Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A weird syllabus?

I'm way behind on book orders for next semester, in part because I'm doing the intro lit class for the first time in a number of years, and I wanted to change up my old syllabus in a major way, in part to fit the revised expectations and goals of the course, and in part because, well, things get boring if you don't change things up.

I always think such courses make a little more sense to students and have less of that "cafeteria curriculum" feel if you stick to a theme, even a loose one. (Though too narrow a theme and it gets boring.) So this time around I'm going with "Death and Desire." (Past themes include "Home Schooled" and "Freaks and Monsters.") It's going to be kind of a dark syllabus.

My choices for the lyric poetry and short fiction sections are pretty darn unsurprising, traditional, and canonical, and many of the works were ones that I read in high school. The students might have read some of them in high school, as well; however, these days high school have very different curricula and even if my students have had these works before, I've always been good at showing students new ways of reading and even enjoying the tried and true -- new to them, anyway. Plus, learning that there are many ways to skin a cat, er, interpret a poem, is a basic but important lesson in literary studies. But when it comes to the narrative works on my syllabus, I got a little weird. Here's what I'm doing:

Narrative poetry:
Marie de France, Yonec
Anon., Sir Orfeo

Twelfth Night
A Streetcar Named Desire (not in itself a weird choice, but paired with Twelfth Night? Maybe others do it -- maybe it's not as weird as I think)

The novel (here's where I think I'm getting really weird):
Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Ellroy, L. A. Confidential

What do you all think? Too dark? Will my students revolt after having to read Hardy and Ellroy back to back?

Also, I'm going to end with short stories -- does anyone have any suggestions for a short story with some relation to the theme that has an upbeat ending with which I can end the course? I don't want the students to be completely bummed out just as they're doing evals!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

City of Lights

I took this short clip on October 20, 2008, right after a lovely meal with Bullock and Virgo Sis at Au Bon Accueil bistro (also recommended, especially for its perfect execution of classic dishes), where you can see the Eiffel Tower from the sidewalk tables. (It was too cold for us that night to sit outside, so I took this video after dinner, on our walk past the tower.)

Click to play and see the pretty blinking lights.

Saturday, October 25, 2008



On both the Amazon page for my book and on the publisher's page, a new entry has been added under the "praise for this book" section. It's the blurb from my college's alumni magazine, which the bookshelf editor merely took from the jacket copy. While that's bad enough -- since it clearly repeats information that's available in the copy on both of these web pages -- what's really embarrassing are the following two details: 1) Medieval is misspelled. Badly. 2) The "review" is credited to me! (And in a sense, that's true, since I wrote the jacket copy, but I certainly didn't "review" my own book and misspell medieval!!)


I wrote to Amazon when I first noticed it, but it hasn't been removed. And only now did I realize it may originate with my own publisher. D'oh. Should I bother tracking down all manifestations of this and getting them removed? Or is life too short? Will my scholarly reputation survive?

Friday, October 24, 2008

There and back again

Hello again. We're back from France, and as soon as I get my pictures uploaded, I'll blog about it. Today we picked up Pippi from "dog camp," caught up on e-mails and blogs, and generally got ourselves re-oriented to our real life (as opposed to a life where we ate at a yummy bistro every night, including these two, both of which I highly recommend). More details later...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Brief interruption in service

I don't know why I haven't found time to blog substantively lately, but there it is. And, alas, it won't be getting any better immediately, as Bullock and I are leaving for Paris in about 15 minutes. OK, we're leaving for the *airport* in 15 fifteen minutes, but since I won't be taking my lap top, that means there will be no blogging between 15 minutes from now and when we're back a week from now.

Yes, it is our fall break week. Actually, the university only has half a week off, but I always give the graduate methods class the whole week off because it is the midpoint of the term and they need to get crackin' on their research. And in my other class the students are also writing and researching up a storm at the moment, so I gave them the whole week off, too.

Bullock and I do hope to have lots of yummy food and see some sites, but the main reason I'm going is to meet up with Virgo Sis and scatter my mother's ashes in the Jardin des Tuileries, one of her favorite places in Paris. Last time I was in that park with my mom and Sis, I was 9 years old and I left my purse on the back of a chair in an open-air cafe. I cried and cried and cried until we found it. This time I'll be crying for another reason. And then we'll go find somewhere to have good food and good wine. Mom would approve.

Blogging to recommence when I get back.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday shorts: The muppets on teh internets

I love the fact that Statler and Waldorf have eased so effectively into comment thread cranks.

There are more where these came from.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Scenes from a cohabitation

Life around chez Virago and Bullock has been a little tense lately. Oh, don't worry, it's nothing relationship-threatening -- it's not even about *us*. It's just that we've both been sick lately, we're both worried about our retirement investments (like every other couple in the country), we've both got relatives much closer to or in retirement who we know or surmise have even more to worry about (we've at least got many years to try and make it up), and on top of all that we're in the midst of a tense contract vote at work that, if it passes, will gain our household a lot of income, but may hurt some of our friends on the health insurance side of things, and so we don't know if it will pass or not, and if not, what happens next.

All of that is bad enough, but then to that add election season in the household of one wonk (Bullock) and one less wonky but informed and concerned citizen (me).

And if all of that weren't crazy-making enough, Bullock is a Cubs fan. Or rather, a Cubs FAN, for I really need to emphasize the fandom part. Like all true Cubs fan, he is intensely devoted. Yes, he is really bummed right now. Honestly, I think they need to move election season away from play-off season, as there has been a LOT of yelling at the TV lately. It's freaking Pippi and me out.

So, with all that in mind, I present you a scene from yesterday morning. It was my turn to walk Miss Pippilicious and it was drizzling pretty steadily, so I grabbed an old baseball cap from my closet, a cap I had purchased in the city of my graduate studies only because it had the initial of the city prominently displayed on it, which matched the general style of the cap of the team of my youth and also the cap of the team of my college and pre-grad school years in the Big Apple, both of which caps had long since worn out. I'm big on adopting the city in which I currently live as home. I really had no dedication to this team from the grad school years, or to any of those other teams (except maybe the team of my youth), so I wasn't thinking. I was just thinking of protecting my head from the drizzle.

I walked out of the bedroom and met Bullock in the hall.

I've never seen a grown man look so sad before -- like a kid whose ice cream just fell off the cone onto the sidewalk.

"You're wearing a Dodgers cap! How could you?!?!"

I am a bad and thoughtless girlfriend.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A reason for tenure

I think I found a way to describe concretely to myself and to my students one of the reasons tenure matters.

Here's the background. This week in my graduate research class, we read an article from about 1989 by Stephen Nissenbaum, "The Month Before 'The Night Before Christmas'" from a conference proceeding volume called Humanists at Work. We were reading it -- or rather, I asked them to read it -- to get a concrete sense about the life cycle of a research project, and about the experiential side of the "methods" of research, including the communal aspects of it (advice and leads gleaned from colleagues, conversations, and conferences) and the moments of seeming luck and serendipity (which I pointed to students really only seem lucky -- they often come as the result of experience, knowledge, and preparation). It's an article I highly recommend: it's vivid in its portrayal of how a humanities researcher works and it makes concrete the research life of an academic, and also describes a fascinating research project on a poem everyone knows, "The Night Before Christmas." Nissenbaum is a historian, I should point out, and ultimately the small project on the poem became a larger cultural history project on the history of Christmas in the US, called The Battle for Christmas (available in Vintage paperback, 1997), but the article could easily be describing a new historicist literary project.

One of the things my students took from this article is how much work and time good research takes, as well as how much of that time is, as one student put it, "sitting and thinking." Nissenbaum talks about how, in 1989, he'd already been thinking about this poem off and on for 15 years. And I pointed out that the book it became didn't come out (in its original edition) until 1996. By the time he was working on this project, he had tenure, so he had that luxury of time to sit and think, to let the project reveal itself to him.

We can do that to some extent as advanced graduate students and assistant professors -- after all, my dissertation-to-book process did take about 10 year -- but there's also a pressure to get stuff out there, to complete it and have something to show for all that sitting and thinking. That's not to say that such pressure is totally gone with tenure (after all, I do want to make full professor), but it's certainly relieved to some extent. And one of the things I vowed to myself when I got tenure was to let my next project evolve more slowly, to let it reveal itself to me. I like very much the ability to say, "I'm not sure what this research will become, but here's where I am right now" and just following the pure pleasure of the leads and even the digressions in that research.

I think that gift of time, that ability to take projects slowly, to give them what they need to develop fully -- including the permission to fail or to lead to dead-ends -- is part of what tenure is about. (This is one of the many reasons I hate the term "deadwood" for senior faculty who aren't frenetically producing, but that's a post for another day.) Take away tenure and we're all back under the pressure to produce rapidly and we lose that ability to let ideas and analysis ferment fully. That would be a loss not only to those who produce the knowledge, but to the world at large.

Now, if only we could transfer that freedom and time to the untenured as well.


I realize, by the way, that I may be contradicting or complicating my own notions of why the professionalization of graduate students is not a bad thing. Well, to that I say: I am large, I contain multitudes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And now I'm sick. Great.

I used to get sick only rarely, back when I was running regularly. The big exception was disastrously getting sick right before the 2007 Boston Marathon and running it anyway, in that nor'easter, and getting sicker as a result. That's the one case of running hurting my health. Usually running gives me an immune system of steel and I've joked about being the only person aside from Keith Richards who will survive the super flu when it comes.

But not any more. In 2008 I've run barely 80 miles total, which is equal to about two weeks of mileage when I'm training for a marathon (or not even two weeks -- depending on where I am in my training). That's a big difference. And so it is that I'm sick. It's just a head cold -- started with a sore throat, now consists of congestion and cough -- but it's annoying. The whole world seems distant and hazy and it's hard to think.

And so it is that I still haven't posted anything substantive. I do have things to say. Being on the DPC has been interesting, and though obviously I can't blog anything specific about that, I *can* blog about something more general that it got me thinking about: how the ways in which we imagine our professional selves is sometimes utterly contradicted by the facts of the matter. So that's a post coming up when I feel better.

But other than that I've got bupkis. Any ideas? I'm entertaining suggestions. What would you, the readers, like me to blog about?