Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Argh. Stupid frustration of the day

Somewhere in my files I have a paraphrase of and notes on a relatively short poem that's in the manuscript I'm thinking and writing about. Somewhere. The question is: where?

The fall semester started so soon after I moved in with Bullock that I still haven't really set up a filing or organizing system of any kind here, especially since I'd been going without filing cabinets for the previous three years, except in my office at school. Now I have them, but I haven't really set them up right. And I can't find anything unless it's in one of the active piles on my messy desk.

Grrr. So frustrating! I have the thoughts I wrote about it for a conference paper, but where are those original, fuller notes, darnit!

Yeah, I really should have more sympathy for when my students flake or lose something.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Just go on without me - really - I insist!

It seems that over the weekend our BMOC (in the official sense) here at RBU had a relatively minor, though no doubt painful mishap that has put him under a doctor's care. So he released a press announcement to the entire campus. It's not so much the press release that I think is a little melodramatic (hence my subject line) or unnecessary -- after all, he's a busy man and an important man and lots of people probably were counting on meeting with him this week. However, there was a bit in the press release that assured us all that the business of the university would continue without him.

Really? Are you sure? Because I just don't know how I can go on teaching my classes without our fearless leader!

All sarcasm aside, this otherwise innocuous announcement is one of the less disturbing ways he has shown his failure to understand that the fundamental "business" of our university is teaching, and that the faculty and students are the primary consituents in that business. Earlier this semester he sent out an announcement to everyone including the faculty reminding us (read: himself) that students are our reason for being here and that we should say hello to them and greet them by name. Perhaps I should invite him to my classes and demonstrate that I have all 70 of my students' names memorized already? I mean, seriously, maybe he's never been in anything except a giant lecture or something, and doesn't realize how we teach on this campus. And if that's the case, that's our failure.

[PS - The post title could also refer to the fact that I haven't blogged in over a week! Ack! Sorry about that!]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The book inches ever closer


I just e-mailed the electronic "typescript" files of my manuscript back to the copy-editors, having spent most of January going through it line by line and either excepting or rejecting their changes, or just rewriting the damn sentence from scratch (the latter happened a couple of times). Generally I think I'm a fine writer, but apparently I don't know my "thats" from my "whiches" and I abuse commas and scare quotes. Oh, and I use "like" when I should use "such as," though sometimes I really meant "like" -- I think my editor got used to correcting most of them and automatically over-corrected ones that didn't need it. But man, medieval subjects throw the copy-editors off. My subject includes texts with generic names as character names -- similar to referring to the Wife of Bath as simply the Wife, for instance, only this wasn't about her specifically -- and my editor made them all lowercase! Ack! About halfway through she realized that these were indeed character names and stopped. And one time, I wrote something along the lines of "this story was also popular in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Persian romance" (I'm making up the "Persian romance" part for the purposes of this illustration) and she changed it to "French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Persian romance." Now why would she do that? Those sentences say two different things! And her version makes it sound like the whole list of languages modifies "romance," which it shouldn't. Moreover, how does she know the texts I'm talking about aren't in Latin?

But, whatever. Those kinds of mistakes, though tedious, were easy to fix with a "stet" or, if there were some changes that were OK, going back in and changing it myself. That's the beauty of the electronic file -- "Track Changes" kept track of who changed what without having to sqeeze things in between lines. And more often than not, even if she changed a sentence in a way that changed the meaning, it was a sentence that needed rewriting anyway.

My experience definitely wasn't as stressful as Anne of Fernham's experience, and both of our books were edited by the same Indian company hired by the same publisher. Perhaps I got lucky, or maybe my series gets the sharper editors simply because the medieval stuff is tricky. I don't know, but keep your fingers crossed that they know what to do with the special characters, and that my "yoghs" actually look like yoghs and not the 3's I put in as placeholders!

The academic circle of life continues

ETA: Thanks for all your helpful suggestions in the comments, everybody! I'm going to take Dr. Crazy's advice first of all, and tell the *director* to send my contact info on to the student, and let him take it from there.

I've been asked to be an outside reader on a dissertation committee (at my university, but a different departement -- the only humanities departement with a Ph.D. program). The dissertation is on a medieval English subject, though way out of my part of the period*, but I thought I might as well say yes for the following reasons:

  1. I'm the outside reader, so really, my opinion comes last in the hierarchies of opinion, which means I have the easiest job. And anyway, he's not going to have something written until 2008, so there's plenty of time to plan ahead.
  2. I'll learn something.**
  3. Such requests will come up rarely enough that it's not like this one will open up the flood gates.
  4. Dude! I was finishing my own dissertation a mere 4 1/2 years ago and now I'm advising/reading one! How cool is that?! That also means I probably the only one on the committee with a clear memory of what it's like to be a dissertator. I think my best role in this case is to be the sympathetic junior faculty member who can offer concrete advice on the *process*, rather than the content. In fact, I think that's how I can be of the most value to this student, since his topic is fairly far out of my expertise.
So here's a couple of questions for you all: I haven't met the student yet, since he's in another department (his diss director knows me and asked me to be on the committee) -- should I e-mail him and invite him for a coffee on campus just to chat about his topic and his interests in it or something low-key like that? And also: my outside reader didn't really do anything -- it was a pro forma role in my case -- and I know really the chief advising is the director's job, which is fine, since I know very little about this student's subject, but can the outside reader actually be useful for something? (For example, I was thinking maybe I'd be good for giving him a taste of whether or not he was reaching an audience of medievalists broader than those who specialize in his area. Plus, like I said, I might be a more sympathetic ear about the process.) What do you think?

*Let's just say that the student's topic is as distant in time from the subject of my forthcoming book as we are from my book's topic. In case y'all haven't noticed, the Middle Ages is huge!
**Yes, I know, I ranked managing my workload over learning something. So sue me -- I have a job to do and managing my time means I do it better.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

No wonder my students think I'm a Christian...

You know the Bible 95%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

As seen at Bardiac. And as she says: not bad for an atheist!

And yes, I will return to substantive posting. Blogger and old man Time both got in my way this week. But I will prevail! Besides, I have stuff to say that's actually obliquely related to this quiz!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hey, why are people starting to leave?

First Michael Bérubé.

Then Ancrene Wiseass.

And now New Kid.

More and more of the bloggers who got me into this thing -- indirectly or directly -- seem to be taking blogging sabbaticals. And Eileen Joy at In the Middle asked if we all had blog ennui, or what?

I have to say, I'm a little bit with all of these folks in some way or another. Bérubé talks about how much mental time blogging takes up -- even when you're not doing it; Wiseass* says she worries that blogging has become "something rather more official, high-profile, and authoritative than it used to be," and therefore not what she needs it for (and Eileen takes this up in her post); and New Kid suggests that she feels guilt when she doesn't blog.

I get it. I totally get it. At one time or another I have felt all those things. And now I feel a bit like I'm being a hanger-on at a party that's winding down, especially since Wiseass is most directly the reason I got into blogging, first by reading a now defunct blog she had some time ago when I was in my first year on the tenure-track and just trying to keep in touch with all my far-flung friends. And it's her blog that led me to Bérubé and New Kid.

But, of course, there are still a lot of you lovely people out there and new blogs popping up all the time -- just look at my blogroll! -- and my RSS feed is constantly updating. So this party certainly is not over yet.

Besides, I have lots of stuff to talk about, including topics that may actually interest other people. For one thing, I had a *great* teaching week this past week and I felt great energy in the classroom, and I wondered if undergraduate teaching, which is all I'm doing this semester, just does that more than graduate teaching (which is all I did last semester). Maybe I'll post more on that tomorrow, because there are other factors involved and of interest (like class size and setting).

And in other news, next week I'm meeting with my chair to talk about planning for possibly going up for tenure a year early next year, and planning all that out. I may also still go on the market again -- at the same time -- next year, depending on just how unwelcome our new administration continues to make folks feel who aren't in applied sciences or professional programs, and how Bullock and I would be able to swing it. There's a lot to talk about there, both personal and professional.

And I'm still trying to figure out how to talk about what makes me cranky about stuff around here -- and how it's really not just local, either -- without shooting myself in the foot. My "speaking for the dead" post was just a start.

So I've got things to say and I'm sticking around. But sometimes it takes me a little while to formulate it or to find the time to say it. My blog has always been a once-every-few-days blog, but I thought I should re-iterate that, given all these other leaves of absence.

*I know most people address her as Ancrene, but I'm a pedant here. The title she puns on, Ancrene Wisse, means roughly "A Guide for Anchoresses," with "Wisse" being the guide. So therefore, "Ancrene Wiseass" should mean "A Wiseass for Anchoresses," thus making the blogger Wiseass. Besides, she *is* a wiseass. :)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Dog (and Squirrel) Blogging

Wiley, where's the squirrel?! Find the squirrel!

Is it over there...? Nooooo...

Around there? Noooo....

Ooh, maybe up there? Not quite....

Or how about up here? Getting warmer.....

HERE it is...

(Look at the center of the knot in the tree, and you'll see its little head peeking out. Click on the picture and magnify if necessary.)

Monday, January 8, 2007

Look what I'm in for!

(Edited for clarity)

Yesterday I packed up the Christmas ornaments and disassembled the Christmas tree. That must mean today is the beginning of the new semester for Rust Belt U!

As I write, Bullock has started his first class of the day. My first class starts tomorrow -- both of mine are in the exact same time slots as his but on opposite days, weirdly. It's a good thing they don't start until tomorrow, since I'm currently in pj bottoms and a minor league baseball t-shirt over long underwear. Nice!

Anywho, I spent the morning finishing up my review of the editor's comments on chapter 2 of my book. 3 more chapters and the works cited to go before January 25. I was kind of hoping to power through it before the semester began, but clearly that didn't happen. And now I have to plan for the first day of classes tomorrow. The syllabuses are written and copied, but I still have to make some short poetry handouts -- because, yes, I *do* use the whole class on the first day of school! -- and figure out just how much time to spend on various tasks on the first day. Every year I change what I do. In the medieval lit survey, for example, sometimes I ask students what they think of when they hear the word "medieval." Or I put a timeline on the board. Or I just jump right into some lyric poems. In Shakespeare tomorrow, I might talk about Will's life and times, or I might just jump right into a sonnet. In the classroom I'm often as New Historicist as I am in my work, but I'm starting to realize that sometimes students need a little bit of New Criticism first, and I'm trying to build in more close textual work, even when they're reading stuff in translation. So it might be good for me to start there in each of my classes tomorrow and get them to start participating and doing it themselves right away.

But so far, we're just talking about tomorrow. My subject line actually refers to what I'm "in for" for the whole semester. Last semester I had two graduate classes with a total of 25 students (though, keep in mind that that meant about 400 pages of grading at the end of the semester and a greater level of reading and other scholarly preparation on my part). This semester, I have two undergraduate courses with a total of 70 students (35 each). In one class they'll be writing 3 medium-length papers. In another, they'll be writing 6 2-page responses, a short paper, and a research paper with an additional proposal-and-bibliography aspect.

What have I done to myself?!!!!

Oh, and did I mention that I took on an independent study student? Or that I'm training for the Boston Marathon (on a more intense, but less time-consuming-than-usual 3 day/week schedule)? Or that it's admissions season and I'm the Grad Director? Or that Bullock and I will have Wiley with us until April? And then there's the little matter of my book, which I'll be indexing myself as I review the proofs in March (thank the FSM that that's supposed to arrive over Spring Break!).

Woo boy. By K'zoo time in May, those of you who are medievalists should expect to see a very exhausted Dr. V. But at least I won't be giving a paper there this year and can just use it as a well-deserved fun-but-still-professional reward at the end of the term. I'm going to need it!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

"Student centered" does not mean "At the student's whim"

Just as I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about the impending start of the semester, one bozo does something to put me in a sour mood.

I went to campus today and while checking my mailbox there, the pre-semester stillness of the usually buzzing mailroom offered me the chance to notice a tidy little computer-printed sign that one of my colleagues had affixed to her mailbox, effectively blocking access to the box itself. The sign said something along these lines:

The semester is over. The deadlines have passed.
Don't even think about turning in your paper now.
- Dr. So-and-So

Heh heh. Not something I would have done myself, but I appreciated the tired if sarcastic sentiment of it (especially knowing that the colleague was a composition instructor with a heavy load). But that's not what put me in a sour mood. I then noticed another, smaller sign stapled to the first one, with the following neatly handwritten message in block letters:


Oh for crying out loud. Since when does imposing a strict deadline signify that the professor is somehow not "student centered" (and by implication, supposedly only concerned with him/herself)??

Here's what I want to say to that student: I'm sorry, but when the university talks about being "student centered" they don't mean just you. I know, I know, it's in the singular, but it has a kind of allegorical ring to it -- like "Everyman." Just as he is every man, the "student" in "student centered" is every student. There are actually other students here at Rust Belt, and they turn things in on time, finishing their work in the time allotted to them. Should we be less centered on them and more centered on you? Should we, perhaps, forget our own deadline for turning in grades and let you turn in your work at your whim? Yes, that's right, we have deadlines to meet too. In fact, that's often why people create deadlines -- so that the work that has to be done subsequent to your part can get done on time. And when it comes to grading, most of us like to grade work from a single class all in one bunch; that way, if there's a problem or essay question or whatever that's flawed in some way, we see the patterns and cut students some slack. It's also a kind of norming, giving us a sense of what students in a class are capable of. So see, our silly, whimsical, self-centered deadlines really *are* about students. And exactly how do you think this flexible attitude towards deadlines will fly in, say, the world of law, or at the IRS, or commerce, or wherever? Do you think you'll suddenly and magically develop good habits when you leave school? Are we really doing you a service if we let you do work when you feel like it?


You know, what gets me is that so many of our students are totally instrumentalist in choosing majors -- they want something "practical," that will give them "real world" skills -- and yet so many (often the same ones) miss some of the most fundamental "practical" lessons that college is supposed to teach you or at least give you time to perfect: time management, responsibility, independence, and self-motivation. I could be teaching you the most bizarre, esoteric, obscure subject (and some might argue that I do!) and my class would still be giving you a pretty low-stakes way to hone those skills. And I'm sure my colleague's class is the same.

I don't often rant on this blog, but that little added note rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, if it had said, "The sarcarsm isn't necessary," I might have even agreed with it! But the writer had to go and act like the unthinkable imposition of a freakin' deadline was somehow a blow against all studentdom.


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy New Year!

The Virago is back. (And so are Bullock and Wiley, of course.)

Classes start next week, I'm in the midst of reviewing the editorial changes on my book manuscript (it's actually fun! yes, I am a geek!), and I was even on campus today. Break? What break? And I didn't even have to squeeze in MLA (though I can't wait to read everyone else's tales -- I feel like I missed out). I'll get back to substative blogging shortly, but in the meantime, I leave you with a couple of pictures of how Youngest Niece spent her entire Christmas break: playing her new Wii. The back of her head is pretty much all the rest of us saw, too.