Thursday, August 31, 2006

Students (and boyfriends) say the darndest things

Once again I've gone unintentionally silent for longer than I meant to. Chalk it up to the following: Bullock's going up for tenure and the file's due tomorrow; the university is doing "prioritization" and every department has extra weekly meetings; I'm still not done with those fraking encyclopedia articles and they're due tomorrow; and, dammit, graduate students are freakin' needy and being graduate advisor seems to take up more time than the one course I traded for the job.

Anyway...while helping Bullock go through his file one more time, I came upon the Best Student Evaluation Comment Ever, at least from this medievalist's point of view. Keep in mind that Bullock teaches in a social science and the reading material for the course is primarily 20th century. OK, you ready? Here it is:

The cases are written in Old English prose, so hearing the lecture in today's English language definitely helps me understand. least s/he got "prose" right. And Bullock's response (to me, that is, while I was laughing)? He said this: "I think what the student means is prose steeped in stinky cologne."


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Affecting, flattering, and frightening items of the week

Item 1: Affecting

Yesterday I got the mail at home and found a small, elegant envelope addressed to "Prof. FirstName Virago" (what would Dr. Virago's first name be, btw?) in my dissertation director's unmistakable handwriting and blue ink. (Maybe he uses black, too, but all I can ever recall is blue.) Inside was an architecture review from his Big City newspaper about The Rust Belt Museum's latest expansion. (Think the Milwaukee Museum of Art's expansion and you'll get the sense of what a Big Deal this has been for Rust Belt.) At the top of the review -- which was glowingly positive -- was a note that said "Dear FirstName -- Sounds/looks good in Rust Belt! From today's Big City Paper. Best, HisFirstName."

I found this so utterly touching and sweet. First of all, he's Mr. Sophisticated, so he's probably been thinking all this time, since I got this job, that I'd been exiled to some hideous existence on the fringes of civilization, and was delighted to see that the savages do have some culture after all. I say this warmly -- he does have a snobby streak, but I think he works hard not to act on the first impulses of that snobbishness. But the main reason I was so affected by it is that it was something my mother would have done. Actually, she would have *loved* the Director. They both had/have penchants for the color green, fine art, all things European, and fine cuisine, and they both were/are decent, kind people with snobby streaks they tried not to express, for that just wouldn't be polite. But more to the point, my Mom used to cut out and send me articles about things of interest to me in just the same way -- in an envelope by itself with a note written on the top on the article. Honestly, it almost made me cry.

Item 2: Flattering, but also freakin' frightening

So I have a friend visiting this weekend, who used to be a grad student in our program -- he's currently galavanting about with another friend in town, so I'm not ignoring him, I swear. Let's call him Big Teutonic Queer, an epithet I came up with last night while imitating someone in the department who was clearly uneasy in BTQ's presence, and which BTQ loved so much that he's been referring to himself by it all day today. Anyway, last night Big Teutonic Queer went out drinking with our department chair and while BTQ didn't come back with the best gossip ever -- dammit! -- he did come back with a little nugget that set my heart pounding with a strange combination of pride and abject fear. Apparently, Chair said that she has to take a sabbatical soon or she's be thrown off the whole sabbatical rotation, but she has to wait until I get tenure so that there's someone she trusts to run the department in her stead.

Uh....Squeeze me? Baking powder? Gosh and golly, I'm flattered, but um, no. There will be no chairing of departments right after I'm tenured, interim or not. And I think the department might have some say in this anyway. (Yeah, ya think?) But still, it's nice that she thinks I could take that on.

All in all, I feel so "grown up"!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Question for the internets: does an MA have a rat's chance in hell?

Update: Thanks everyone for the really helpful comments! As I said in my response, I think my students who want to work in CCs really need to do their research and find out what search committees at local CCs are looking for, and talk to our own composition people about the job market in the field in general.

Original Post
OK, my post title is rather cheeky and vague. Here's my real question (which I also e-mailed to Dean Dad*, who doesn't read this blog as far as I know):

How much of a chance does a person with an MA only have of forging a stable career in teaching composition and literature at the community college level? Emphasis on "stable" and "career" -- I'm not talking about contingent, temporary labor.

Many of our graduate students are under the impression that they can be "college professors" in composition or literature (but especially the former) at the community college level with an MA. I think they're thinking full time, stable jobs, and not adjuncting and part time work when they use the phrase "college professor." My understanding -- but my experience is limited -- is that while once upon a time the community college market didn't require a Ph.D., they are now preferring or even requiring Ph.D.s at CCs since they can get them because of the state of the market in higher ed in general. Am I right?

I want to be sure my students are thinking realistically.

*Dean Dad's current post goes a long way towards answering my question, but I'd like to hear more.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Big beautiful bookcases!

Seeing pictures of Flavia's gorgeous new home and study (love those colors!) while catching up on blog-reading this weekend made me realize that I haven't yet posted pictures of the *beautiful* bookcases Bullock made for me. I don't have kids or pets to brag about, so instead I offer you my beloved Bullock's handiwork. You really must click on the small pictures to see them in their full glory. Here are two of them from top to bottom:

Eventually I'm going to get rid of those ugly binders on the bottom row of the second case (they contain six different versions of my book!) and use it for library books. (That wire running across the floor is the internet cable that comes in my study, through the wireless router [I'm wireless], out my study door, across the hall, and into Bullock's computer. Yeah, fixing that is on the project to-do list, but it involves drilling through the brick exterior of the house to take it in through B's office.) Oh, and btw, all the shelves are adjustable -- it's just kind of a coincidence that I have most of them on the same level across the cases. And now here's all three together, though I couldn't get them all to fit totally in the frame:

Now here are some shots that give you a good look at the details and the gorgeous wood. First, a close-up of one of the shelves without books on it.

If you click on it to see the bigger version, you'll see that each shelf has a simple beading to it. The caps on the top have a similar beading, only kind of in reverse. (I don't have a good picture of that to show you, unfortunately.) And I just love the maple and walnut contrast, which really shows up on the side of the cases -- only one of which is visible, unfortunately. But it's the first thing you see as you enter the office, as you can see in this final picture. I dig the grain pattern:

Isn't Bullock talented?

Now, if only the color of the walls were as cool as Flavia's study! The dull gray-blue came with the house, and while Bullock has done lots of repainting in the living room, dining room, stairs, and hallway, we just haven't gotten to my study. The bookcases were more important. Of course, if we do repaint, we'll have to move all those books! Sigh.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Medieval drama links and stuff

This one is for the fans of medieval drama out there. And I just know there are millions of you.

So one of the things that got me all excited about The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period, the anthology I keep mentioning but not yet writing about, is its medieval drama section, which is simply awesome. Yes, I always judge an anthology by its medieval drama section (where appropriate, that is), because it's easiest to tell if an anthology is carefully and thoroughly done, up-to-date, interesting and innovative by seeing what they do with medieval drama. As I've written before, too often editors have let that section fester with out-of-date misinformation, like saying that drama started in the church, moved to the church steps, and finally moved to the city streets. So wrong -- and so stinking out of date -- in so many ways.

Anywho, what initially got me really excited about this anthology was not only that it was absolutely up-to-date on current knowledge of drama (it doesn't even make the now questionable assumption that all medieval plays were written by clergy) but also that it made really cool text selections. It has the Jeu d'Adam!! The Jeu d'Adam, people! That's so exciting! It means, among other things, one more 12th century text, one more Anglo-Norman text, one more opportunity to remind students that literature in the Middle Ages was multi-lingual, and one more way to talk about different communities and audiences for texts, dramatic or otherwise. And if you're doing a Med-Ren survey, it would make a nice pairing with Milton's Paradise Lost, as a study in the cultural uses and interpretations of this supposedly traditional, sacred and 'fixed' story. The only other place you can get the Jeu d'Adam in an anthology is in Bevington's Medieval Drama (that's the translation they use, btw.) And the other exciting bit is the edition of Mankind they've used -- they've modernized the spelling and punctuation especially for this edition. I love teaching Mankind in my medieval lit. courses and have done so many times, but my students do get lost in the language. The simple matter of changing a medieval 'y' to a modern 'i' -- and other such changes that don't effect prosody -- makes all the difference to student learning. Yay for Broadview doing this! It also includes Everyman as well as Mankind, so students can see the variety of allegorical drama. Oh, and Flavia, you'll be happy to hear that it has the Chester Noah's Flood, too, which I recall you were missing in the new Norton. (I think it was you, wasn't it?)

I have other things to say about the anthology, but I'll save them for another post, one that isn't dedicated to all things dramatic.

So now, on to the links. Back when I was talking up the revised Norton -- which, to its credit, updated its medieval drama section; but alas, no Jeu d'Adam -- I kind of picked on poor Everyman and a lot of you concurred. And it is true that it has been misused critically and pedagogically as a kind of fall-guy for the dullness of the 15th century and the flatness of medieval drama. Plus, there is still much critical debate about just how English, medieval, and dramatic it is -- thus one can question its use in the Norton and other anthologies as an exemplar of medieval allegorical drama. And I have to say, I just personally prefer the raucous Mankind or the spectacular and comprehensive Castle of Perseverance. But we were later taken to task, perhaps rightly so, for underestimating the dramatic power of Everyman. You probably didn't see this comment because its writer came by long after the freshness of that post had expired. Its author, Douglas Morse, is making a film version of Everyman, and I wanted to alert you all to it and to the director's web page, so that you might put yourselves on the mailing list and consider using a DVD of it when teaching Everyman, or at least check out the stills and clips. It's a film and not a filmed version of a stage production, so it won't give students a sense of Everyman as a play, per se, but it might still be pedagogically useful.

Meanwhile, in other Everyman news...I blogged about this before, but it was in a quicky post that got lost between other posts way back when, so I'm going to blog about it again. So there! The "it," btw, is a blog called Tuco's Lament, about one man's creative process of re-envisioning The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly through the lens of Everyman, and doing the whole thing with puppets. Don't laugh -- puppetry is a beautiful art. Just look at his Everyman/Tuco puppet or this gorgeous backdrop. I suppose I've loved puppetry all my life -- Sesame Street and I are the same age, and I grew up on the muppets -- but I got into really artful puppetry and marionettes when my 5th grade social studies teacher, whom I thought was the coolest of the cool, told me she was a puppeteer and invited me to a show. Until then, I never realized how real and beautiful live marionettes could seem. Exquisite. And yes, I love Being John Malkovich, especially the Heloise and Abelard puppet show. So add Tuco's Lament to your list of post-modern puppet reinventions of medieval narratives! It appeals to me, anyway.

Friday, August 18, 2006

69 Facts about Dr. Virago (with pictures!)

Get your mind out of the gutter! The title refers to the fact that I totally flaked on the 100 Facts in 100 Days meme after Fact 31, so I decided to fill in the rest in one post. Why bother? Because I don't like leaving anything unfinished. Well, except The Mysteries of Udolpho. I just couldn't take another page of constant overuse of the word "sublime." Oh, and I never finished this latch-hook pillow project when I was a kid (click to "embiggen"):

Te-hee! Remember latch-hook?

But that's not an official fact. That's a bonus fact! Lucky you! Without further ado, here are the official facts (probably full of typos because I have no patience to proof-read it all):

32. I wore this awesome dress to my prom:

Those "straps" you see are just for the hanger. It's a strapless dress.


And most awesome of all, the fish-tail train in close-up:

33. I have dated a drummer. And another and another. One of them was my date to that prom.

34. I first travelled to Europe when I was nine.

35. While in Vienna on that trip, I got to pet a lion cub. But I didn't set any bears free.

36. My spoken French is terrible and my listening skills aren't much better, but sometimes I still dream in it.

37. My heart swells with love whenever I'm in Yorkshire.

38. My English ancestors were from East Anglia.

39. I grew up in a Plains State. (What's with all the flatness, people?!)

40. My first English ancestors to come to North American arrived in Massachusetts colony in 1628. My mother always refused to believe they were Puritans.

41. My Irish ancestors arrived in the 19th C. and headed straight to one of those all-Irish towns in Illinois (more flatness!). Cf. Road to Perdition.

42. I have a medal from the NRA. See -- look:
43. I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school.

44. I don't consider myself Catholic anymore...that is, until someone picks on Catholics.

45. I went to an evil, preppy, snooty high-church Protestant sleep away camp when I was 12. See number 44.

46. My biggest problem at that camp, however, was not being Catholic, but innocently asking "What's Junior League?"

47. Growing up, I liked adults better than kids. Perhaps camp had something to do with that?

48. As a kid I was a bit like a girl version of the boy in About a Boy.

49. I can't decide if I'd rather live in mountains or by water. I live in flatlands now, with no water except when there's a storm and the streets flood. I came from fens and swamps (see the English and Irish ancestors) and to swamps I have returned.

50. I spend as much time as possible barefoot.

51. For the runners: I have a perfectly neutral gait. For the non-runners: that means when I roll off my toe, I do so perfectly down the center. It doesn't make me faster, but it means I'm not very injury-prone (unless I trip or something).

52. My marathon PR is 3:43.

53. My weight goes up and down about 20 lbs. depending on the amount and intensity of my running.

54. I'm 5'8" but I often claim I'm 5'9".

55. My current resting heart rate is 60, but when running regularly, it's 50.

56. I have 20/20 vision.

57. I only occasionally wear skirts and dresses. I prefer pants.

58. I loved REM in high school and college and still have t-shirts from that era. And I saved this, too:
59. Wilco has now replaced REM in my American(a) heart.

60. I have a theory that the 1970s were the best times for American girls to grow up. Perhaps I'll elaborate one of these days.

61. My porn name is Emily Windsor. It's not very porny at all!

62. All of my pets have had human names.

63. I don't like mustaches or soul patches alone (sorry Fizzy!), but put 'em together (for example, see Bullock on Deadwood) and ooh la la! Sexy!

64. I'm dreading the whole skinny jeans come-back, except on skinny men, where it looks kinda cool.

65. In my college facebook entry, I listed Amadeus as my favorite movie. I was the only one who did so.

66. Brad Dourif is my favorite character actor.

67. I can wear t-shirts in a children's large.

68. I still sometimes wear my 8th grade gym uniform t-shirt (a vintage ringer with the school name and mascot).

69. In high school and college I weighed 110 lbs (see that dress above).

70. I have a vintage Stephen Sprouse micro-mini from the 80s that would probably only fit around one of my thighs today.

71. I've worked in a fast food joint.

72. I've worked in retail.

73. I've been a paralegal.

74. All three of the above facts make me grateful to be an academic.

75. When I was a kid I wanted to be a zoologist.

76. I used to make purring noises at the big cats in my hometown zoo.

77. I have a framed portrait of myself, drawn by a friend.

78. I prefer winter to summer, but I really love fall.

79. I had a crush on Luis on Sesame Street when I was a kid.

80. Later, I had a crush on Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica.

81. I had a unicorn collection when I was about 12.

82. At the same age, I love the local Renaissance Fair.

83. I've always wished I were a redhead.

84. I've always wanted straight, shiny hair.

85. I wanted to be a novelist (after the zoologist phase) but I could never come up with plots.

86. I'm an even worse poet. To wit, this morning I composed two haiku in honor of Life on Mars:

D. I. Sam Tyler,
Hurt in a crash, lost in time,
But his clothes are very cool.

Smoking and drinking at work,
Oh, what we have forgotten.

(Yes, I'm obsessed with the show.)

87. My left middle toe is longer than my big toe.

88. I can pick things up with my toes.

89. I spent a summer as a live-in babysitter and refer to it as "my summer as a governess."

90. I really want tobe on one of the BBC/PBS "____ House" reality shows.

91. I have conversations in my head with absent friends.

92. I talk with my hands.

93. I can't carry a tune, but I like to sing.

94. I have never been a member of SCA or played D&D.

95. I have no desire to travel back in time and live in the Middle Ages. I prefer modern conveniences and feminism, thank you very much.

96. I do, however, covet a thatch roof cottage in England -- retro-fitted with mod cons, of course.

97. I have dated two men named Guy. Neither was from Warwick.

98. I like mid-century ranch houses, but only if they're well-designed.

99. I hate this meme!

And finally, your reward for getting this far (though some of you know this already):

100. My biggest claim to cool is having been on a handful of dates with a certain fast-talking movie director and Oscar-winning screenwriter who has worked more than once with a stunning blonde daughter of a professor of Eastern religion. (Enough hints? I don't want to encourage odd Google hits.)

Cruelest junk mail subject line *ever*

"Summer is almost here!"

Need I say more?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

And so it begins...again

Ah, it's back-to-school season here in Rust Belt. The graduate students are being oriented, the undergraduates are being "launched" (don't ask), and the dean is addressing the state of the college tomorrow. Syllabuses have been made and I'm busy scanning oodles of stuff and collecting piles of books for reserve for my two -- count 'em -- two graduate courses. (Weird trivia about my upcoming semester: I'm teaching all graduate students. And then next semester it's pretty much all undergraduates.)

Of coures, the title of this post also refers to this blog starting up again. Sorry for the disappearing act (the second in a row, no less). I'm actually going to write about the reasons why in an upcoming post on routine. Right now I just wanted to pop in and say I'm alive and well and that this mini-post announces the fact that I'm going to get back to regularly scheduled blog writing and reading. Which reminds me -- I have three weeks of blog reading to do! Ack!

In the next post I'll finish up that silly 100 Facts meme in one fell swoop. And then I'll get back to substance. This post is really just to hold me to all of this.

Oh, and by the way, I think it's hilarious that a link from Le Blog Bérubé, buried deep in one of his characteristically long posts a couple of weeks ago, got me my highest visitor stats all summer, and also bumped me up the Great Chain of Being, just when I wasn't even posting a damn thing. Go figure. I write, no one reads. I don't write, I get a gazillion click-bys. See, this is why all that Ecosystem and Site Meter watching is unhealthy.

And PS -- Regarding the TV shows I mentioned in the last post: Eureka is lame. It had potential, but it has turned out to be quirks for quirks' sake and little more. So there's an hour a week I don't have to waste anymore. Hex got a little disappointing, too, but partly because BBC America showed the first English season plus three episodes from the second English season and called it "Season One" here. No wonder we felt let down. BUT, I am absolutely delighted to say that I love, love, LOVE Life on Mars even more episode by wonderful episode. I'm utterly obsessed. Completely smitten.