Friday, February 17, 2006

We interrupt this hiatus...

…to say that next year there should definitely be more time for blogging because I’ll be teaching a 2/2 load.  Woo-hoo!  But it’s not just the load I’m excited about, although that is a reason to cheer, and not just because it means more time for research. I’m a better teacher when I teach 2; I’m always exhausted, hungry, and frequently unclear in one class when I’m teaching 3.  What I’m also excited about is the reason for the course load reduction:  I’m going to be one of our two undergraduate advisors starting next year.  The other one is also an assistant professor, and I think we’re both hoping to get a better sense of our program as a whole and make it clearer and more coherent for the students.  Let’s hear it for new blood, idealism, and energy!  I’m planning on announcing these personnel changes to my students now and urging them to see an advisor regularly through their studies – at least once a year – so the advisor can help them design the best major for their particular needs and goals (whether it’s secondary education, post-graduate studies, career plans, or whatever).  Our students aren’t required to see an advisor until they need to get ready for graduation, and that’s just wrong.

Anyway, I’m hoping to blog a LOT about all of this next year, but I also hope to return to regularly scheduled blogging long before then, as well.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

As ProfGrrrrl would say: High. Eight. Us.

Hey folks.

As many of you know, lately I've been having some serious time-management issues. And I feel like a schmuck about it, since I'm only teaching 3 classes instead of the 4 that I know many of you are teaching. (I could list the other professional responsibilites I have, but then I'd sound like an even bigger jerk and the world's smallest violin would start playing for me.) But last semester's leave (on the heels of teaching-free summer, as well) got me out of the teaching habit pretty quickly, and I'm only now just getting into the swing of things 1/3 of the way into the semester. But other things are still suffering, including but not limited to: running, communication with my family (other than quips traded with the sibs on this here blog), e-mail correspondence with friends, the cleanliness of my house, my leisure reading (what's that?!), my diet (as in the "well-balanced" kind, not as in the "losing weight" kind), and other personal life-related things like that, not to mention keeping up with my corner of the profession (I can't remember the last time I read an article or a book review that wasn't directly related to what I've been working on). And I've also neglected the relationships -- social and personal -- that I have with my colleagues and friends here in Rust Belt City. I've actually been either pretty damn distant or downright crabby with a number of colleagues lately because of the stress and anxiety I've felt, and I've got to do something about that for professional and personal reasons. Dr. Crabby is not the person I want to be.

I think my biggest problem is too much on my plate and not enough time away from the desk and the computer. So I think I have to take a break from blogging for awhile, which includes reading blogs as well as writing this one, I'm afraid. (Certainly writing this one has not taken all that much time lately, given that I haven't done a weighty post in about a month, but when I do write something more substantial it takes me forever to write a damn post!) I really enjoy the little world created by blogging -- especially among the academic blogs -- and I've gotten so much out of the conversations and memes and cross-pollination that happens here in Academiblogistan. I hope to come back to it and renew those connections and conversations, but for now I need to see to the care and feeding of my little world here in the Rust Belt and the things I was hired to do at Rust Belt U.

This isn't farewell forever, and for all I know I may be back in a month or less. Or maybe I won't be back until summer. I don't really know at this point. In the meantime, if you want to drop me a line, the e-mail is now drvirago [at] sbcglobal [dot] net (replace the appropriate symbols and punctuation, of course). Ancrene Wiseass and I were talking about a medieval blogger meet-up at the Big Conference, and I hope I'll still be invited even if I haven't blogged between now and then! Or if any of the other regulars here know (or think they know!) where I am and happen to be in the area and want to meet up, let me know. And those of you who subscribe on Bloglines, keep me subscribed so you'll know when I start up again.

I feel a little like I'm letting people down since I just started to build a regular audience (including whoever does the "Around the Web" thing at InsiderHigherEd), but then I also figure y'all have lives to lead and too many blogs to read as it is! :) So consider this a Valentine's Day present: one less verbose blog to read!

And now I should sign off with something pithy and original, but I'm all tapped out, so I'll be unoriginal instead. As they used to say on the radio, when they still played records: See you on the flip side!

Dr. V

Friday, February 10, 2006

Fun fact four (in a series of 100)

Dr. Virago has not had her hair cut since November 11, 2004.

Yes, that's right, I said 2004. Yes, I know it's now 2006. No, that's not a typo.

I hate new hairdressers. I've had too many "haircuts from hell" from new hairdressers. One time some idiot thinned my thick, curly hair and tried to give me a shag. So I take a *lot* of time choosing a new hairdrresser carefully. It took me a year and a half to find a good one in Sprawling Big City, and I stayed with him the entire time I lived there, even after I moved half way across the city from his place. His name was (and still is) Frank and he's a genius with my hair. So I gave him 9 years of loyalty. (Plus my good stories about celebrities. He loved those. Also, my dating horror stories. He loved those, too.) In return, he gave me a 'student discount,' even after I got my Ph.D. and was lecturing. The last time I got my hair cut (yes, Nov. 11, 2004) I happened to be in Sprawling Big City for a wedding and so went back to Frank. I think I may finally bite the bullet and get it cut here, though, because it's pretty darn dried out on the ends and the long hair thing doesn't work on me. There's too damn much of it, it's annoying, and shorter cuts are more flattering with my small features, which can get overwhelmed by all that damn hair. I saw a woman in a local coffee shop recently who had hair like mine in texture and curl and thickness and she had a *very* cute, short cut. I got her hairdresser's name, and it turns out he's close by and affordable. I just have to make the time for an appointment now.

Here's a not-very-good picture of my hair not long before that cut in 2004, a little shorter than it is now (by about 3 inches), but equally in need of a cut at the time (note the scraggly ends):

A rug pulls my whole day together

Yesterday was a good day. And it was all because of a rug.

The day started when I walked out my door at 8:30 am to find the new rug I'd ordered from Pier 1 had arrived. When had it done so? Was my doorbell not working again? Good thing it was not stolen from my very open-to-view front stoop, as seen here:

The luck I had in it not getting stolen was a good omen. Then I brought the rug to school, as I'd ordered it for my office, which has very ugly, old, stained, mustard-yellow carpet. I've done all sorts of things to work with the mustard color and also distract from it, first having the walls painted two shades of tealish blue, which also helps make my 7'x7' office look bigger. Here's a picture of the wall colors, with the ugly carpet:

In the picture the walls colors look more true-blue than they are. They're really a teal-ish blue. And the carpet looks less mustardy that it is. Trust me -- it looks just like traditional mustard. And you can also see a glimpse of the 'chocolate kiss' door jamb. I couldn't do anything about the black foot guard thingy, unfortunately, though at least it matches the black in the casement windows.

And then I added a wicker chair and a multi-colored pillow that picks up on a lot of the colors I'm throwing together (also Pier 1 budget buys). It's really the pillow that pulls the whole room together, but the post title is a Big Lebowski reference, of course. Anyway, here's a bit of the chair and pillow, along with a throw that I bought on the Isle of Man at the Laxey Woolen Mills (founded by Ruskin and still in operation and, more amazing still, not an overpriced tourist trap!):

And I also added curtains of a bronzey-sagey color, with which the rug coordinates beautifully. Here are the curtains (again the colors aren't quite true to life):
Not pictured anywhere here is the small, white-washed computer desk that I bought to replace the gargantuan oak number that really took up half of my miniscule office. I bought that at Pier 1 as well. I *heart* Pier 1. But it's the rug that really makes the room. It covers the stains, warms the place up, and makes sense of all the other colors. I love it and it made an aesthetically pleasing start to my day. (Now all I have to do is get some pictures on the walls.)

Then everything else fell into place. First, teaching...Finally, at the end of the 5th week of classes, 1/3 through the semester, all three of my classes went well and I felt my old teaching self. There were a couple of technical snafus, but even they couldn't bring me down. For instance, I couldn't figure out how to get the visual part to work with the VCR in the high-tech, multi-media projection system in my first class, so I couldn't show my Schoolhouse Rock: Grammar Rock video, but we did listen to some of it. (Yes, you read that right. I was trying to show Schoolhouse Rock in a college class. It's Old English and in the 5th week some of them still don't understand what the parts of speech are or what "phrases" and "clauses" and "conjunctions" are, and that's essential. I thought a few catchy jingles might make it stick.) And then in the literature class, the department laptop I'd borrowed didn't have the password written on it anywhere (as they usually do) so the chair had to get me another one and I started class a little thrown off and rushed through the presentation of the Bayeux Tapestry, digital edition. But aside from all that, students were in a good mood, they were talkative, I was confident and myself, and I felt like each class had accomplished something.

And so I ended my last class feeling invigorated instead of exhausted, and thus headed to the gym with plenty of energy for a 5-mile run. And that, too, went well. I picked up the pace each mile and did a fast finish. Excellent.

Isn't it amazing how a good teaching day can make other parts of one's life go well? And really, I owe it all to that rug. Never underestimate the power of aesthetic pleasure. :)

The blogfriend meme

If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better place just because that person exists and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence on your blog.

As copied from Another Damned Medievalist.

And no, you don't name who that blogger or those bloggers might be (even if it's all of them) so that way no one feels left out.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Standardized testing for colleges

News that Margaret Spellings' ominous-sounding Commission on the Future of Higher Education has been advocating nationalized, standardized testing for higher education (not to get in, but to assess what a student got out of it) has been reported a bit already, and assessment has been a movement and problem at the accredidation level for some time, but now the NYT is covering it, so now it must be important, you know.

Anyway, there's no way I have the time and energy right now to cover all that is mind-boggling wrong with this push, so I will limit myself to two points which I think are key, and which should be addressed and thought about long before any of the other wrong-headed problems with any of this.

1) If a college student -- an independent adult living away from home with myriad distractions and responsibilities outside of school, and the onus of time management and study completely on his/her shoulders -- fails to learn, is that necessarily a reflection of the quality of the teaching?

2) If the Secretary of Education and her commission members want to test every graduating college student in the nation in the areas of critical thinking, writing, and problem solving, I say: Be my guest. Of course, you'll be grading it all, right Margaret?

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

When gender doesn't mean gender

The small groups in my literature class were discussing Old English 'elegies,' and I asked them to think about the different uses of space and geography in three poems. As I was going around from group to group, the train of conversation in one group inspired me to ask them, "Are the spaces in these poems gendered?" (Two poems have women speakers in fairly circumscribed spaces, seemingly put there by others; the other presents a male speaker exiled, it seems, at sea and by indirect circumstances. I thought it was a no-brainer.) I had the following odd conversation with a student as a result (note, I'm paraphrasing both of us):

Student: Well, it's not gendered, really. Just different things happen to the women characters.
Me: How is that not gendered, then.
Student: It's not because they're women. They just happen to be women. And they're in different spaces. [This, by the way, could be a fair enough argument, but I wanted to push her to defend it. Thus, my next questions....]
Me: So isn't that gendered? Why is that different things happen to the women characters than to the male speaker?
Student: Well, because women just happen to be the people who were raped and pillaged in this poetry.*
Me: Um. And how is that not gendered????

Lucky for me, the student next to her was rolling her eyes and trying to get a word in edgewise, so I said, "Why don't I let someone else take it from here?"

*Note: actually, no one is raped and pillaged in these poems, but I decided that wasn't the salient issue at this point.

To run or not to run

I should go run. I have my running clothes with me here at school, I have a membership to the rec center, and I'm not utterly exhausted from teaching. So what's stopping me? Inertia. Can't. Seem. To. Move. Plus, there's a mess on my desk here at school and I'd rather spend some time sorting that. And I also have way-overdue library books to return, and I need to do that. By the time I do all of that, it will be kind of late, and I don't want to get home really late and end up eating dinner at 9 or something. Ugh. From now on, I must not let myself sit down after class ends at 5:25!!!!

Monday, February 6, 2006

Getting my act together

I think I'm finally getting my work habits and my schedule all straightened out.

OK, it's now close to midnight and I started my day at 9am and only took off time to a) watch Medium and b) go to Pilates class, so this hasn't been the best day ever. I still need to work on not letting the teaching prep expand to the length of the waking time left in the day. However, today I did accomplish the following things:

  • First things first, I worked on my research for two hours and wrote a single-spaced draft of a page for a short work-in-progress that I have to get in readable shape by Feb. 24. It's only going to a reading group at that point, so it doesn't have to be perfect or polished, and in fact is best if it's not. So I can get it done by then if I keep up this pace.
  • Then I spent the rest of the day prepping for my three classes, answering a few e-mails, and only occassionally goofing off online. Two classes are ready to go tomorrow. One is about 2/3 of the way there, and I have tomorrow morning to finish it off, plus take care of other work-related things.
  • I also ate green veggies with my dinner. I'm bad at this -- or at least cooking them for myself -- so I feel like I have to acknowledge to the world that I accomplished it today. :)
  • And like I said, I also went to Pilates and watch Medium, with which I'm bizarrely obsessed. (I like the Mulder-Scully relationship of Allison and Joe. And I like the naturalism of the relationship in the midst of paranormal story line.)
  • And hey, I'm blogging!
So that's my day. I'm especially proud of doing the research work first, because had I put it off, I would've found ways to make the teaching prep take even longer. I think I will also start working on timing my teaching prep to make me do it faster. Much of it takes so long because I drift and daydream and kill time while doing the grunt work of making handouts and lesson plans. I think I might buy an egg timer. It's not that I think teaching doesn't deserve more time, but it's not getting "quality time" necessarily, and I have to make time for doing things like, oh, having a life, cleaning my house, mailing my dad's already late birthday present -- that sort of thing -- and doing some of the other work-related tasks I've put off (like service oriented stuff that's easy to let slide).

And now to bed.

Friday, February 3, 2006

Oh the services this blog provides!

I am frequently amused by the search strings that bring people here. Some of them make complete sense, such as "Norton Anthology British Literature 8th Edition." I did, indeed, address that very topic in this post. Of course, the person might have wanted to read the table of contents or something, in which case my blog was not so helpful. But for the person searching "teaching Everyman," perhaps the related post on medieval drama in the Norton was helpful, if they read the comments (where Karl freed everyone from ever having to teach that dreadful not-really-a-play).

And there are the unintentional services I provide, such as providing tips on "eyeshadows for pale brunettes" which led someone to this post. I hope they found it helpful. Now perhaps Clinique should send me lots of free stuff in return. :) And then there was the person who landed at this post after searching "chafing help vaseline." Though many runners swear by things like Body Glide, I'm cheap, so I use good old Vaseline to prevent chafing; however, in that particular marathon, I clearly didn't use enough. (If you didn't already read that account of my last marathon experience and don't want to, the long and short of it is that I ended the race with bloody, chafed inner thighs. I still have red marks, by the way.)

And then there are the very large number of people who search the string "I think I'm depressed" and end up at my post of the same title. I should put a caveat on that post, something along the lines of "I'm not a professional, but these are generally the signs of depression in my personal experience, so if you're experiencing them, please see your doctor or a therapist."

But who was searching "crazy sign guy"? Do other people have wacky neighbors with crazy signs? (By the way, Crazy Sign Guy seems to hibernate in the winter.) And you wouldn't believe the numbers of people with "noisy downstairs neighbors." Well, I hope they read the comments in that post -- there are some good suggestions there. However, I have to admit, I've been too disorganized and also afraid of confrontation to talk to my own neighbors yet. I really need to stop suffering in silence over that one.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it's been kind of a bad week here. Not in any specific way, but I'm just feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and incapable of doing everything that's expected of me. I apologize for the crappy posts of late; I have some stuff in the back of my head that I want to write about, and I'll try and come up with more interesting facts about Dr. Virago that I can actually share, but if I'm a little quiet for awhile, don't give up on me. I'm just trying to get my shit together.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Dr Virago Fact #3 of 100

I have ridiculously good stories about famous, semi-famous, and almost-famous people, but I can't blog any of them. Sigh. I might get sued or something. If I ever meet you in real life, and my friends and family (who've heard all these stories) aren't around, ask me to tell you one of them. One involves an orangutan, as well.

And equally factual, but not really related to this post: I changed my blogging e-mail address. See the side bar. The old one still works, too, but I'm phasing it out. For those of you who know me in real life, all the other ones are still good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Where have all the crazy students gone?

Sing it with me now, campers: "Lonnnnnggggg time passing."

Oh, wait, I'm not suppose to be mournful and elegaic about my lack of crazy students this semester. I'm supposed to be *glad*. OK, then: woo-hoo! Seriously, it does make it easier to stick to my "I won't complain about my students" policy on this blog. So if you're wondering if I'm just really restrained in not bitching, then the answer to that is no, not really. It's just that I'm actually really freakin' lucky this semester not to have (so far -- KNOCK WOOD) any problem students. Then again, I have less meaty stuff to blog about -- hence the slightly mournful opening.

So in the meantime, my heart goes out to poor Ancrene Wiseass and Bardiac, who've just each had interactions with students that make me think, "NO. They did NOT just say/write that! Really? Seriously? Holy shit."

And also, poor Victorianist Colleague (from now on she shall be called simply Victoria; and Miltonist Colleague will be Milton). It seems the reason why I'm crazy-free is that she's stuck with them all. And all in one class, no less. But her stories are not mine to share, alas.

I am still planning to write about meeting with Rare Books Librarian and how I have become a collector extraordinaire of worthless scraps of vellum, but that's not nearly as colorful as crazy and/or sense-deprived students.

Hello? Anyone out there?

OK, I suck as a blogger this week. I also kind of suck as a 1) professor and scholar, 2) daughter and sister, 3) person who has her shit together. So far as I know I don't yet suck as a girlfriend, but hey, the week's not over yet.* So there's that.

In the meantime, all hail the mighty Giblets! Bow down before Giblets and listen to (or rather, read) the Giblets' State of the Universe Address. (Yeah, the universe pretty much sucks too. It also blows.)

*Er, get your minds out of the gutter -- my family reads this blog!