Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oops. I just outed myself to my students today.

So there I was in my Middle English class, messing with the new computer system to figure out if it has a way to make the screen dark when you want to switch back and forth between the board and the projector (it doesn't, but that's a rant for another time), and since we still had 5 minutes to go before official class time, I decided to amuse the students and show them the insane pork cartoon (because I'd mentioned in the last class -- don't ask why) and then, since it was more germane to class, Chaucer's blog.

Now I've done this before and worried a little bit about the fact that my blog is the second link in the Rotulus Bloggorum. But this time I really asked for it. We were talking about what was and wasn't Middle English syntax, lexicon, etc., and then I pointed out the little uses of French and Latin on the blog and asked them why he did that, since we'd recently talked about the broader linguistic environment and uses of English in the period. And so I showed them the Rotulus Bloggorum and how the titles of various blogs had been Latinized or Anglicized medieval style (and it's interesting, btw, which blogs get which). Then someone noticed "Anothir Damned Medievaliste," which they thought was funny, but they seemed skeptical that the implied complaint of the name was necessary. So I said, "Well, there are a damned lot of medievalists in the blogosphere -- you'd be surprised."

And that prompted one of them to ask, "So, do you have a blog?"


As you may or may not know about me, I am congenitally incapable of answering a direction question with a lie, especially if it's a yes or no question. So if they'd said, "What's your blog called?" I might have managed to make something up.

But no. I was trapped. Wanna guess what I did?

I freakin' blushed and then dropped my head on the computer desk!

Of course, then all my students squealed with delight and one exclaimed, "That means you do have a blog! And I bet it's on that list! And I'm going to find out which one it is!"

Oh well, I was going to become less pseudonymous after the end of this year anyway. But students, please, if you're reading this, keep it under your hats for now. Don't tell anyone outside of that Middle English class. I'm up for tenure this year and I'm a little paranoid, and the provost is brand new, the president only in his second year, and I have no idea what they think of nutty blogging academics. There's a reason why I've been pseudonymous up to now, and I'd like to keep it that way until the university's Board of Directors signs off on my tenure.

So thanks in advance for your discretion.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The one in which Virago grumbles about being misunderstood

So yesterday I got the "Literature" catalog from the press that published my book six months ago. I immediately flipped to my series to see my work in all its advertised glory.

It wasn't there.

I read through the titles again, more carefully, just to be sure. It still wasn't there.

And yet there was the book by an acquaintance of mine, published in the same month as mine. And there was the book by another acquaintance, published two years ago. And there was the forthcoming book by yet another friend of mine. (Yeah, it seems all my friends publish with the same publisher, but really, it's just that I've got a lot of friends and acquaintances.)

So, darnit, where was mine???

I've been kind of half-convinced that the series editor and the acquisitions editor stopped believing in my book somewhere in the process, even though they were very enthusiastic at the proposal stage. Did they get bored? Did the finished product and the somewhat critical reader's report (which thought the book, while accomplished and scholarly, wasn't quite sexy enough for my press) diminish their enthusiasm (even though my counter-argument to the series editor seemed to convince the press to go ahead)? This seeming failure to promote my book seemed to solidify my somewhat paranoid impression.

I was heartbroken. My book was doomed for obscurity, to be purchased only by family members. (Oh, and also by Bullock's family friend who's never even met me -- I find this utterly charming and a testament to the halo of genuine midwestern niceness that surrounds Bullock and his whole family. But I digress.)

And then I realized something....

This was the *literature* catalog. And my book has a bleepin' HQ number (cultural and social history) even though it's a literature book. *That's* why it's not in there.

This is still a problem, but one that has nothing to do with my press not believing in me, but rather with the Library of Congress catalogers misunderstanding my work or else not bothering to read the introduction and thinking that the first noun in the title was a metaphor rather than the literal subject of the book. See, my book is called something like The Romance of Happiness and Early Modern Scottish Shepherd Society (heh -- that's a funny title), and in the word "Romance" I'm playing with the genre term -- the subject of the book is that genre -- and also its multiple metaphorical meanings. But clearly the cataloger thought the main subject was "Early Modern Scottish Shepherd Society" and the rest of the title was expressive but not substantive. Or rather, that the rest of the title was secondary (despite coming first), since they did manage to put Romance - History and Criticism as the *second* category in the list of standard LOC categories assigned to it. Sigh.

Of course, if I'd published with a smaller press, maybe the editorial side would have communicated to the marketing side that my book belonged in the literature catalog, despite its HQ number.

So, question to the wise and experienced ones out there: should I contact the marketing department at my press to see that my book gets in the Literature catalog next time? Or should I just go on making sure they send it out to the right journals for review and sending it out myself to various book competitions, just to make sure it's getting read by lit people, and hope that word of mouth and citation and review and so forth get it noticed? I also, btw, sent the necessary info and material to the MLA bibliography to make sure it got indexed, which it hadn't so far -- I'm sure, again, because of the HQ number.

Oh, I also have to make sure that our flagship campus buys it, which they haven't done so far, because the Med-Ren center there has a "new acquisitions" section of their newsletter, which I know I always read.

Anything else I could do to get the word out?

Monday, January 28, 2008

I hab a code in my node

Translation: I have a cold in my nose.

I've been sick for a week now*, which partly explains the silence and/or bad writing around these here parts. And the Pastry Pirate may be stopping through tomorrow night on her way to her next adventure. And then on Wednesday, it's dinner with Job Candidate #3 (yeah, we're doing a search and I'm excited -- yeah, new hire!). So forgive me (and don't worry) if nothing new pops up here for a few days.

But then I want to do the "Why Do I Teach ______" meme that New Kid tagged me for, and that was inspired by Dr. Crazy's posting on why she teaches literature. I think I have things to say that haven't already been said, especially since New Kid specifically tagged people who study pre-modern subjects.

OK, now to go give my nasal passages a saline wash. TMI, huh? Sorry.

*Btw, I blame the 2007 Boston Marathon. Until then I got sick maybe once every 2 1/2 years, and then for only a couple of days. But I ran that damn thing with the tail end of a cold, and then came out of it and its freakin' Nor'Easter with a worse sinus infection thing that made my teeth hurt, too. And now I get sick if someone around just says the word "sick," I swear.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I tell students all the time that they can't do a Google search and call it research. They have to use library and academic database resources. I teach them the differences between intranet sources and internet sources. And I teach them that if they do find things on websites, they need to consider who the author is and what their expertise is, whether the product is peer reviewed, and whether it's an academic site. If they can't figure out the answers to those three elements, they can't use the source. And so on and so forth.

That said, sometimes I use Google or another search engine (but usually it's Google) as part of my research. When I'm do, though, it's usually as a supplement to more academic search engines and databases, and it's usually because I'm looking for scholarly websites on a particular subject that might lead me to traditional sources I've missed (if, say, they have a bibliography on their site).

So the other day I decided (on a lark, really) to enter the name of one of the 15th century dudes associated with the manuscript I'm studying and working on. He wasn't the owner, but he witnessed the ownership -- as attested in a statement in the flyleaf of the manuscript. I don't know what I thought I'd find, but I thought I'd try it. One of the things that came up was an abstract for a conference paper I gave, so that didn't get me anywhere. But what also came up was a resource I didn't know existed: British History Online. I really should've asked my historian friends about resources, because knowing about this site would've saved me a lot of time. It has digitized, searchable versions of the Calendar of Letter Books and other records that I'd taken manual notes from some months ago. Cutting and pasting would have been a lot faster, not to mention the fact that I also had to drive to another school's library to use some of these sources because they were non-circulating.

But also, in doing my random Googling -- which, btw, ranked the BHO site first -- and then using the BHO site, I discovered a few more little tidbits about my dude that I hadn't previously found. Nothing earth-shatteringly amazing and nothing that really relates directly to my project in any real substantive way, but I did learn when he died and where he was buried, in the chapel of the Grey Friars. And it turns out that last summer, while walking back from the City to my room in Bloomsbury, I'd taken a picture of the public garden that now stands on the ruins of the Grey Friars and I had pretty much stood on the spot where my guy had been buried (or close, anyway). Again, no real major discoveries, but at least I got a blog post out of it! And I find some sort of charming serendipity in the fact that I took a picture of a rose garden in a ruined chapel just because I thought it was pretty, and it turned out to have a connection to one of the people I was researching. Here's the picture:

I feel like I should write something deep about memory and the aesthetic, or the ghosts of the past that haunt London, or something like that, but I've got a terrible cold and can't think clearly. All I can think about is the various periods of cataclysmic change and destruction this site has experienced, from the Reformation to WWII, and whether or not my guy's bones are still under that concrete or soil (was I standing over him as I took the picture?), or if they relocated the burials at some point in history -- in the Dissolution? After the Great Fire? When Christopher Wren rebuilt the church? After the Blitz? When they planted the garden? This is where Google fails me and it's not worth me tracking down. But the interwebs did serendipitously give new meaning (for me, at least) to my picture of a pretty rose garden.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Virago blogs boots

Update (because I know you're just dying to know): The boots below didn't work out. The toes weren't as rounded as they looked in the pictures (even in the many views Zappos gives you). They were more tapered & rounded, which just made them look too 1980s. And they looked a little too costume-like -- sort of like a very piratical granny boot. Were I my costumey, punk 1987 self I might have fallen head over heels (heh) in love with them. But now...meh. They're going back.

Although one of my intentions in redesigning my blog was to get rid of some of the fluffier stuff, and slowly turn this into an only nominally pseudonymous blog I can be proud of, nevertheless into each life some levity should fall. (Wait, can levity fall?? I think not. Well, whatever -- it's blog for pete's sake.)

Thus, on this holiday Monday (which isn't a holiday for me at all because I teach T/R and therefore have to do the usual stuff...including distracting myself with blogging about boots), I give you the boots I ordered last night from

I was specifically looking for black boots that would still look interesting even if there were under pants and also pretty damn cool with skirts and cropped pants. And if you look closely, you'll see they have a wing-tip design on the vamp, low enough to show under long pants. And even though Stacy and Clinton are always putting their charges in pointy-toed shoes, I'm addicted to the vintage adorableness of the round toe. And I love the granny-boot-on-steroids quality of these. (They don't really lace -- they zip up -- in case you're concerned about me taking 30 minutes to put on my boots in the morning.)

Now, let's keep our fingers crossed that they fit (or if not, that the next size up does), because it was hard to find a boot that satisfied all my requirements! (Well, there were some $350 ones that also satisfied my needs, but I don't want to spend that much.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Conference whiplash

OK, so it looks like I'll be going to the Big Single Author Conference in Wales in the summer after all, but the story of how it happened is kind of crazy.

First I was rejected by the panel I applied to and heard about that in the fall. I wasn't too bummed out -- I was in good company and the panel had gotten an extraordinary number of submissions. I didn't have high hopes for getting placed in the general sessions since my paper was particular to that panel's subject and also not directly related to the primary subject of the conference. So I pretty much assumed I wouldn't be going. And about a week ago I got an e-mail confirming this assumption.

So much for that, I thought. At least I wouldn't have to plan a big expensive conference trip.

But wait, there's more! A few days after that final rejection I got another message saying that there was room for my paper after all, along with a few other previously rejected papers. there are 7 of us on this panel, so, we were told, we'd be giving papers of 7-8 minutes. Wow, that's short. But that was OK with me because my project is in such initial stages that 7-8 minutes allows me to present the stuff that I'm most confident about and leave the rest for the Q&A. Although I have to say that going overseas for an 8-minute paper is kind of funny. Of course, a conference is much more than about just giving your paper, and that's one of the main reasons why I wanted to go -- I'm really out of the loop of the current conversations in this area and I'm excited just to hear people present their work and listen to them talk in more informal conversation, as well.

But *now* the organizer is thinking about moving me to yet another panel! Well, at least I know I'm going, so I can put in the application for travel funds and apply for our more competitive international travel award, both of which I'll need. And while I'm over there, I'll probably do some research in London as well. But there's a National Humanities Center Summer Institute that I want to apply for that's two weeks before the conference, so I'm not sure what my summer schedule is going to look like just yet. I should probably start figuring that out now, I guess. I hate always having to have my head in the next segment of the academic calendar just when I'm trying to wrap my head around the current one, but it can't be helped.

Anyway, for those of you making plans for your summers, if you're going to the Welsh conference or going to be in the UK for research, pencil in a blogger meet-up!

PS -- I don't know why I'm being coy about the conference subject and title here, especially since I'm about to make a tag for it!

Still here

Although my last post talked about inspiration, for some reason I haven't felt all that inspired to blog in the last week. Things are kind of busy around here, too -- job candidate visits, a book review that I need to finish (and that's causing me a bit of "imposter syndrom" anxiety), an article due in March that's in progress, and the usual teaching and advising stuff.

In the meantime, you may not have noticed this if you read me in an RSS feeder, but I redesigned the blog over the holidays. I'm still fiddling a little, which you may have noticed by my constantly changing avatar. First it was a South Park style image of me -- or close enough -- that I made some time ago when everyone was doing those things, but never used. But that was just a place holder until I decided which photographic image of myself to use. I settled on a picture that the Pastry Pirate took back in 2004 when we did a week's hiking trip around the Isle of Man. The fact that my back is turned is useful and functional for a pseudonymous blog (although if you know me you'd probably recognize me in an instant, even with my hair in braids -- but that's OK, too), but I also like its somewhat melancholy, wistful, or at least contemplative spirit and its suggestions of journeys, stopping places, horizons, and points of view.

Oh, and if you haven't noticed it, the picture at the bottom of the front page of the blog is one I took in Cumbria in 2004. There was this old stone mill house that had been renovated into a modern home, and in addition to its general coolness, the owner had a great talent for gardening in a limited space. This particular planting was in a hole in the garden wall. I just think it's pretty -- it doesn't really mean anything, except that it's English.

Anyway, I've got some things to post about and will start back up again today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Today while doing the reading for my Chaucer class, I felt inspired not only in my teaching but also in my research (hey, I was "inspired in every holt and heeth," te-hee!).

This might not seem like such a big deal, but it was a really pleasurable experience and a bit surprising, too, especially on the research side of things, since I don't work on Chaucer. Usually when I prepare to teach Chaucer I feel enthusiasm -- because, after all, Chaucer is fantastic fun to teach -- but it's usually not at all connected to my research, which is all focused on a different century. But today I realized that my newest research may have a Chaucer connection, at least in an abstract way. And that's exciting to me because until now I've always felt like I didn't have anything new to say about Chaucer, and the idea of wading into the Chaucer conversation was awfully daunting. But now, maybe I do have something say, and maybe, just maybe, I'll finally have a reason to go to an New Chaucer Society conference!

And then, on the teaching side of things, I realized I was thinking about the material in a new way, writing out approaches and discussion questions I'd never thought of before. (I'm sure *someone* has, but they were new to me.) And this was pleasurable, too, because it meant that I wasn't forming any pedagogical or intellectual ruts. In fact, the things I was thinking were somewhat new approaches for me in general, and it made me happy to realize I myself am still learning about these texts.

See, it's moments like these that make me remember what's so cool about being a professor.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A world turned upside-down?

I have 40 students between Chaucer and Middle English, pretty evenly distributed between the two classes.

Bullock has 27 between his two classes in subjects you might describe as "Life! Liberty! The Pursuit of Happiness!" And "American Issues that Really Matter RIGHT NOW!"

While I want Bullock's enrollments to be better because a) I love him, b) he's a great teacher, and c) his subjects ARE pretty important in an "every American should know this" kind of way, especially in an election year, still, I can't help but say...

Score one for the medievalist!

But to console Bullock, I offer him this song and cartoon about his favorite meat, pork. Actually, you should all go watch this video -- it's hilarious. Warning for the squeamish (or in Karl's case, a heads up): it features porcine cannibalism. (H/T Profgrrrrl.)

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Yesterday I copied all the syllabuses and assignment handouts for my Chaucer class. And just as I was putting the last stapled bunch of handouts on the pile, I noticed a glaring typo at the very top of the page, in the header, in bold for pete's sake.


This is what I get for being a medievalist who turns off her spell-check function (lest her spell-check lose its mind from all the Middle English).

Friday, January 4, 2008

Teaching by the seat of my pants

This semester (which, uh, starts Monday, God help me), I'm completely redesigning one of my courses. In fact, I'm still doing it right now. (Yup, still working on syllabuses; haven't photocopied anything yet.) And I don't mean I'm assigning slightly different texts or doing different assignments -- which is what I'm doing in my other class -- but I mean re-conceiving its form and content in such major ways that I'm even (gulp) tossing out the textbooks I've used and designing the content through handouts, reserve reading, and web sites. About half of the semester is going to consist of me coming in with lecture notes and handouts, with them having done maybe some background or introductory reading, but nothing else. Given that I'm a literature person, this is not usually how my courses go. Usually the class is about a text and it's the center of attention -- I'm there to teach students how to read it more deeply. But this is one of my historical linguistics courses, and this time I'm going to be the "content delivery method" myself. Scary.

And even scarier is the fact that I'm really not sure what I'm going to be doing every day. Some of this I'll be doing as the semester progresses. It's not the ideal way to go about things, but I was so busy planning ahead the new assignment sequence in the other class that I've only been able to sketch out this one. I have notes to myself for some days that say things like: "Bring in an interesting text." Yikes.

But the thing is, I think sometimes when I teach like this I'm a more lively, exciting teacher, because my adrenaline is pumping and the material is about as fresh as it can be. It keeps me from merely looking over old material rather than really preparing it. So actually, in a perverse way, I'm looking forward to this!

Here's hoping I can pull it off.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Get ready for National Trivia Day!

For those of you who, like me, have self-diagnosed as having Trivia Tourette's, have I got a holiday for you! Tomorrow is is National Trivia Day! As the writers of the Bizarre American Holidays blog say:

National Trivia Day is a day to annoy your friends and enemies with all manner of trivia. One good piece of trivia to know is the fact that [Jan. 4] is National Trivia Day!

And on an unrelated, and totally trivial, note, how does the Bizarre American Holidays blog's advertising widgit know to advertise Wilco CDs and the Garmin Forerunner 305 to me? That's really creepy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Intense but delightful" (on the conversational modes of academics and philosophies for the new year)

The phrase in my post title describes my experience of 2007, which seems to have gone by in a bigger blur of business than most years. I'm hoping 2008 will be a little less intense and a little more delightful.

But the phrase was also used to describe *me*, by the Pastry Pirate's friend Shorewoodian, who, like me, attended the Pirate's graduation from Cookin' School and was pretty much forced to spend about 36 hours in my company. Ever since the Pirate told me this is how Shorewoodian described me I've been mulling over the "intense" part. Was it good or bad? Was it a euphemism for "thinks too much?" (something a stupid boyfriend once said about me)? Was it because I pretty much came to the land of Robber Baron mansions directly from grading graduate student critical histories of canonical works of literature, and so had the weight of so many misunderstood literary scholars on my shoulders and felt the need to make our kind understood at all costs? Or was it simply because I was still in a "teacherly" mode and hadn't had the time and space to decompress before being social?

So I asked Bullock what he thought it meant since he thought it was a pretty good description of me, though he insists I'm more parts "delightful" than "intense." But to explain his explanation, I have to give you a back story first.

Background: I have a little-known and yet-to-be-diagnosed problem that Bullock and I have dubbed "Trivia Tourette's." (I think Bullock coined the phrase, but I can't remember now.) Bullock has recognized this problem before, but I only became self-aware after a conference a few months ago at Neighboring Flagship U. There, in the midst of scholars of medieval literature whose work I respect and whom I desperately wanted to impress, I kept randomly spouting bizarre and thoroughly uninteresting trivia at intervals throughout the day. Someone said, "You can't drink too much water," and I felt a compulsion to reply, "Actually you can, at least if you're also sweating profusely. It's called hyponatremia and it's more life-threatening than dehydration!" Later, someone remarked to me that they didn't realize Rust Belt was so close to Flagship Town, and I burst out with, "In fact, it was originally part of Neighboring State, and Flagship U was even slated to be in our downtown, but there was a war -- a skirmish really -- and Neighboring State lost its claim to Rust Belt's part of our state." Why, oh why, do I do this? Given that every time it happens there's a voice in the back of my head saying, "Oh god, please stop!" I can only chalk it up to unconscious compulsion.

So, back to "intense but delightful." Bullock said that when I exhibit "Trivia Tourette's" around academics, the tidbits I burst out with do seem trivial, or at least something akin to footnotes, the function of which academics understand. And so it goes little noticed, easily incorporated into academic ways of thinking and organizing information, including conversations. For academics, it's small talk, trivial.

But, according to Bullock, when I do it with non-academics, as I did at the Cookin' School graduation -- spouting off, among other things, about strong and weak verbs, semantic splitting, and why there's a "hung" and "hanged" but "hanged" is generally only used for people who have been hanged on the gallows (there was a context that inspired this outburst) -- it doesn't seem trivial or footnote-y. Instead it seems professorial, the kind of stuff "regular" people don't think about. Indeed, "regular" people don't think in footnotes at all! To them it's not small talk -- it's deep or serious or "intense." It's classroom talk. (Actually, the Pastry Pirate encouraged me in these moments -- egged me on even -- so obviously, there's a non-academic audience for the footnotes of academe. But that doesn't discount Bullock's analysis of its different perception by non-academics.) And so, as classroom talk, it's perceived as belonging to a different order of conversation and thought. It's not ordinary. It's "intense."

I think the distinction of "classroom talk" is important here. When other professionals do the kind of talking and thinking the kind of thinking that's specific to their profession -- say, for example, when the Cookin' School graduates and their foodie family members rattled off the temperatures at which sugar becomes "soft ball" or "hard crack," etc., or debated how much added value a particular sushi chef brings to a piece of sashimi -- it's considered shop talk. And it can be inviting or off-putting to the extent that it includes or excludes others at the table or the party or whatever. Too specialized and it leaves others out, but it can involve the non-specialists to the extent they have experience with the profession. It can be fascinating and illuminating to hear what goes on in the kitchen of fine restaurants, or to hear how doctors think when they're diagnosing, or to understand what a lawyer considers a good or bad witness and why. Indeed, there's a reason why we have TV shows -- sometimes many of them -- about these professions, among others. There's also probably a reason -- for good or for ill -- why we don't have TV shows about professors, and why popular culture often gets our profession so wrong. (There have been many more TV shows about high schools, including ones with a focus on the classroom, so this isn't just about the classroom in general.) And I think one of the reasons -- perhaps among many -- is related to the perception of professorial talk as "intense." Our talk isn't perceived as mere shop talk -- although we may perceive it as such -- but as something other, something extraordinary, for better or worse.

I'm of two minds about what this all means. On the one hand, I would like to go forth in 2008 and work harder to encourage my students to continue the way I teach them to think and to write not only in other classes, but outside of the classroom as well. I'd like to convince them that to think about language, literature, and culture "intensely" can also be "delightful" and can be a habit carried through the rest of their lives, one that transforms the way they see the world. In other words, I'd like to break through that mindset that sees classroom talk as fit only for the classroom and as (too) intense for other situations. I'd like to break down the boundary between the classroom and the rest of their lives, and to help students see what's studied in the classroom, and the way it's studied -- even if it's literature of the very distant past read through the lens of specialized languages of literary interpretation and theory -- does not necessarily have to be limited to the classroom. My own college education did that for me -- I was "intense" and professorial before I was an academic -- but I'm not sure my own students realize that their educations can and should do the same for them.

On the other hand, I think the reason why people such as my own university's president can be so dismissive of the humanities and the people who work in it, is precisely because we've done a good job, at least among certain populations, of making people realize you can continue to read and think about humanities subjects and with humanities methods beyond the college classroom walls. And thus we give the illusion that anyone can do what we do once they've learned to do it in college. And that's problematic for the respect that the humanities and humanists get not only in the general population, but in our own institutions.

I think for my own solution to this either/or conundrum, I'm going to work harder to make my classroom, my subject, and myself -- and a professor and a person -- not "intense but delightful," but instead, "intense and delightful." After all, intensity is all about deeper pleasures, fuller flavors, more saturated colors, more memorable moments, and more thrilling experiences. And intensity of thought and study should therefore bring greater intellectual pleasure, in the classroom and beyond.