Wednesday, May 30, 2007

London research/social plans

I'm getting down to the nitty-gritty of my London research trip -- when I'll be in what libraries and when; when I'm going up to the Bodleian to look at something there; what all-important day trips I'm going to take on the weekends -- and it occured to me that I know a number of my readers have travel plans overlapping with mine, but I don't know when exactly, except in a couple of cases.

Anyway, I'll be in London from the evening of June 24 through July 20 (leaving bright and early on the 21st). There are a couple of days I'll be up in Oxford, but I'm commuting from my London digs, rather than bother moving just for a few days. And I'm hoping to take some excursions on weekends to places like Canterbury and Battle. So if you'll be there at any time overlapping with me and want to get together for lunch, dinner, drinks, or an afternoon at a museum or something, let me know. If you don't want to advertise your dates in London in the comments, then 'gmail' me at drvirago2. That includes those of you I haven't met face-to-face yet -- I'd love to meet you!

I'll have wireless access where I'm staying, though I'm not sure if the archives and libraries I'm working in will have it. (I'm actually not going to be in the most obvious big national library like many people will.) But I'm planning on getting a disposable, pay as you go cell phone once I'm there, so that should make contact easier. Once I know the number, I can e-mail it to you.

Oh, and this is a VERY important question: does anyone know if there's a London equivalent to NYC's TKTS for cheap theater tickets? I'd love to see some theater -- sorry, theatre -- while I'm there. I'm hoping to see at least one of the Shakespeare productions at the Globe, but those are pretty cheap (highest cost: 32 pounds; lowest, for a standing spot in the yard: a fiver!). I'm talking about the more expensive shows -- like, um, Spamalot (did you think I was going to say something highbrow and serious?). Just curious. And also, is there anything you think I shouldn't miss, including the London equivalent of off-Broadway (what *is* the London equivalent to that). God, I am such a New Yorker when it comes to theater. Clearly I don't have a clue.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Questions that I dread

Updated to add: To my non-academic readers -- I want to hear from you, too! Do people ask you questions you dread when you tell them what you do?

Over at In the Middle, Karl says that one of his "least favorite questions" is to be asked if he's read all the books on his bookshelves. (And Jeffrey follows up that post with a series of pictures of readers' bookshelves -- he's asking for contributions -- including one belonging to yours truly. So far everyone has a copy of Getting Medieval, but only I have a Quentin Tarantino action figure.) Anyway, back to Karl's post. He concludes the post this way:
If you're in a talkative mood, let's talk about the least favorite questions we get as readers and/or academics. If you're feeling generous or humane, turn off the irritation and wonder at the questions. Do what you do best and kvetch analyze.
I don't mean to hijack his idea and bring it over here, but the conversation over there has taken a different kind of turn. (Given that it was inspired by the documentary Derrida, that's not really surprising!) So I thought I'd post my response here, especially since mine's not a simple one-liner.

One commenter mentioned that he hates getting asked for book recommendations, and I have to concur that that's a problematic one for me, too. It fills me with dread and anxiety, because I assume the person wants a good contemporary novel and I have to say I haven't read as many of those as I'd like. (I still have The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay sitting forlornly on my shelf waiting for me to turn back to it. It calls to me every summer and says, "You know you want to! At least I'm not as long as a Pynchon novel! And I'm a whole lot more lovable!") But I do read a lot of hard boiled detective fiction and historical mysteries, so if they like anything in the mystery genre, I can recommend something. If not, I'm stuck. (Although I did read The Nanny Diaries on a plane once and found it quite charming. Really!)

So that question throws me for a loop. And can I tell you, it's especially NOT the question I want to answer when I'm getting my annual exam at the gynecologist's office. Seriously. (Hm, maybe I should have suggested she pick up a copy of the latest issue of Speculum. Hahahahaha! OK, dumb medievalist joke. Apologies to the non-medievalists out there.)

But the questions that really, really, really perplex me are the ones that I get because I'm a medievalist -- the ones that start with popular misinformation about the Middle Ages and base the whole point of the question on those false assumptions. It's the "where do I start with that?" question. I got one of those at the talk I gave last week. It started with, "I'd always learned that the reason that nothing changed for centuries in the Middle Ages was because [insert something about the Church here, of course], and so...." At that point, I nearly started to panic, thinking, "Oh god, where do I start with how wrong that is?" But it turned out that what he was actually asking (the "and so" part) was something more concrete and local and provided a "teaching moment" about the differences between popular topics for sermons and actual lived lives. The rest of his question is what I answered, ignoring that introduction -- or actually, completely rewriting the assumptions of the first part productively. So that one I could handle.

But often, they come with so many things wrong with them, I don't know where to start. It's one thing if you're in the classroom -- or people are there to hear you speak about your field of expertise -- but if it's the guy sitting next to you in the plane, it's really hard to walk that line between cheerful, "Actually, I'm delighted to be able to tell you that that's actually a myth/misperception" and coming across as a pedantic asshole. Most of the time I think I do the former, but it takes such work and fills me with such angst. Which is not to say that I mind the questions -- heck, I once convinced a guy on a plane of the value of studying the past and of the liberal arts in the general, so it's all worth it -- but once in a while I wish I didn't have to be "on" all the time. At least it beats the response many of us in English get -- the "Oh, I better watch my grammar around you, then."

So, I'll broaden Karl's question: in your line of work (academic or otherwise) what questions from non-specialists or the general public do you find difficult to deal with and why?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The name game - an impasse

Although I'm pretty crappy at coming up with pseudonyms on this blog, I generally like coming up with names and do so as a mental game every now and then. I know I'm not the only one out there, since I have a number friends with long lists of names of imagined broods of children. And some friends and I have an annoying habit of stopping each other in mid-sentence to say, "That would make a great band name!" (Silliest one ever: The Damned Coconuts. Yes, I once uttered that phrase in conversation. Long story.)

Now Bullock is pretty indulgent in this practice of mine. I can say to him, out loud, "Can we name our imaginary first born son Miles?" and he'll say, "Sure." He'll even ask why and how I came up with the name. And he's even accepted the fact that our imaginary daughter is named Ada, an even more old-fashioned name than Miles.

Perhaps Bullock's easy-going attitude about this is because these kids are imaginary and likely to stay that way. I can name them any damn thing I want to.

But he's put his foot down on my choice of name for the dog we will eventually get. And it's a really cool name!!!

I want to name a dog Havoc. It's all because while I was at K'zoo I was quoting Julius Caesar for some reason -- "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!"* -- and then I interrupted myself for once and cried, "Ooh! Havoc would make an excellent name for a dog!"

But nooooooo, not so, thinks Bullock. He thinks it sounds like a goth metal band. OK, so it would make a good band name, too. But don't you think it would be a cool dog name? His/her full name could be Havoc, the Dog of War, and the puns on "wreaking havoc" and "Havoc reeks" would be nearly endless. What's not to like??

What do you think, oh wisdom of the internets?

*Except, after too much cheap wine at K'zoo, I think I kept misquoting it as "...and let loose the dogs of war" or worse, "...release the dogs of war" (shades of Mr. Burns' "Release the hounds!" I think).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I-ruh-nee: tv addiction edition

So tonight, while watching a DVR'd version of this week's BBC Robin Hood (what? you're not watching that? wait...I'll get back to that...where was I?...), I got all excited when they showed a preview of a Life on Mars marathon in anticipation of the airing of the second season. And by excited, I mean I actually, literally jumped and down on the couch. (Wait, huh? You're not watching that either? What am I going to do with you people?)

*Anyway*, after calming me down, here's what Bullock said: "You know what's ironic?"

"Um, no, what?"

"That by the time they start showing the new season here, you'll be in England..."

"...where they'll be finished with season 2!!! Waaaahhhhh!"

All I can say is thank god for DVRs. Now, when on earth are they going to release this show on an American DVD, dammit?! Do you hear me BBC! Give North America a DVD of Life on Mars, because believe me, the David E. Kelley version is going to *suck*!


OK, now for you people not watching these shows. Fine, so you don't have BBC America. But Robin Hood will be out on DVD soon, so at least you can Netflix it. But a warning for the medievalists: it's Errol Flynn style Robin Hood updated for the faux-hawk generation (Alan actually has one), so take off your medievalist hats and be prepared to giggle with it, not at it. Here's a few warnings: Marion frequently wears pajama-style pants and a tunic and does tai chi in them; the miners go on strike (and use that turn of phrase); in this week's episode, either Alan or Will (I can't remember) used the phrase "severance pay"; and Guy wears head-to-toe black leather in a style the Pastry Pirate described as "Loverboy reject." I think you're supposed to giggle at that sort of anachronism, and I know you're supposed to giggle at the wonderfully campy sheriff and Much's low-budget version of Sam Gamgee's "no-we're-just-homosocial" devotion to Frodo in his own devotion to Robin. (He cooks, too.) Once I just let go and let the camp wash over me, I loved it.

As for Life on Mars, the time-traveling 70s cop show, well Entertainment Weekly put it best:

"Leave it to those wily Brits to solve one of TV's most pressing mysteries: How do you keep the crime procedural fresh? Simm easily navigates the gritty cop plotlines and the mystical sci-fi elements, thanks to his distinctly British regular-bloke appeal. And his crackling chemistry with gruff boss Gene Hunt only adds to the series' charm. It's Quantum Leap meets The Streets of San Francisco - with nary a C, S, or I in sight. Grade: A-" (Entertainment Weekly, 07/28/06)
And if you do have BBCAmerica, they're replaying episodes 1, 4, 5, and 8 on this Saturday (May 26) starting at 12:00 p.m. EST, and then all over again for you nightowls on Sunday starting at 2 a.m. Set your DVRs and VCRs people!

Woo hoo! Public speaking is fun!

OK, so I'm back from the general audience talk I mentioned in the last post. First of all, thanks to everyone for suggestions and well-wishes. I stayed with that 50/50 frame-to-scholarly-stuff ratio; I made a handout with some pictures thrown in just for fun; and I also gave the draft to Bullock to read since he's a political scientist and would be able to catch the "only an academic lit. crit. would get that" parts.

And I think it went really well. Some of my audience consisted of my colleagues, so there were academics there, but in various disciplines (though three colleagues from English). But the rest were area professionals and also some high school seniors who'd been given scholarships for college, plus their parents. I guess I might as well say the occasion was the annual meeting of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, so obviously that crowd is going to be a friendly and interested crowd. And since PBK is dedicated to the importance and value of the liberal arts, I hit the "speaking for the dead"/"why it matters" points pretty hard. And I got really good questions -- the first from a colleague, but the rest from the non-academic audience members. Afterwards, my senior colleague said "that was really smart" and the organizer (also an academic) said I did a great job balancing the frame and content, and always bringing the more abstract ideas back to the concrete examples, and the past to the present. But the best comment came from a woman who got her M.D. in the 1950s (wow. just wow.) who came up to me afterwards and said, "Thank you for giving a scholarly talk -- it's been awhile since we've had one of those." She's also one of the people who asked a smart question.

So it was really gratifying for me, personally, but also gratifying to be reminded that there are people who care, who are interested, who want to know -- sometimes just for the sake of knowing. Of course, witha PBK audience, I'm preaching to the choir to some extent, but there were scientists there, and my talk was a humanities talk, and sometimes they need to be reminded that what we do matters, too.

Anyway, when I started my talk, people were still eating dessert and drinking coffee (it was a luncheon), so there was a lot of clinking going on. But about half way through, when I got to the difficult scholarly bit, the room got very, very quiet. At first I thought, "Oh god, I've lost them," but actually I think they were just listening very carefully because they realized my material was getting a little more complex. Bullock says that he kept an eye on the audience and they seemed attentive throughout -- all except the really, really old guy (he was about 90, I think), who fell asleep. But then he'd probably fall asleep in the middle of the Super Bowl!

So it was a positive experience, and like I said in my last post, it was good for me to "translate" my work this way -- good for teaching, good for "public intellectual" work, good for being an ambassador of the humanities and literary study and medieval studies. It was a lot of work this week, and I was very, very nervous about it, but now that I've done it once, and I know what to except, I'd do it again. As JJ Cohen and Bardiac and others said in the comments in the post below, this kind of thing is probably some of the most important work we do as academics.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Public speaking, speaking public

I'm in the process of trying to write something for a talk to a general-but-educated audience on Sunday. The audience will be non-academic, but the kind of people who go to hear academics talk. It's the first time I've done such a thing and I'm having a difficult time 'translating' parts of my work. But it's a good and important difficult, I think. It's good for my writing process -- getting me out of knee-jerk habits, finding new turns of phrase -- and it's good in the sense that my obscure work on sometimes obscure texts and manuscripts (not the book project, for those who know me -- new stuff) is getting a hearing before a non-academic audience, because it gives me a chance to talk about why it matters.

I'm lifting part of my talk from my "Speaking for the Dead" post, but since the substance of my talk is about the meaning (and meaningfulness) of an ownership inscription in a manuscript of literary texts (and not really about the texts themselves, though it's a little bit about them in relation to their readers) I'm starting the whole thing with a couple of childhood books with inscriptions from my mother in them and talking about what book historians and literary/cultural critics of the future might say about them. It's a little corny, but I think it will cement the connection between the here and now, and the then and there, and the importance of speaking for the dead.

I'm worried both about the general framing move taking over the substance of the talk (it's about 1/2 frame and 1/2 substance!) and also about the substantive part going over the audience's head. But as Bullock just said to me, "Won't they expect you to go over their heads a little bit?" Otherwise, he suggested, they might think I'm a "fraud" of an academic. Hmm. But I don't want them to walk away saying "Typical academics -- don't know how to talk to 'normal' people." I want them to feel that there's something at stake in the humanities, even in the work done on long dead people, writers, and their texts. I want them to walk away saying, "That was fascinating -- more people should care about this." And then I want them to go read the texts I'm talking about (some of which are available in student friendly editions) and assign them to their book clubs, and then think about why they read what they read. And I want them to write to their representatives and senators and say, "It's really important to fund the humanities, because this is what it means to be human -- to read and to remember and to memorialize the dead and the past." Are my goals too lofty? Yeah, probably. I'll be happy if I don't hear crickets chirping after my talk.

Argh. This is hard.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Zoo, zoo, zoo!

UPDATE: OMG!!!! Baby animals!!!! So cute!!! (Yes I am a Ph.D. and a grown up. Why do you ask?)

No, not Kalamazoo. Not this time (though I have one more post to write about the conference). Rather, my post title refers to what was once known as a zoological garden. (Side note for the language history geeks: look around at the web sites for all the zoos you can think of and you'll see that "zoo" has become the standard. When did that happen, I wonder? And I don't just mean in common parlance -- in which "zoo" has been the standard all my life, at least -- but in the official titles of the zoos, too. It's like Federal Express changing to FedEx and Kentucky Fried Chicken changing to KFC.)

Anywho, I'm all excited because this afternoon Bullock and I are going to the Zoo to see the special new babies who've just come on display. They're rare, they're cute, and there are three of them, all born as some suprise to the keepers. Two are twins and the third was born to another mother at about the same time as the twins. It's quite a rare treat and I'm sooooo excited! (I'd tell you what kind of animal, but that would make it way, way, WAY too easy to pinpoint exactly who I am. If you want to spend your day figuring out which midwestern zoo has had a boom in rare-in-captivity babies to the count of three, well, you've got too much time on your hands.)

Also at the zoo currently are an abundance of baby and toddler-age primates and some other very special young ones spread around the zoo. Yay baby animals!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

K'zoo report #2: Breakfast of champions

While the dance sometimes makes me uncomfortable, blogger meet-ups RAWK! This year's event was almost twice as large as last year's, and I have a feeling that the breakfast time is what made that so. Sadly, that might mean that this non-morning person will have to drag her ass out of bed and be groggily social again in future years. (Side note: if anyone else wants to take over organizing it next year, feel free. It's not onerous at all, but it shouldn't always be me or else it will become my thing instead of a group thing.) It also might mean, sadly, that Eileen Joy will never come, because she told me later that she is simply not able to get up that early (I think she's definitely someone who works as well as plays into the wee hours). So perhaps it should be a movable feast.

Anyway, there were so many people there that I didn't even quite figure out who was who -- in real life or in the blogosphere. Among those I could identify with their blogs were J. J. Cohen, Karl Steel, The Cranky Professor, Another Damn Medievalist (Blogenspiel), Scott Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard, Michael Drout of Wormtalk and Slugspeak, Medieval Woman, Mary Kate Hurley of Old English in New York, New Kid on the Hallway, Dr. Moonbeam, Tiruncula, History Geek, Holly of Hollyism, S. Worthen of Owlfish, Lisa Spangenberg, aka Digital Medievalist, Elisabeth Carnell, Eulistes, and bloggers and friends associated with Making Light. If I forgot anyone or didn't quite meet you because you were at the other end of our trio of tables (grouped in an appropriately medieval trefoil/clover leaf/trinitarian kind of way), let me know. My apologies!

I was really pleased that this year there was a real mix of people in different stages of their careers, and also a better gender mix. I think it says something about the status of blogging that we had such a mix, and that bloggers from all those stages of career were willing to come and meet other bloggers. In other words, blogging is becoming less of a sub-culture and more of a mainstream culture. It also says something that there was also a mix of pseudonymous and non-pseudonymous bloggers, and that if asked, people generally revealed their pseudonymous blogs. Somewhere someone noted that when rounds of introductions were made, we didn't identify our blogs, but I think in my case it was more a worry about our voices carrying to tables of non-bloggers. I still worry about non-bloggers' attitudes towards blogs. Who knows if we have an Ivan Tribble among the medieval crowd. But one-on-one I don't think people cared that much.

On that note, Karl mentioned that when he was still "Karl the Grouchy Medievalist," he was more prone to live up to that moniker than he is under his own name. Likewise, I often think that since I'm easily identifiable if you already know me (if you're my friend, colleague, or student), I try not to write things that I wouldn't want associated with me. That may explain, too, why everyone seemed so darn nice in person (on which, see more below).

I met a number of these people last year, and at least one of these bloggers is someone I knew in real life before I started blogging (though it was amusing to both of us that we only just figured this out because of this breakfast!). And many of them have been blogging or real life friends with some of the others for many years. So in many ways the breakfast was a reunion for many people. (I hope that didn't put off too many of the bloggers who were completely new to each other. There are some tight and deep friendships in that group, but it's also a really friendly and welcoming group.) But there were still delightful new real life acquaintances to make all around. I hope this can be an annual, informal event.

There were some conspicuous absences. As mentioned, Eileen Joy is not a morning person. And though Sir John Mandeville was at the conference, he wasn't at our breakfast as far as I know. And LLCoolCarlIII of Got Medieval reserved a copy of Christine Chism's Alliterative Revivals before I could (damn!) so I know he was at the conference, but apparently he's too cool for breakfast. :) Or also not a morning person. And if Geoffrey Chaucer was at the conference, I wouldn't have expected him to come to the meet-up, since he's a shy man who generally "lookest as [he] woldest fynde an hare," and who "evere upon the ground...stare[s]. "

Speaking of staring, JJC does indeed stare intently at you when you speak (see Liza's comment here). It's a neat trick because it gets people to babble things they wouldn't otherwise say. I recall at one point Jeffrey asked me something about whether or not as a graduate student I was super-anxious in my presentations about being potentially revealed as a fraud, and I replied, at first, that I wasn't all that anxious as a grad student (and though I didn't say it, I thought that maybe I'm more anxious as a prof, actually). And then he stared and I felt compelled to say more. And I did, but not anything of substance. And then I worried that I must sound like an idiot. And then I started to get anxious, at which point I thought, "yup, definitely more anxious as a prof." It's like he's my therapist or something! How do you do that, Jeffrey?! But other than that moment, I wasn't the least bit anxious or intimidated by Jeffrey or any one else at the table. As people have been commenting around the medieval blog world, people you might expect to be cranky or prickly or intimidating in real life, because they construct themselves as such in their writing, or because their writing is just so damn smart and authoritative, even on their blogs, all turned out to be...well, for lack of a better word...nice. Really, really nice. Smiley and friendly and kind and easy to talk to. Take The Cranky Professor, for example: in real life he's not in the least bit cranky, but rather cheerful, especially for 7:30 am! We were two of the first people there and had a funny moment of suspicious eyeing of each other until I saw his name tag and recognized his real-life name, at which point we both said, "Are you a blogger?" It was hilariously cloak-and-daggerish.

Other things I learned either at or because of this breakfast:

  • Apparently I look like Scott Nokes's grandmother circa 1930. Since I also get told I look like my mother in the '40s and '50s, that didn't suprise me. Faces have fashion, too, and certain people have looks that evoke other eras. It may also explain why I get hit on by older men a lot (not just at K'zoo). Scott -- any Swains or Gaylords in your family tree? Maybe we're distantly related.
  • Rumor has it that Ivan Tribble is a woman!
  • The French Revolution was fought against the Germans, and England invaded the Free Colonies of America, thus starting the American Revolution. (This was from a delightfully so-bad-it-was good final exam someone had just graded.)
  • Medieval Woman looks very modern in real life and not at all like a grumpy kitty, Karl Steel doesn't look anything like a breakfast food (which I already knew, but that picture cracks me up), Mary Kate Hurley is not a landscape, and Jeffrey Cohen's hand is not permanently placed in front of his face.
  • We might need a bigger place next year! I do like the convenience of Mug Shots, however, especially for those without cars.
  • Next year I really should get up and mingle instead of sitting in one place the whole time, so I can meet and talk to people at the other end of the tables.
Well, that's about it. A fun time was had by all, I think, and I hope this becomes a K'zoo tradition.

Monday, May 14, 2007

K'zoo report #1: Love the dance, hate the dance

Bullock thinks it's really weird that we have a dance at the International Medieval Congress. (For those of you who don't know this, it's true, we have a dance. Really.) Frankly, I think it's a little weird, too, but it's also fun. I didn't dance much this year -- mainly because I didn't really want to get all sweaty in my good clothes -- but I had great fun chatting with people and doing people watching. And it's always fun to see some of the, uh, creative styles of dancing some people have. And seeing scholars you respect and even fear do the white-man's overbite helps to humanize them.


There's the ever-present problem of inappropriateness and trying to figure out where the boundaries lies. Last year one of my friends was absolutely horrified by the number of very old men who wanted to dance with her. And I've spent more than one year trying to stay out of sight of certain senior medievalists with other than professional interest in me. There's one in particular who has been hitting on me routinely every year we're both there. One good thing, at least, is that if I use the phrase "my boyfriend," he backs off. So as uneasy as he makes me, at least I know he has some boundaries he won't cross, which makes it easy to get him to back off. He's a good guy at heart and I think his interest in me is actually sincere, if misguided; in other words, he's not going to turn into an ass-grabber.

But the dance makes boundaries a little blurry. I have no doubt that the medievalist above would ask me to dance if he saw me there. Certainly dancing can be a completely platonic activity, especially the way most of use who've grown up dancing to rock do it. There's little touching involved in dancing to rock and pop. But the person discussed above might be asking me to dance for other than platonic reasons. So when he comes to the dance, I avoid him.

He wasn't there this year, so that wasn't a problem. But his case makes me wonder about others. For instance, this year a senior scholar I don't know very well asked me to do the "Time Warp" with him (no, that's not a euphemism -- I mean the song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I believe he really was just inviting me to join the fun, and wasn't doing anything untoward, but I said no for all sorts of reasons, one of which was simply because I had my purse with me and I was far away from my table where I might have been able to leave it. But another reason was comfort level. I don't know this scholar well, having only been introduced to him that day, and so my inability to read the situation -- and my knowledge that some requests are less innocent than others -- made me err on the side of caution. But then I worried I shouldn't have turned his request down, that dancing at K'zoo is a form of being collegial.

So, I told this all to Bullock and he said, "That's exactly why there shouldn't be a dance at a conference." Or maybe those of us who like our professional/personal lines to stay intact shouldn't go. But then I do enjoy dancing with my friends with whom I have clear relationships. And I think many of the graduate students really get a kick seeing their profs let their hair down. But then the creeps who horrified my friend last year certainly shouldn't be the ones to ruin it for the rest of us, shouldn't make us (women, that is) feel like we can't go or have to watch how we dress or have to hide from them or whatever. But it's not really the creeps that unnerve me so much as those not-quite-inappropriate-but-not-exactly-professional cases such as what I described above. (I should note, too, that in the case of Mr. Flirty above, not only do I think his interest was sincere, but he also never flirted with me until I was tenure-track professor.) It's always awkward when someone likes you and you don't return the interest, but it's especially awkward when you have a professional relationship. And when there's a status difference, there's obviously still a power difference. And I doubt very much that the male grad students and assistant professors feel quite as conflicted about all of this as I do.

And the dance is not just an opportunity for leering old men to see pretty young things shake their booties (although it certainly can foster that). It really is part of what makes K'zoo a more relaxed atmosphere. It also allows for much easier mingling than a banquet would, and on some level breaks down categories of position, status, and power. Seriously, how can you be intimidated any more by someone you've seen act like a fool on the dance floor? It's awesome!

But then, if I'm still wondering about whether I should have danced the Time Warp with that senior scholar, then there's a problem. Of course, it's a problem that's bigger than the dance itself. It's a problem of gender inequity and sexism that isn't going to go away by getting rid of the dance or by me absenting myself from it. Sigh.

[Btw, future K'zoo posts -- including the one about the Blogger Breakfast -- will be much more cheery and positive, I swear!]

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

K'zoo blogger meet-up update

Moving this to the top and keeping it here until I leave for K'zoo so everyone sees it. Tonight (Tuesday) I'll send an e-mail to everyone who said they hope to show up and I will include a picture of me in it. (I'm too lazy to sort out the people who know what I look like, so everyone will get one.) If you don't have an e-mail address on your blog somewhere, drop me a gmail: drvirago2 (you know the rest).

Updated Post:

OK, by my count 18 people have said that they could make a breakfast meeting on Friday morning of the conference (May 11). That *might* be a little big for this place, but since not everyone will show up at once, and some people might duck out early, and some people might oversleep, it could still work. (Follow the link to that place; for some weird reason I don't want to spell it out to make a text search easy.) Plus, it has the virtues of being accessible to those without cars and not so overwhelming to negotiate as the cafeteria would be. Oh, and there's better coffee. (And for those of you who already bought breakfast tickets, you could always eat some real food there first and then join us for coffee.)

I thought maybe we could meet officially from 7:30 to 9:30, so that those who want to come early and still make the plenary could do so, and those who want to come a little later and get a little more sleep can also do so.

If you don't already know me in real life (or haven't figured it out), drop me an e-mail (see sidebar) and I'll send you a picture so you'll know which group has the bloggers in it.

To review: 7:30-9:30, Friday, May 11, at this place (the one with the picture at the top).

Comment here or send me an e-mail to let me know who definitely to expect. If it starts to get even bigger, we may have to go to a plan B.

Original Post:

Just wanted to let youse guys know I haven't forgotten you. I'm going to tally up how many people (so far) have said they hope to be there and figure out what the best option is. I'll replace this post with a substantive one tonight. It's been a hectic last week of school, followed by a piratical visit and a tearful goodbye to Wiley. Sniff. He just left with the Pirate 20 minutes ago and already I miss him. His hair, on the other hand, is still here.

Anyway, more meet-up news later, probably tonight.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Notes to self re: teaching (OR: grading brings pedagogical enlightenment)

  • Tell students in medieval literature courses that "lord," whether capitalized or not, does not necessarily refer to God (Christian or otherwise).
  • Tell students in medieval and early modern classes over and over and over again that punctuation and capitalization are editorial, not authorial, and that they should not use these elements as the basis of their own interpretative arguments. Consider devoting a whole class to this.
  • Explain to all students what "editorial" and "authorial" mean in the above context.
  • Give detail in research paper instructions that the primary text which the student is writing about does NOT count as one of the works cited. Neither does the Merriam Webster Dictionary.
  • Talk in class about appropriate dictionaries for use in essays on Old, Middle, and Early Modern English.
  • Remind students that all that close reading and careful use of text to support arguments that I made them do in short assignment after short assignment also applies in the research paper.
  • And above all: remember to be patient.

Boston Marathon Post #3: Sports star for a day

I know it's been weeks since I ran the Boston Marathon, but I promised a post on the atmosphere and experience of the race without all the nerdy, technical, runner-oriented stats and details. And I have wanted to write about this, too, because for those of you who aren't runners, or aren't marathoners, I want to evangelize a bit about Boston and marathons in general.

I got into road running about eight years ago, when I was approaching 30 and realized that I could no longer rely on simply walking everywhere to keep from having to buy a new set of clothes in a bigger size every year or two (important for a graduate student's budget and not just for vanity). And I wanted to be healthier. And I lived in a sunny climate without outdoor activity potential year round, which I wanted to make more use of. I also had a friend who ran and wanted a female running partner (her boyfriend, also my friend, was too fast for her), and who had a sorority-sister tendency towards enthusiastic cheerleading, which comes in handy when you're trying to go from couch potato to runner. (The irony of this story, in brief, is that once I was in shape, I realized I was a more appropriate running partner for the boyfriend than for her, and that when they broke up, he got me in the divorce.) Anyway, she also encouraged me to join a local running club that trained for the city's marathon. Once I built up to running 30 minutes at a time, over the course of a couple of months, and then started running 4-5 times a week, I joined this club. It was set up for beginnners and had a training program of about 6 months -- two for building up a "base" and for those who still had to work up to running an hour or more at a time, and four for the real training. These days I do 16 week marathon training programs.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that I didn't always run marathons. And it wasn't long after I started running at all that I started making marathons my goal. There was only about a year between being a complete couch potato to completing my first marathon (and coming in the top 400 women out of thousands and getting my name on the sports page of a major city paper -- how cool is that?!). I point this all out because anyone who is physically able can take up running and can train for long-distance running. It takes time and perseverance, but no special talent. If you can walk, you can run.

What's more, running is a great exercise activity for grad students and academics because it's relatively cheap. A pair of real running shoes will cost $80-120 (and there are discount outlets available, but everyone should initially be fit by an expert in a specialty running store), and you need socks, clothing that wicks sweat (though I spent my first few years in cotton and didn't really suffer all that much) and, if you're a woman, the right sports bra. (I don't know if the men need special support for their manly parts, but I imagine they might. Fizzy?) There are no gym fees, no expensive equipment -- though the clothing can add up, especially in the winter -- and if you do local races where you don't need a hotel room, the race fees are generally not very much (plus you get free stuff, and a lot of races are now doing t-shirts in wicking material, so you get new running gear for the price of entry).

And running is a great way to be a tourist. I've run all sorts of footpaths and trails all over the UK and Ireland, along waterfronts and through scenic neighborhoods in cities in North America and Europe, and in parks and preserves everywhere I've lived and a lot of places I've traveled. Even when I travel, I pack at least one set of running clothes to take a break from a conference or a family visit or whatever. And when I'm in my own city, I often use running as a way to explore neighborhoods, get landscaping ideas, enjoy seasonal decorations, and gawk at houses for sale.

And then there are the health benefits -- cardiovascular health, weight control, strength and general fitness. But note I put those last. Honestly, these days I think of them as a side-effect. If I made them my main reason for running, I'd think of running in the way one thinks of dieting -- as onerous and hard to maintain.

So, back to Boston and marathons in general. I've given you all this background, because when I joined the marathon training group back in 1999, I did so because I wanted to meet new people and learn how to train for a marathon. Having running buddies for the long runs each week was essential to me then. Over time, though, I started training by myself for various marathons, and once I knew what to expect of a 20-mile training run, I was perfectly happy to do it on my own, especially back in grad school city, where I ran a route frequented by other runners. And I think one of the reasons why I finally hit that qualifying time at the Columbus Marathon is because I ran with a pace group, instead of by myself, and chatted with them the whole way, until I fell behind a bit around mile 22. Forget what you've heard about the loneliness of the long-distance runner -- running can be really social.

That's where big races can actually help, if you're not concerned about losing time running in a large, tight pack for the first few miles. My best experiences have been in races that felt social in some way, where I was running with someone -- even someone met in the process of running, as in my hometown race that gave me my second best time and made me realize I could qualify for Boston -- or, in the case of Boston, where the crowds were so mighty you never felt alone.

I think the crowds of spectators are what set Boston apart. Sure, most runners there had to qualify, so you're in an elite crowd of serious runners, and there's an instant comaraderie among the runners because of that. And it's a big field -- 20,0000+ runners -- so unless you're way out front, you spend the entire race surrounded by people to observe and eavesdrop on, which is always entertaining. (My favorite oddballs were the three women who ran with tails attached to their shorts and signs on their backs that said "Chasing Tail?") But the specators are what make Boston better than any race I've been in despite its difficulties (though granted, I haven't run NY or Chicago, so I don't know if those mega-races compare). The specators are what make it so much fun, even if, like me, you're running your worst time ever.

When I'm well trained, a marathon usually doesn't get hard for me until about mile 22. I tend not to run at speeds that are hard work -- even when I was gunning for that qualifying time -- so the only hard part is the endurance in those last few miles, since the longest training run I ever do is 22 miles. For me, the hardest part is the training, especially speedwork (I loathe speedwork the way I hated practicing the piano when I was a kid). I run the race at a convesational pace -- which varies between 8:25 and 9:00 minutes per mile, depending on the intensity of my training -- and don't really want to work any harder. Then it's not fun for me, because I'm really not that competitive. But no matter what, the race will get hard at some point, and then I have to rely on will power. That's when the spectators matter. But for some stupid reason, so many races I've run go through less inhabited areas just when it starts to get tough, and thus have sparse crowds. Race directors really need to think more about this.

But Boston gets it right. The first half of the race has fewer spectators, but that's the easy part -- it's early in the race and there are lots of downhills, plus it's often pretty scenery and you're surrounded by other excited runners. The crowds start to pick up just when you need them and get bigger and louder and more intense the closer you get to Boston.

The first really huge crowd consists of the women of Wellesley just before the half-way point. (Although there are few other big gatherings of people before that.) I swear to god you really can hear them a mile away -- that's not just a cliched turn of phrase. We hit mile 12 and in the distance I heard something that sounded like an orchestra playing a continuously held high C. And then when you pass them, it's not just their screaming that makes them a high point -- half of them are holding signs that say "Kiss a Wellesley Girl." I was so grateful for their spirit and enthusiasm, *I* almost kissed one (and I'm sure there were some of them who would've been happy for my kiss rather than a guy's kiss, but my guess is that it was mostly the het women holding the signs).

And between Wellesley and Boston, there are all sorts of people along the route, since most of it is accessible by commuter train. For the most part it's people cheering on their friends and family, but they cheer everyone else as well. (Thanks again, Kate, for the sign. I'm sorry I missed it, but the thought of it alone buoyed me.) My favorite was a recurring sign for a runner named Polly (she must have had a lot of friends and family, or else they moved along the route) which quoted A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Though she be but little, she is fierce." As you reach the hardest parts in Newton -- the hills leading up to and including Heartbreak Hill -- there are all sorts of people offering you treats, cheers, support, and encouragement. And they seemed to be practiced at it: no one said "You're looking great!" as I walked up Heartbreak Hill. Instead they said things like "Look, you can still do this. Just get over this hill and you'll make it" -- a sentiment that's realistic and pretty much true. Boston Marathon spectators are veteran marathon spectators.

And after that, as you start getting closer and closer to Boston, the crowds get freaking crazy. I think it starts in Brookline, maybe a bit before. By then you're in an urban space, and bars and pubs are walking distance from the route. Since the race is run on Patriot's Day -- a holiday for most people -- lots of people make it a holiday event to have a few beers (or not -- but since many of them have beers in hand, and sometimes offer them to the runners, it's easy to tell that drinking is involved) and cheer on the runners, all of them, whether they know you or not. And my god, are they loud. The last few miles are absolutely deafening. Part of the reason I picked up the pace in the last two miles was joining up with Jody, a runner I'd met at the pasta dinner the night before, who buoyed my spirits and kept me going, even when it was hard. But the other part were the crowds. How can you not run hard when thousands upon thousands of people are screaming joyfully at you? I can only imagine what the crowds might have been like in good weather! Rain and wind like that chased most of the crowds away in my first marathon (wussy sun worshippers!) but not in Boston, where neither rain nor wind nor snow can keep a Boston sports fan from cheering on a bunch of strangers in a long-running (ha!) local sports tradition.

I've always known that Boston is a big sports town with intense attachments to their hometown teams (and the equivalent hatred for longtime rivals), but I had no idea that they're so enthusiastic for any local sports tradition. After all, here I was running really slowly relative to the other runners in this race (I came in the bottom quartile of the women runners, for god's sake) and yet when I and all the other people running at my pace came through, the screams were just as loud as I imagine they'd been for the elite runners, and would continue to go on for the runners behind me. (Indeed, when I got back to my hotel at mile 24, and there were still people running and mostly walking, there were still crowds cheering them on.) They're the reason the Boston Marathon is so much fun. I worked for my qualifying time because of the prestige and eliteness of that achievement, but if I ever try again, it will be because of those incredible crowds.

And that is what's so amazing about marathon running in general. All races have some eager spectators -- Boston just has more of them, and they're exponentially louder -- and they're as happy to cheer on strangers as they are their friends. Many spectators make a day of it, bringing camp chairs, coolers, music, etc. And if you write your name on your shirt, they'll call it out. If you don't sometimes they'll call out your bib number (as in, "Go number 2435! You can do it!"). What the heck other sport is there where an ordinary, unexceptional, non-gifted, non-celebrity athlete gets to have people cheering for them? What other sport could I possibly take up at age 29 and have fans, however temporary?

Running marathons -- and epsecially running the Boston Marathon -- gives an ordinary person a chance to feel like a sports idol for the day. And that's the real reason why it's worth the time and effort and training, because adulation is addictive.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Belated Friday dog blogging: farewell to Wiley

[Updated to add a picture of a Portuguese Water Dog at Squadratomagico's request.]

I meant to post this yesterday, but for some strange reason my computer wouldn't connect to our wireless network. Poor Bullock had to redo the network from scratch -- new name, new channel, new key, etc. -- for my computer to connect. This is the second time this has happened and neither of us knows why. It's annoying as hell, too.

Anyway, Wiley left with the Pastry Pirate on Monday morning and we've missed him terribly since. If we get our own dog, it won't be until I get back from my London trip (word to the folks also in London this summer, I'll be there June 24 to July 21). I still don't know what kind of dog we'll get, though I have to say I met my first Portuguese Water Dog the other day and I'm still enamored, though the breed may be a little too energetic for our household. Bullock and I were in the living room and watching the neighbors across the street load tons of large size trash onto the curb -- we were trying to guess what was going on: remodelling? cleaning out the parents' house for a move to a retirement home? getting ready to sell? -- when a dog walker came down the street and Bullock said, "Hey, isnt't that a Portuguese Water Dog?" At which point I raced out the front door and asked to be introduced. The dog was a 2 1/2 year old male named Ghost, and still acted very puppy-like in his excitement to meet me (though he didn't jump on me -- good boy!). He was so sweet and eager to please, and once I stopped loving him up (what soft fur! what a sweet lovey-dovey personality!) and started asking his human about the breed, Ghost happily sat in the grass and waited for the humans to be done -- though he was clearly excited and eager to be on his way on his adventurous walk, since he was panting with anticipation.

If you've never seen a Portie, here's a picture of a young brown one named Dakota, copied from this site. Dakota was bred by Timber Oaks Portuguese Water Dogs of Traverse City, MI. Since the picture's not mine, if the Timber Oaks folks come by and ask me to take it down, I will, but I wanted to use it for illustrative purposes, since the Portie I met, Ghost, looked like a black version of Dakota.

*Anyway* since a Portie is a non-shedding breed, that would solve the thing we liked least about having a large shedding dog -- the hair, my god, the hair (which, as New Kid points out, will ALWAYS be with us). Here it is nearly a week later and though Wiley is gone, his hair reminds us of his 4+ months with us, and makes us all the more sad that he's not there. After all, it's depressing to still have some of the bad things about dog ownership -- the hair, the smelly vacuum cleaner (I have to change the bag and filter) -- and yet no soft and fuzzy and funny and fascinating creature to show for it. Wah!

So here are some final pictures of Wiley as a tribute, taken by the Pirate during her visit (I haven't uploaded mine yet). First, here's Mister Sister (one of Bullock's many names for Wiley other than, well, Wiley) hoping instensely that Bullock will give him some of that leftover chicken he's got (at least, I assume Wiley doesn't want a martini -- note glass):

And now here's Deputy Dog (another of Bullock's nicknames for him) on the family room floor, guarding one Bullock's favorite non-human-food treats to get for him, a jerky-coverd, marrow-filled bone:

I like this picture of Wiley. If you take out the week and a half of dizziness and hospital stays from the ear infection, this picture pretty much sums up his stay with us: contented and spoiled rotten. I think of it as having been our only chance to be grandparents of sorts, or the cool aunt and uncle. Sorry, Pirate!

And so long, Wiley! We'll miss you! I hope we see you again soon!

Aunt Virago and Uncle Bullock

PS -- I just noticed that the Pirate also has put up both of these pictures on her blog, plus the other one I thought about putting up, of Kittenheads (one of her many nicknames for him -- why does no one call him by his actuall name???) back at her place. Wiley's a star of the blogosphere!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Because I'm grading...

... a Bloglines survey/quiz is in order.

Your Travel Profile:

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Midwestern United States (100%)
You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the United Kingdom (88%)
You Are Well Traveled in Scandinavia (60%)
You Are Well Traveled in the Northeastern United States (57%)
You Are Well Traveled in the Western United States (47%)
You Are Well Traveled in the Southern United States (46%)
You Are Well Traveled in Western Europe (43%)
You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Canada (40%)
You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Southern Europe (40%)
You Are Mostly Untraveled in Asia (13%)
You Are Untraveled in Africa (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Australia (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Eastern Europe (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Latin America (0%)
You Are Untraveled in New Zealand (0%)
You Are Untraveled in the Middle East (0%)

Yup, that looks about right (although I have to say I'm *mostly* untraveled in Latin America, since I've been to the Baja peninsula). But the rest makes sense to my life: grew up in the midwest; went to college in the northeast US; studied abroad in England, where I have friends in cities tourists don't often go to; traveled all over western Europe with family and on my own; went to grad school in the western US; went to China once with Mom; did a Scandinavia tour with Mom when a friend got married in Sweden; occasionally make it to Canada, but usually for things academic. Weird how sometimes these silly things seem so accurate!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Looking forward to student research papers

On Friday I will get a stack of research papers from my medieval literature students, and I'm actually looking forward to reading them.

[Dramatic pause as my readers take that sentence in.]

Yes, that's right: I'm actually looking forward to reading them. Say what??? Am I delusional? Overly optimistic? Idealistic? Will my dreams be crushed?

No, I don't think so. You see, a month before the papers were due, students turned in a proposal with an annotated bibliography of at least five secondary sources. And before that, I took three class periods to talk about how and why we do research, what a literary research paper looks like and how to write it, and how to use things like the MLA International Bibliography and other databases and library search engines. And because of all that, I got really good proposals. I'm sure the papers will have some of the usual problems, but if the proposals are any indication, they'll actually have theses and make arguments, and many of them will have fresh and interesting things to say about the texts.

I'm offering this here and now as a kind of preview and also a test. Maybe my dreams will be crushed and the promise held by the proposals will be left unfulfilled. I certainly hope not. At any rate, I want to write more about this project, in more detail and with more about my pedagogical methods and justifications, when I finally see the fruit of it. And then I can look back on the class as whole, in which I really pushed my students and they rose to the challenge, turning in the best work as a group that I've seen since coming to Rust Belt U. I think that may have as much to do with the pushing as with the luck of the draw of who was in the class, and the research project is part of that. We'll see.