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So the thing of it is, this semester has been… intense.  For lots of reasons.  As my last post indicated, there’s been a fair amount of department drama, which has the appearance of having calmed down but which has totally not calmed down, but that isn’t the only thing.  We are also in the midst of some massive administrative turnover, arriving at and working out the implementation of a new strategic plan, I’m responsible for getting us to a program assessment plan for the major designed and implemented (which I took on willingly because I’m a masochist and because with my curriculum experience I am very qualified for such a task), I’m teaching four courses (four different preps: a general education literature course, a sophomore-level survey, a junior-level theory course in the core of the major which is effectively half a new prep because the book I used to use went out of print, and an advanced undergrad course that I’ve never taught before), and I’m now on a five-day-a-week schedule for the first time in years (which is wonderful, ultimately, but it also means that I have a lot more consistent face-time with people and so I’m less inclined to write here when I’m done with that).  And also, my personal life has been very… full.  There has been a lot of socializing, with friends, and a lot of dating and its concomitant drama.  It’s not that my life is terrible or anything, but it has been very chaotic.  Lots of dreams about crumbling houses and floods and such other obvious symbolic dream things about being out of control and flailing.

But so I won’t lie: I have wondered over the past months about whether I should just close the blog down. I’ve thought about this for a couple of reasons.  First is the fact that I am not writing here consistently.  I post on Facebook, I actually now have a real-life twitter account, which, sure, I don’t really use consistently, but I could and might, and I’ve returned to actually writing in a journal consistently, which I basically do instead of writing here.  Second, I wonder sometimes about whether I really have anything new to write in this space, what with being a mid-career-style academic these days.  Sometimes it feels like I’m just writing the same damned thing over and over again. (Being in this mid-career space often feels to me like being in the movie Groundhog Day.)

I know that one option to alleviate the above concerns, if I want to continue blogging, would be to transform this blog into a more “public” blog, as opposed to its current incarnation, which is a more “private” one.  I could be more journalistic, comment on “issues of the day.”  I’ve never been attracted to writing that sort of a blog -for even when I write on issues of the day I tend to write about them in a very “private” or personal way.  Part of why I’ve felt this way is because so many of “public” sorts of blogs already exist and do it so well, and partly because that sort of “public” writing doesn’t really interest me very much, as a writer.  So converting to that sort of a public voice really isn’t going to happen with me.  That much I know.

So I want to continue the blog (that much I know, too) even if I’m a shitty blogger who hasn’t been posting much lately.  This July will be my 10-year blogiversary, which is like 50 years in blog terms – and the fact that I’ve maintained the blogging over that long of a stretch makes me feel like I shouldn’t just pack my bags and high-tail it out of here.  I think that I actually do say stuff that people find worth reading, when I do write, whether because they identify with it or because they think I’m a jerk or whatever.And I can imagine that maybe I’ll be energized about this space again sooner or later, even if I’m not energized about it right now.  So no, I don’t think the solution is to relocate or to change the sort of blog I write or even to quit, but I do think that I need to have something happen that energizes me to write more in this space, and I think that something like that must happen sooner or later.

On the horizon, there are some potentially inspiring things.  I am going to Italy for a conference where I don’t really know anybody in June.  And the conference relates to an author that I’ve worked on, but I’ve always been fearful of joining the community related to this author (for a variety of reasons, mainly related to the author himself, who is dead).  CF and I might be writing a textbook together (we have interest from a press) for an “Introduction to English Studies” book, and I am finishing up with my current book project and potentially know what my third book might end up being.

In other news, my students are totally inspiring this semester, and a bunch of them are following me to a course in the fall that I’ve totally revamped, and the course promises to be AWESOME, in no small part because of this core group of students who are already enrolled.

So perhaps once this cruelest month of April is done, I’ll be back here more regularly.  Things look good: one of my two 30-year-old suitors just texted me to inform me that he is leaving town for a job in TX on Saturday, so that will give me a little more free time :)

 

 

Short version: budget cuts, unilateral moves by department administrators without adequate explanations, and People Going Crazy.

What hurts my feelings most about this is that I am stressed the fuck out (a) and that people who ACTIVELY HATED ME AND COLLUDED AGAINST ME not so long ago are now seeking me out as an ally (b).  Because, you know, allies.  (The thing about me is that I will say what I think but I have no interest in being an active member in any faction.  Which perhaps makes me ill-suited to life in most English departments.)

You know what I think?  First: do they think I have amnesia?  That I don’t remember when there was a target on my back, placed there by them?  FUCK THEM if they think that I will just join their fucking club as if I DON’T recall when these people went after me.  Second: I care about STUDENTS and not about either this bullshit administrative shit nor do I care about my colleagues (or even me) getting preferred teaching schedules.

Jesus MotherFUCKING Christ.  I am so filled with stress and rage that I can’t even talk about it.

It’s Been Forever

Why?

  • New strategic plan
  • A search for a new dean
  • Life (which involves some poor choices, some fun dates, etc.)

So I’m not dead (a) and I shall return in a real way soon (b).

So, every other year (in theory – ha! see what I did there? – but I say in theory because while I have an agreed upon 2-year rotation of courses, it seems that this is up for debate periodically because of various vagaries of department politics, the fact that other people refuse to have a two-year consistent rotation, etc.) I teach a theory course that is required in one track of our three-track major.  I am teaching it for the third time this spring.

The first time I taught it (2009), it was a rough ride, in part because it was my first time teaching it and in part because my dad died in the middle of the semester.  The second time I taught it (2012), things went quite well, though I was still working out kinks, and a fair few students withdrew (so I ended up with like 14 students, as opposed to the 20-25 who really should be in the course), but those who remained were engaged.  This third time – in spite of the fact that I had to change the theory anthology because the one that I adored is now out of print in the U.S., so the syllabus has changed considerably, in ways that seem to actually be really good (because the anthology I found to replace it is really, really good) – I seem to have locked this course down.  I’ve got 21 committed students.

Now, some of those students are committed because they need the course to graduate, and they intend to graduate in May.  But that is the minority (maybe seven of them).  In general, I’ve got students who are there both because they need to be and because they choose to remain.  They’ve had one short paper (a 1-page assignment I do that kicks their asses but that teaches a whole bunch – they will do three more of these) and one test (2/3 of them did fine, 1/3 got a giant wake-up call).  I also feel like I should note that all but two of the students in the course have taken our “new” (first taught 3 years ago) intro to the major course, and I think this is making a difference in terms of attrition from the course, in that they are entering knowing that such a thing as critical theory exists and that they have a sense of what critical theory is and why it matters to our discipline, and I also think the fact that the course is now only offered once per year is making a difference in terms of attrition, in that this schedule change is motivating them to remain even if they don’t adore what is happening to them, and they can’t just withdraw and take it with somebody other than me – so this ain’t all me, the fact that the students are committed and engaged and whatever.  There are contextual factors.

BUT.  The level of motivation I am seeing from these students in what is, ultimately, a junior-level class, is stellar.  STELLAR.  Particularly since the first test.  I will note that on the morning of the first test, I had to show up early to allow a student with a medical appointment to start early.  I arrived an hour before the class meets, and the first thing I saw when I got off the elevator to the English department floor was a couple of my students studying together.  Yay, right?  But what really shocked me was when I got to the classroom 10 minutes later and there were like 4 students already in there (when did they arrive?!?!) studying silently.  And then, the student that needed to start early got there, and by the time we were 30 minutes out from “test time” about 2/3 of the class was in there, studying.  Silently.  Intently.

Now, I’ve got colleagues who claim that our students don’t care about studying, are too preoccupied with life stuff to study, whatever.  (These are the same colleagues who claim that their office hours are a ghost town, which I have never experienced myself.)  But for a test that was worth 10% of their grade – just 10% !- about 2/3 of my students were intense about reviewing the material.  (Not all of those did well: some of them even failed.  But my point here is that they took it seriously, even if only 30 minutes before the test.  They were not just phoning it in.)

Since they got that first paper and that first test back, I’ve had deep one-on-one conversations with nearly half of them as a result.  They are dying to master this material, and they are dying to do well.  In a junior-level course about shit that they don’t understand and don’t, really, care about.  You don’t choose the major in English because you care about theory – if you did, you’re major in Philosophy.

The student who did best on the first test has taken to coming to my office for private consultations about his questions before class, mainly because I encouraged him to do so, I think. (Note: his initial response to his first test grade – which he saw on Bb before I handed the tests back – was “Is my grade a typo?” – because it was so high – which might be my favorite grade challenge ever), but even the students who did poorly have come to me – they want to get this shit.  They care.

This week, the students in this course read Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and Zizek. Ultimately brief readings from all three, but dense.  And not only did they do the reading (which was evident from their questions and their freaked-outed-ness, but also from their furious note-taking as I guided them through the readings), but also they really, really care about getting it.

My favorite part of all of this is that I had two of my students, two of my best students (one a returning student, one a traditional student), say to me today that this is the first course in the major in which they really feel like they are uncomfortable, like they are really taking intellectual risks.  Like they are doing work that isn’t just about just getting the grade.

Here’s the thing: it’s easy when you’re “good” at something never to take a risk.  You figure out what a given professor wants, and then you give that to them.  You get an A.  Done.  If you are “good” at something, and you are a “good” student, you can easily stay in your comfort zone and still be impressive.  This theory class that I’m teaching is shaking them up, but in a really exciting way, both for them (most important) and for me (less important, but awesome).  And also: I will take credit for the fact that I make my course a safe space for them to take those risks, that they know that I care more about the risk than I care about them agreeing with me.  That is all me, and I am proud of that.

But you know what else is my favorite?  That the students who are NOT the best are still really digging into the material and making sense of it for themselves!  And learning to ask questions that they never would have asked before about the literature that they love!  I don’t actually care if those are “original” questions in the sense of actual originality – they are original to them!  They are working it out!  And they are still taking risks!  Risks for them!

Ultimately, they all are taking important and challenging and meaningful and amazing risks!  And their heads are buried in their notebooks and their books when we have class so that they can write things down and figure out what the fuck is going on!  They aren’t texting or daydreaming or sleeping or worrying about shit other than critical theory!  And not because I made some technology policy or because I’m nagging them or because there is a participation grade.  Nope.  They are engaged because it feels to them like it’s worth engaging.  I’m not quizzing them on the reading, and I’m not underestimating their ability to get it on their own and just lecturing 24/7.  No: I am trusting them to learn.  And I see them learning.

And that feels really fucking amazing.

 

I haven’t been writing about work because things with work are, aside from non-important irritating things, really, really good.  Moving back to the 5-day-a-week schedule has been a revelation.  Turns out, being on a consistent schedule in terms of work and sleep really makes a difference in one’s quality of life.  I’m not saying I’d have this schedule if I taught a 2/2 load, or even a 3/3.  But with a 4/4?  WOW it is good.  CF and I were talking about it today, and even she says she notices the difference in me.  “You don’t look tired anymore,” she said.  No, I don’t.  Why?  Because I’m not!  And also: I am on top of grading and also caught up or ahead with course prep.  And I actually know most of my students’ names. And I don’t wake up in the morning with my first thought being, “God, I wish I didn’t have to teach.”

And I’ve actually returned to my book manuscript, and I have time for that plus time to juggle the dating and to have quality friend time. Sure, the weekends are short.  But as I am caught up, I really get to do no work on the weekends.

So it isn’t that I don’t have anything to say about professing – it’s just that there isn’t drama with work at all right now, and that is pretty fucking great, and I don’t want to just talk about how great my life is here, because seriously.

But so let me briefly report on the professing stuff:

  • I have the greatest students this semester, in all of my classes.  They are motivated and smart and engaged.  Yes, it’s true: in my one gen ed class, this is not the case for all of them.  But most of them are into it.  And attendance is really good, and even the least engaged amongst them are learning.
  • My theory students are terrified and overworked and feeling like they might die, but I feel like that is just about right for this point in the semester.  They just had their first test, and 2/3 did just fine.  The one third that didn’t?  Well, they either will step it up, withdraw, or fail.  And I’m ok with that.  My favorite moment so far this semester from them was that they took their first test, and I posted the results on blackboard before I handed it back.  I’ve got this one STELLAR student, and he totally came to my office to ask if his grade (he missed only one point – including extra credit) was a typo.  Like he couldn’t believe he’d done so well.  When was the last time you had a student challenge a grade that was over 100%?  It was awesome!
  • My new prep is going very well and I’m very pleased with their engagement.  I wonder if they realize the work I do in order to prep for our small class – I read my course evals from last semester and students negatively commented on the fact that I was using a discussion-based model, for they thought that I didn’t have to prepare to make that happen.  Because, you know, it’s so easy to get a good conversation about difficult material going and to make it feel natural.
  • And I am loving my survey course partly because I’m teaching it 3 days a week (for like the second time ever) and partly because FUCKING KEATS!  FUCKING MATTHEW ARNOLD! FUCKING ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING!  And Wednesday is FUCKING GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS!  I bitch about the survey a lot, but it gives me the opportunity to teach a lot that I love that I don’t have room for otherwise.
  • In non-teaching news, my agenda for program-level assessment for the department progresses apace, and it is going to be great when it all comes together.  Assessment is often a thing that faculty hate to hear mentioned, but I think I’ve made it palatable if not enticing, and people are on board.  And I’m excited that I have the skill to do that, and I’m excited about the potential for the work that I’m doing to positively impact our major and minor.  Because, frankly, I don’t give a shit about the external reasons for us doing this, even though the fact that we are doing it will put us in a good position in relation to those.
  • In other non-teaching news, my institution is working out the kinks in our new strategic plan.  All in all, I think that the new strategic plan is good.  But I would adore it if I never had to hear the word “transdisciplinary” again.  Especially because most of the people involved don’t know what the fuck it means.

See what I mean?  I don’t really have anything of note to report.  Which is why I’m busy being boy-crazy on this here blog.  But really the most exciting thing for me upcoming is that I will be going with my friends T and S to see Lydia Loveless, whom you must check out, for she is awesome.

New Guy… A Homesteader?

So I went out on a date this afternoon into the evening (3-9pm).  It was really, REALLY fun.  We had some beers, played pool, had dinner, talked a lot.  It was SO. FUN.

On paper… well, I’m not sure about him on paper.  He’s technically unemployed.  Though this status was a decision on his part, and he is self-sufficient and pays his bills and owns property and whatever.  And he paid for the date.  See, he has decided to simplify his life and to build a house with his own hands out of an old barn.  He’s kind of a strange combination of a Marxist environmentalist and a weirdo libertarian. And yet not earnest or preachy or an asshole.

This is the first guy I’ve gone out with since The Dude – and let’s note, I’ve gone out with like 10 guys since The Dude – that I am *interested* in.  Like, genuinely and totally INTERESTED in.  As a person. He’s an interesting guy. As I noted, we had a LOT of fun. That I am not unsure of.  And there seemed to be a good vibe between us.  At the end of the date, I said goodbye to him at his car. He bestowed upon me two gifts from the dollar store, which he had visited earlier in the day: some rooster potholders and some mardi gras beads – he has chickens (one of the first things that made me bother to get to know him, seriously), and he used to live in NOLA. And there was a very warm hug goodbye.  But he didn’t kiss me…. To be fair, I didn’t kiss him either, but the point is there was no kissing. He texted me when he got home and he said that he had fun.  I replied that I, too, had fun.  But we have no plans to get together again, and what with that plus the no kissing…. I’m just not sure what to make of it all.

But at least for the moment, I am in like.  And it’s been a very long time since I have felt that prior to making out with somebody.  And he made me laugh so hard my face hurt.  And there was definite “clicking.”  I think. Though maybe it was just friend clicking?  (On my end it wasn’t just friend clicking, but maybe I don’t know crap and it was just friend clicking.)

So The Homesteader. He’s an interesting prospect, until I discover otherwise.  INTERESTING.

RBOC: Things

      I cannot help myself from listening to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” every time I hear it on the radio, and since they play it on every station at approximately 22 minute intervals this is a lot, and I mainly can’t stop myself from listening because it makes no sense.  I am especially perplexed by the chorus.  The whole “play with magic” thing sounds just slightly too close to “play with matches,” which would make more sense in terms of what the song actually (appears) to be about.  And then the boy should know what he’s “falling for,” which doesn’t sound like somebody who is playing with anything but rather like somebody who is accidentally doing something. And then she is “coming at you like a dark horse” which also makes no sense, because the whole point of somebody being a dark horse is that they aren’t “coming at you” but rather they are mysterious and take you by surprise, although she is directly saying, “watch out, motherfucker.”  And then, finally, “are you ready for a perfect storm” seems to have nothing to do with dark horses or the dude who is playing with magic. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?  And yet the song is so catchy!  I also can be counted on to turn the song off the minute it gets to the rap interlude, which is awful, and incorporates both “Jeffrey Dahmer” and the rapper saying “she can be my Sleeping Beauty/ I’m gonna put her in a coma,” which, WTF?
      I am utterly and totally exhausted.  It was a crazy weekend, which involved lots of wine on Friday night that then turned into unexpected drama in which one of my friends (we were having the wine and eating junk food and watching chick flicks) decided to snatch my phone from me and to freak out on The Dude – with whom, incidentally, things have been fine and friendly and I’ve been dating other people and so has he, so this really was quite surprising to us both; a long conversation with The Dude on Saturday which was necessitated in part by Friday’s drama but also just we had a lot of topics we wanted to cover, none of which had to do with “us” (such as we are) in any direct way, and then hanging out with The Dude and The Dude’s friends yesterday, which was fun and drama-free.  No, we’re not back together.  No, we are not even in talks about being back together. We are trying to be friends, and we’re trying to be in the moment and not to put any pressure on the situation.  It’s kind of like Fight Club: the first rule of our whatever-it-is is that you don’t talk about it.  It is not totally like Fight Club, though, in that there is no beating the shit out of each other (not physically, obvi, but not emotionally either).
      The Blacksmith…. well, some of his more irritating qualities are emerging – mainly that he is a person who complains – a LOT – about all of his PROBLEMS.  I am fairly certain that he is just one of Those People.  Oh, and we did finally get together, which was fun and fine, but not like the most fun I ever had in my life.  Eh, we shall see.
      Things proceed apace with my Major Service Project, also known as leading our department toward a program-level assessment plan, and at least so far not only are things going smoothly but also it’s kind of enjoyable, actually, to facilitate conversations about Student Learning Outcomes and to see us making consistent progress toward aligning those with the program goals that the department unanimously passed this past fall.  I really like doing this sort of work, actually, because it moves us away from just bitching and toward actual meaningful conversations about teaching and what we want students to learn.
      I wish I could talk to you about scholarship, but frankly, between the weather and job candidates and teaching and all of the other things…. well, I have high hopes for March.
      I’m also exceptionally excited because a former student of mine – one whom I hadn’t necessarily thought had found my courses all that important to her – has asked me to direct her honors thesis.  She is brilliant and super-cool, so this is a very nice surprise.
      I’m also directing a critical theory independent study for a grad student this semester, and it is going so, so well.  She is a very hard worker, and I’m excited to be doing these readings and having bi-weekly conversations with her.
      Oh, and I’m teaching a new course this semester all about the history of the novel as a genre, and I am finding it ridiculously stimulating and interesting to teach.  One reason for that is that it is a very small, seminar-style class.  With great students.  And also I’m loving the novels that I’m teaching, and the ways that I’ve integrated theory and criticism into the course.  This is the reason to develop new courses – the excitement that one feels in teaching new, cool shit.
      I got my annual activity report done in time, which involved having to review my course evaluations by students from the past year.  I hate looking at course evaluations.  The casual sexism is the main thing that bugs me (this year I am “immature” and “vulgar”, but also: wtf with grad students in English who complain about the amount of reading that they are assigned?  I mean, why are they getting an M.A. in English if they don’t expect to read?  And wtf about students who enroll in a course, and who get the syllabus which clearly explains what the course will involve, and wherein the instructor on the very first day is very explicit about what the course will entail, both in terms of assignments and in terms of the content of the readings, and they choose to remain in the course rather than to switch into another course that might suit their interests or needs better that would also fulfill a requirement, and then 15 weeks in they fill out an evaluation in which they indicate they were sold a false bill of goods?  The silver lining this year is that my evaluations totally confirmed what I knew about my terrible schedule over the past couple of years: I am a shittier teacher when I teach a night course on Monday that doesn’t get out until 9pm and when I have to be back on campus to teach just 12 hours later.  This, at least, will give me evidence that I should never have that fucked up schedule again.  But all in all?  Course evaluations give little to no meaningful feedback about teaching.  It kills me that I am at a supposedly “teaching-centered” institution where that is the only evaluation of my teaching that exists.
      Today all of my teaching involved explaining The Sonnet, and talking about a lover separated from the beloved, and “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments” and “Say over again, and yet once over again,/ that thou dost love me.” On the one hand, teaching score that I basically had to give the same background lecture in two courses.  On the other, sonnets are a motherfucker when you’re trying not to be detached from love feelings.  I mean, seriously.
      My hair has officially grown out to the point (from a pixie) that I can now put it in a sad ponytail that I would never wear outside of my house.  This is excessively, if stupidly, satisfying.
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