' thing (the age 7 version -- not the teen version). As it just so happens, one way he's expressing this is through his hair (okay, maybe it is a *little* like the teen version of self-expression).

So, right before school started, when his mother was about to buzz off his summer-sun-grown, sun-bleached hair, he asked for a mohawk. And his mom acquiesced. And then he decided he wanted the mohawk to be red, as well. And she agreed to that, too. And Boyfriend'’s Nephew was so proud and happy of his cool new hair. And then his father saw it. *He* hated it. He wanted it shaved off. But Boyfriend's Nephew said no, that it was his hair and he wanted it that way. (And his mom backed him up.) And so off to the first week of school the expressive and defiant little punkster went, where all the kids -- including the oh-so-important Older Kids --– came up to him and told him how cool his hair was. And he was the happiest little kid ever. :)

Rock on, Boyfriend's Nephew! The end.

[Update: people e-mailed me to ask if I had a picture of the mohawk. (Hey folks, you can use the Comments function, you know!) Yes, in fact, I do. I don't want to put kids' pictures on the web, so I'll just give you the mohawk part (and no, I didn't crop off the top - that's in the original). Here you go....]

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Crazy Sign Guy and Hurricane Katrina

Crazy Sign Guy lives in my neighborhood on one of my main routes out of the area. Victorianist Colleague and I have been fascinated with him since we each moved here (she a year before I), so he’s been putting up his signs for at least three years now.

The signs are large – about 6x8 feet – and painted on white plastic sheeting stapled to two-by-fours planted in the front yard of his brownstone. Most of the time they’re in black lettering, but lately he’s been experimenting with colors. We think they mostly have to do with a custody battle and the ex’s new man, but it was only after many signs that any sense of context or narrative was even hazily clear. (They’re a bit like a crazed version of the old Burma Shave ads in that way, I suppose.) Usually the signs are cryptic in meaning and as often as not shocking in the language (as well as a little puzzling in their punctuation). A typical Crazy Sign Guy sign says something like: The Rapist! Is a White Nigger! (Crazy Sign Guy is black, by the way.)

But Sign Guy’s latest sign has taken on a heartbreaking clarity and brilliance, the context of which we all know. This week it says:

We’re not


On a related note, thanks to Danah at apophenia I discovered this, John Scalzi’s response to the devastation in New Orleans. Here's just a short quote:
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.
One last Katina-related note…You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been blogging my outrage over the horrifyingly callous and ineffective response of the authorities to this disaster. Well, I just figure the rest of the blogosphere is already doing that quite well and I don’t have anything original to add here. Plus, we do plenty of that at CatchingFlies. If shared outrage is what you want, I recommend: Michael Bérubé, Bitch Ph.D., and AncreneWiseass (though I got her outraged over Ivan Tribble for the time being, I think she’ll be back to Katrina soon).

Oh, and give money to the relief organization of your choice! Some info via Thanks for Not Being a Zombie:

United Way Hurricane Katrina Response Fund:For checks: United Way of America, PO Box 630568, Baltimore, MD, 21263-0568

American Red Cross1-800-435-7669 (Help Now-English) or 1-800-257-7575 (Help Now-Spanish)

Salvation Army1-800-725-2769

Heart to Heart International

The following voluntary agencies are all members of the network of National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster and have specific roles to play in response, such as: child care, damage assessment, mental health counseling, mass care, food distribution, long term recovery, debris clean-up, etc.

America’s Second Harvest, 1-800-344-8070
Adventist Community Services, 1-800-381-7171
Catholic Charities USA, 1-703-549-1390
Christian Disaster Response, 1-863-967-4357
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, 1-800-848-5818
Church World Service, 1-800-297-1516
Convoy of Hope, 1-417-823-8998
Lutheran Disaster Response, 1-800-638-3522
Mennonite Disaster Service, 1-717-859-2210
Nazarene Disaster Response, 1-888-256-5886
Presbyterian Disaster Response, 1-800-872-3283
Southern Baptist Convention, 1-800-462-8657 x6440
United Methodist Committee on Relief, 1-800-554-8583

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Double Trouble with Tribble

Or: A post in which Dr. V gets to talk about academia, blogging, and running all at once!

Sheesh, Ivan Tribble is back! What – he didn’t get enough abusin’ by the blogosphere the first time around? For those of you who missed this Luddite the first time around, here is his first article, in which he argued, badly, that academics shouldn’t have blogs. Many, many people who’ve been in the blogosphere much longer than I dissected the first article. And others are starting to respond to this one. You can find and read many of them by going here and here. Thanks to GZombie for the heads-up on this one.

My personal, quirky take has to do with a subtext of both of his articles. Although he claims, in this new article, that his only point in the original was “be careful what you say…online,” it’s especially clear in the first article that his problem is not just with blogging, but with people having lives outside of work that other people might be able to find out about. Oh, and he has a problem with people with technological savvy. Here’s what he had to say about what he discovered on one job candidate’s blog:

Professor Turbo Geek's blog had a presumptuous title that was easy to overlook, as we see plenty of cyberbravado these days in the online aliases and e-mail addresses of students and colleagues.

But the site quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It's one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.
I’d love to see what Digital Medievalist has to say about this. Or Martin Foys, editor of the Digital Bayeux Tapestry. Or Kevin Kiernan, editor of the Electronic Beowulf. Or the fine folks currently working on an electronic edition Piers Plowman. And then there’s the project to provide digital version of every manuscript in the Bodleian Library. I could go on. Perhaps these people don’t do their own coding, but a certain amount of knowledge about “software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica” certainly lets them envision these wonderful projects and communicate what they need to the computer programmers with whom they work.

But there’s also the disturbing suggestion in those passages that Professor Turbo Geek’s great sin was having an interest other than his work! Gasp! God forbid Dr. Tribble hire a well-rounded human being with desires, interests, and needs outside of work. This comes up in the second article, as well. There he writes:
Another issue that emerged is whether it's acceptable for search committees to Google job candidates. My guess is that that practice will become commonplace, as the Internet is more integrated into our professional lives. We all share the same electronic atmosphere….

A number of respondents worried they could be mistaken for an unhirable doppelganger on the Web. I can't speak for every committee, but ours had no trouble distinguishing our candidates from the semi-pro hockey players, quilt-store owners, marathon runners, and grade schoolers that Google turned up. [Emphasis mine - Dr. V.]
Ummmm….First of all, that marathon runner could be your candidate, Dr. Tribble (and why do you find that difficult to believe?), and second of all, why does that makes him or her unhirable? Maybe the impossible-to-please Dr. Tribble doesn’t want any marathon runners in his department, but the people who hired me don’t seem to mind. In fact – and this is my real point – not all hiring committees are as rigid as Tribble’s. I actually put my marathon times at the very end of a version of my CV that I sent to small colleges and universities in small places, on the hunch that they might be worried about someone coming from a Big and Cosmopolitan city and an R1 university. I had a whole bunch of interviews and campus visits, so it didn't seem to hurt me. Sure, maybe some of the people turned me down because they thought “My god, she has other interests!” But I wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. In the interviews I did have, many people began with ice-breaker questions about running. Many of them were themselves runners. Some were impressed by my time-management skills. One committee chair specifically told me that my hobbies, which seemed adaptable to her university’s small town, convinced her that I might like it there. And get this: one committee member, on my campus visit, took me to meet the track coach and gave me information on the local running club!

It’s not just about running, of course. Substitute your own hobby in Tribble’s words and in mine. (Though runners, I might add, are especially vulnerable to Google – most races post and archive results lists and it’s beyond our control. Am I supposed to run under a pseudonym, for god’s sake?) Anyway, good committees (and I’ve been on two now) – and later, your colleagues – want you to like where you’ll potentially live, to like your life there, so you won’t leave. They’ll ask you if you like x, y, or z that their city offers, for instance, as a selling point. And they mean it, I believe. My colleagues also have lives outside of the university – and that was a general selling point here – and sometimes I see them leading those lives (on the running trails and in the parks for instance) and they see me. They wave and smile and so do I. And then they give me great merit evaluations, too. As long as I’m taking care of everything else, no one cares what I do with the rest of my life.

The one thing Tribble said that I agree with – and which also really puts his “advice” in context – is this:
Getting hired, then, is much like hitting the lottery. How does a candidate get the winning combination? The best advice I've heard says, by being who you really are. Some people will be alienated by who you really are, while others will find you appealing.
I’ve said it before (but not here) and I’ll say it again: the job market is a heckuva a lot like dating. The right match works for both parties. I think I’d be pretty miserable in Ivan Tribble’s department.

Tuesday To-Do List (Monday was a holiday)

Things I have to do today (personal and professional):

  • Run 10-12 miles with hills (should be leaving now, not blogging!)
  • Finally finish a paper on Middle English philology, which isn't my usual field and has been slooooooooooow going
  • Read and comment on student's Marshall scholarship application
  • Finish updating address book - IN PROGRESS
  • Get dishwasher detergent so pile of dishes can be done (ick)
  • Write draft of proposal for the 'Zoo
  • Visit library, get printed edition of "Somer Soneday" (a 15th century poem) -- see if it sheds light on 'Zoo proposal
  • Read some more secondary material related to proposal so I don't look like an idiot
Things I don't have to do:
  • Teach (I'm on leave from teaching) -- which is good for getting all of the above done, but it also makes me feel a little sad and out of it. I miss my students! No, really!

Monday, September 5, 2005

Why I like running in this town...


I was running in the middle of the afternoon on a *beautiful* day on a biking/running trail chock full of people on foot or on wheels, and all of a sudden a young buck (ahem, a *deer* folks) just stepped out of the wooded area on one side of the trail, took a look at me as I headed towards him, and then nonchalantly stepped into the wooded area on the other side. And this wasn't in the middle of nowhere -- the deer and I both were just about half a mile away from campus in the older suburbs of town. But the trail is a rails-to-trail conversion, which makes it one long greenbelt that's already been there for some time, plus it makes a tangent to a very large urban park with lots of forest preserve areas in it where even the walking trails don't go. So I guess the deer have been around awhile, are very protected (no hunting in the suburbs, thank you very much -- despite Ted Nugent's efforts in North Barrington, IL) and are also used to people.

This isn't the first time I've seen a deer while running here, but he's the first buck I've seen. I've seen all sorts of other cool animals, too. The last city I lived in also had a lot of wildlife, especially for a city, but most of my running was completely urban.

I *heart* the running trails and parks in this town.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

MLA does its part for Katrina victims

As many of you know, a number of universities are part of the devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf coast. The Modern Language Association is doing its part to help affected members. Here’s what they said in a recent email message to members:

Efforts are under way to help accommodate faculty members and graduate students whose institutions are affected. We are working to set up a link on the MLA web site to a page where members can post offers of available positions, library privileges, and other emergency employment -- and accommodation -- related notices. Members are also invited to post needs for such assistance. Members who do not have e-mail or Web access can phone the MLA with the information. We hope to have this service live by the end of next week.

The United States Postal Service has asked us to hold all mailings to areas affected by the hurricane, and so we will be sending PMLA, the Newsletter, and other association materials (including the convention announcement and the ballot) only when it becomes feasible to do so.

We hope that members in affected areas will call the headquarters office if we can help with any membership service. The general number of the association is 646 576-5000, and the switchboard is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00 eastern time, excluding holidays. Members with e-mail access can write to: info AT mla DOT org.

Spread the word.

Official Grand Opening!

Yup, I’m finally hoppin’ on the blog bandwagon, after years of being addicted to the blogs of strangers (it all started with the now semi-defunct Like an Orb, whose writer, George, wrote beautifully and poetically and took fabulous digital photos of New York City, including heartbreaking ones on 9/11). Here’s why: I just can’t keep up with keeping in touch with my friends and family by e-mail or letter as much as I’d like. And I feel guilty when I send them my goofy stories of my life in long-winded e-mails because then it’s as if I’m obligating them to read my narratives. Here they can choose to visit or not, as they please and have time to do so.

This blog, then, is intended to be largely personal, a means of keeping in touch with people I already know IRL (in real life), but I welcome new friends and readers if something I’ve written entertains or interests you, or if I’ve been reading your blog and occasionally commenting there or linking to you here. (In fact, I already have a few such “e-quaintances.”) It is not an academic blog, per se, nor is it an issues blog or a political blog. I aim primarily to talk about my life in my new home, what I like about it and what’s been difficult to adjust to, especially given that it’s the smallest and most former-industrial city that I’ve ever lived in. (It’s no Tiny Town, however; the greater metro area is about 300,000, I believe. That said, I grew up in a metro area of 2 million and thereafter spent 15 years of my life in the two biggest cities in the U.S.) But that might be of interest to grad students and prospective grad students who also come from large and largish cities and might face adjusting to a very different life someday, given the realities of the academic job market.

And, of course, I will share all the silly stories that I usually share with friends and family – stories of my unstoppable Freak Magnet (which actually seems to have faded a bit here, although perhaps that’s because people are just less freakish than in the Big Cities), of the discovery of new trends in entertainment such as “car porn,” of my more interesting running-related adventures, of the Stars Hollow quality of my neighborhood, and so on. Alas, my days of funny star-sightings are over, UNLESS Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes do actually get married and she manages to talk him into the big hometown Catholic wedding she wants. I’m only blocks away from the Cathedral, folks! I could rent my apartment to paparazzi! Now *there’s* a reason to blog!

I will not talk about my students or colleagues except in positive terms. If there’s grumbling to be done, I will do it in private. I might occasionally talk about my work the way that GZombie over at Thanks for Not Being a Zombie does. He writes about the research he’s doing or the classes he’s designing, or issues in academia, or what literary studies is about (for those outside of it), but not about his colleagues or students. Also like GZombie, I won’t be totally anonymous. Anyone who tried hard could probably figure out who I am (clues to the city and neighborhood where I live are abundant in the last paragraph), and I may even post pictures of myself in the future; however, I’d just as rather not be obviously Google-able, so I’ll stick to the pseudonym: call me Dr. Virago or just Dr. V in the comments. It’s just too hard to stick to total anonymity. But I’ll protect the innocent and refer to other people by initials or pseudonyms. Feel free to sign your comments with your first name, though, if you’re not already an anonymous blogger.

Why the circumspection? Well, a little over a month ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a “First Person” article by the pseudonymous Ivan Tribble which stirred up quite a bit of controversy and annoyance in the blogosphere. I won’t go into the details here – you can read it yourself – but suffice it to say the title was “Bloggers Need Not Apply.” While my colleagues are generally really cool about wanting me to have a life here and have interests outside of work that keep me sane (as they also have), I don’t really want to advertise to them that I blog in case there’s an Ivan Tribble lurking among them, or in another department, and sitting on the renewal and promotion committee. (In fact, I blog in two places – more on that in a minute.) And then there was the case of the adjunct fired from SMU for writing, pseudonymously, about her students. I don’t think she should have been fired, but I also don’t want to follow her example, just in case. CYA and all that.

Occasionally I might blog on general issues of higher education, although I’m more likely to do that on the group blog to which I belong, CatchingFlies. But that blog has a narrow focus, so if I feel I must make my opinion on something public, and it doesn’t fit CatchingFlies, I’ll blog it here. Check out that blog, btw – we need more readers!

OK, this is all a very boring ‘statement of purpose,’ so I’ll end it here. On to more interesting posts!

PS -- I'm slowly adding to the links, btw.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Friend found

Well, my friend in Louisiana has been located, and she and her husband are safe and sound with relatives in Houston. They stuck it out through the storm (they're not in N.O. itself) and then left because there was no water or power. They have serious roof, tree, fence, and shed damage, but are otherwise pretty damn lucky.

I guess I should get this blog started and tell my friends and family it exists. I'm already on at least one blogroll (just CatchingFlies [ETA: blog now defunct], where I have contributed, but still...) so I better start giving people something to read! Look for the official introductory post to go up sometime this weekend. (And then maybe I will have filled in that scanty blogroll, too.)

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Postponing the grand opening

For those of you who may have wandered into my blog by way of my Blogger profile (because I commented on your blog), I wanted to let you know that I'm postponing getting this blog started. I just don't feel right participating in public navel-gazing while so many people are suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf coast in the wake of Katrina. More personally, I have a friend in southeastern Louisiana and I still haven't heard from her. It may be she just doesn't have power -- I can only hope -- but until I hear from her and until it seems something is *successfully* being done to rescue the stranded in New Orleans and re-establish law and order, I think I'll put off babbling about my own safe and relatively privileged life.

[And btw, I'm still working on the links section.]