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It’s that they are awesome.

What’s also great is that they keep in touch with me, and that they tell me about the awesomeness of their lives, whether it is in grad school (English fields) or professional school (law, mba, library science, etc.), or even in not going on to more school but in getting jobs, and that they, even while they are scared, understand how what they learned in my courses is what they needed to learn in order to succeed in their new lives.

I am a proud professor.  My students do me proud.  Indeed, I couldn’t be prouder.

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My students:

  • My freshmen have written excellent papers, and have spent the last week revising and revamping and caring about all the things.
  • 3/4 of my Gen Ed students turned their final assignments in early, because of a confusing situation with the dates on the Course Schedule that Is Our Bible. Normal gen ed students would have given themselves a pass – especially since the *day* on the course schedule was right, and I confirmed it in class.  But my awesome students – no, they didn’t take the pass.  I love that class.
  • The Survey students.  So unbelievable.  Even though it’s the survey.
  • My upper-level seminar: students are writing on 6 of the 7 books I’ve assigned.  Which is astonishing to me, especially since only 3 have a large critical conversation to support research papers by undergrads.  And the ideas?  So original and so interesting!  For serious!

Colleagues are terrible:

  • The battles in academia re so fierce because the stakes are so low.
  • I can’t even talk about it.  Just – NO!

The End of the Semester is the Worst:

  • Do I really need to explain this?
  • Apparently one does need to explain it to one’s boyfriend who isn’t an academic, but for serious?  It’s just terrible.  TERRIBLE.

The short version is this: I love my students, the colleague situation is not cool, and the end of the semester is hardcore terrible.  Expect to see me around these parts in a few weeks, when all this is over.

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I hate the metaphor of “spreading one’s seed” as an academic.  I think it’s gross, not only because of the whole “seed” business but also because it makes it seem like one’s students accomplishments are one’s own, and really, they aren’t.  But when my students and former students accomplish amazing things, I also feel unbelievably happy and proud to have taught them – not because I think that I am in any way “responsible” for their accomplishments or that I deserve credit, but rather because I feel so grateful that I attract the sort of students who go on to do awesome things. (In case you were wondering, from what I’ve seen, not all professors get to experience that particular joy.)

So what are my awesome students (former and current) up to?

Today:

  • Tattooed Student just got admitted to a very competitive MA program with full funding.
  • Rocking Student (who I actually saw at The Breeders show!) just got a promotion at work (she’s working in a staff position at a university).
  • BES got a named award that came with travel money for a paper that she presented at a conference in her dissertation field, plus she won an essay award from an allied organization of the MLA.
  • Law Student #1 is finishing up law school, got married, and was accepted for publication in Law Review in his second year and I believe is doing Law Review in his third year.
  • Law Student #2 is actually a current student, who was painfully shy when I first taught him a year and a half ago and has now come into his own and has been accepted with full funding to law school for next year.
  • CC Transfer has been accepted into a great MA program in Chicago to study poetry.
  • Hippie-ish Student from a while back went to that same MA program in Chicago, and is now getting his PhD at State Flagship.
  • Michael Fitzsimmons (do you get this reference?) is studying abroad in Barcelona with lots of scholarships to support him….
  • Mr. Frankenstein, who was accepted to and did his time in Teach for America in inner-city Midwestern City, is now, after teaching middle school for three years, working in that city’s education office, doing awesome shit.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting some people!  Again, their accomplishments are not my accomplishments.  But I do feel such gratitude that I know them and that I had any small part in getting them where they wanted to go!  And I feel such gratitude that I am a teacher who has the privilege to teach students with such wide-ranging abilities and ambitions.  And I feel such gratitude that I am a teacher who has students who want to keep in touch with her and tell her about their accomplishments!  I am a lucky, lucky professor.  And my students and former students are ridiculously cool.

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Dr. Virago has a great post up about feeling that she’s in a “mid-career rut,” and so much of what she writes about is so important, I think, and I think it’s important for those of us who’ve leaped over that hurdle that is “earning tenure” to keep writing about our experiences because, as Virago notes, most of us have another 30 or so years in this gig after we do that.  “Mid-Career” – as I wrote in a post about teaching – is a really freaking long time for most of us, so there are going to be various iterations of what that looks like at different points in that LONG trajectory.

But before I get to some specific points that I want to engage with in Virago’s post, I want to begin with the metaphor of the “rut.”  When we say we are “in a rut,” we are using a transportation metaphor.  It’s all about furrows that develop along a track or road, and at a certain point, those furrows get deep enough that one can’t turn off the track or road.  Things get a little boring, a little rote.  And they also can feel a little bumpy, and you don’t have the luxury of dodging the bumps.  I think it’s no mistake that those of us who’ve been on a “track” for years – the tenure-track, the Ph.D. track, the “accelerated track” in elementary and high school – might find that ruts have developed over the course of that time.  But whereas being “on track” is a good thing – on track to finishing the dissertation, on track to getting a job, on track to earning tenure, on track for promotion – being “in a rut” is a bad thing.

Why?  I mean, I’m really asking that.  Because it seems to me that ruts aren’t necessarily more limiting than tracks.  It’s just that we see being on track as being focused and motivated and making progress, whereas we see being in a rut as being stuck.  Except, actually, both tracks and ruts can be limiting.  Being on track means that you can’t make a random left turn without jumping the tracks.  And both tracks and ruts can be productive, too.  Being in a rut means that you don’t have to plow through obstacles in order to get where you’re going; you can use the rut to guide you and to let you move ahead without having to focus all of your energy on where you’re going.  But the negative connotation of being “in a rut” makes us feel slow or stopped or not engaged, whereas the positive connotation of being “on track” makes us feel like we’re getting somewhere, even though we are no more “free” on a track than we are in a rut.

In some ways, part of what I’ve struggled with over the past two years is learning how to use some ruts I’m in to my advantage, as opposed to resisting them.  And I’ve also been doing a little back-and-forth – reversing and going forward, reversing and going forward, with slight adjustments to the steering wheel, much like when you’re stuck in a snow mound and trying to get yourself out of the ruts in the snow that the wheels have made to get back on the road.  I’m not saying that I’ve done everything “right” or that I’m totally out of the rut that I’ve perceived myself to be in for a bit of time…. but I am feeling a lot more satisfied right now than I have felt probably, well, ever.

So, the first thing that I want to respond to from Virago’s post is this:

So there’s a way in which I’m active in the area that got me the job, got me tenure, and so forth. But I haven’t really produced anything new in it in some time, and I’m frustrated by that. I have something in progress (an article), but I keep dithering about whether to do the relatively fast and easier version of it and get it *out* there in one of the subfield journals, or keep working on the more theoretically ambitious version of it, which involves me learning (or continuing to learn) all sorts of new stuff and would be sexier for the broader medieval and medieval-renaissance journals. The learning part is attractive, but it’s also slow. And I have been sitting on this thing for a long time now because it keeps getting shunted aside.

First of all, let me just note that Virago has accomplished so much since tenure that she isn’t giving herself enough credit for and that probably is propelling her forward in ways that she doesn’t realize yet.  But I also recognize that feeling that I’ve said what I had to say about my last topic, and I have a new idea, but it just seems too gigantic and complicated to pursue it as it should be pursued, properly, and so then other stuff gets in the way of it.

What I’m about to say here is not some edict of How Things Must Be Done, but I’ve come to a perspective in the past couple of years that if I’m going to try to do new stuff, think new thoughts, post-book and post-tenure, then I have to do two things: 1) I have to make those new things my first priority, no matter how painful that is, and 2) I have to give myself permission not to worry about the final product fitting the “ideal” version in my head.

Of course, those two things are also the things that one needs to do in order to finish a dissertation.  At least for me, though, I had to relearn those lessons post-tenure, because the stakes for my “reputation” (ha! such that it is) feel higher.  “I’m supposed to know how to do this now!  I can’t embarrass myself! What if all of the stuff I accomplished pre-tenure was just residual effects of my dissertation work, and thus really about my adviser and committee, and what if I really, in spite of those accomplishments, am still a fraud?”  That’s often been my inner voice post-tenure.  And I’ve had to learn to turn off that fucked up inner voice, because, as I tell my students, new ideas and new projects are supposed to make us uncomfortable!  It’s such an easy thing to say to students!  Why is it so hard to remember that for ourselves?  But, for me, it has been hard to remember.

Virago then goes on to talk about two (I think) related issues in her current “rut” – first, that she feels like her field has “passed her by” in certain ways, so ideas she has had aren’t “current” or “interesting” given where the field is now, and second, that while she started on what was to be her Next Book during her 2010-2011 sabbatical, she still doesn’t see the whole project in her head, and she feels like she’s having to learn a whole new body of knowledge, which is slow work, in the interstices of regular professional commitments, like teaching.

If I can talk about the difference between my work in graduate school, which led to my first book, and the work that I’m doing now, I would say that I’ve been forced to learn that I need to be much more efficient – that I can’t expect that I’m going to be able to focus exclusively on the New Idea until it is fully formed, but rather that I need to produce as much as I can when I can and then later hope it will all fit together, and so far that’s working-ish – and also that I need to be much more opportunistic – in the sense that I need to pursue every idea and every opportunity (research-wise) without worrying about whether it’s hip or new or awesome or whatever.  I teach a 4/4 load and I’ve done some major heavy-lifting with service.  The fact of the matter is, I don’t have the luxury to pick and choose between my ideas, nor do I have the luxury of uninterrupted time.  (Though I’m going to say something very different in a bit about taking “every opportunity” – I’m only talking about research here.)  I suppose my point here is, I have taken a sort of relaxed approach to my research in some ways: I figure that if I produce (and produce and produce), I’ll figure out what is “new” or what is “appropriately framed” whether through readers’ reports or editorial feedback or whatever.  I no longer have the luxury of trying to consult with my crystal ball, not while working a full-time job as a tenured professor.  In some ways, frankly, that is liberating.

Then Virago writes:

Half the time I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it, I’d rather be teaching. Maybe I should move to a 4/4 load and give up research.” Except that wouldn’t make me happy, either. In fact, part of the problem is that I’m isolated in my work and don’t have the stimulation of other people in my field or advanced students working on dissertations to teach me new things and keep me current. Giving up on research entirely would exacerbate that feeling and make my rut deeper (even if I keep reinventing my courses, which I always do). And it wouldn’t be good for the students, because one of things that keeps my teaching from being in a rut is bringing in new ideas from my research and others’ (that often includes new-to-me primary texts — there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t know and research of various kinds introduces me to it).

As I noted, I teach a 4/4. And I do research.  So.  But so how do I do that?  Yes, I do it from updating my courses, and yes, I do it through my own independent research.  But, in part, I keep up with the research in my field through the work that my undergrads (and my rare MA students) do.  I assign annotated bibliographies in every course I teach now.  And I make guidelines that require students to include at least a certain number of sources that were published within the past three years.  Those annotated bibliographies have been my savior, frankly, because I don’t have the time to just read journals in my field for enrichment.  I also design presentation assignments and book review assignments and literature review assignments for my students that contribute immeasurably to me keeping up with what’s going on in my field.  (And, frankly, even more generally in my teaching field, because with four courses, 2 of which are typically general education, not all of those students are focused on what I’m writing about right now, but they sure are engaged with my teaching areas.)  Teaching and research, I believe, must be reciprocal.  That means that not only does my independent research inform my teaching, but also that my teaching must inform my research.

I know that isn’t possible in all fields, but I think it’s often possible to find a way to make that happen in some fashion if one is creative about what that means.  (Note: I have colleagues who design assignments that are a lot more “creative” and “fun” than what my students do, but I’ll also say that mine are no less student-centered, in that my assignments tend to be the ones that teach my students those valuable skills that get them into graduate and professional school and into full-time jobs upon graduation.  Do I wish my students found my assignments more “fun?”  Sometimes.  But most of the time I’m happy that they are well integrated into my own intellectual projects and that they teach them skills they need to embark on serious intellectual projects of their own.)

And then Virago talks about isolation.  She writes:

Remember when we used to think romantically how digital communications would solve the problem of the isolation of the single scholar who’s the only one in her field at her institution?  Yeah. Right. Frankly, social media and other digital outlets just make me feel *more* isolated. All I see are the cool collaborations and energetic conversations of colleagues who get to talk face-to-face as well as online, and I feel shut out.

What I say here is going to sound strange, maybe, but this is why I totally don’t do social media in my field or blogs in my field.  And I’ve never even toyed with the idea.  I am Fb friends with some people in my field, which is grand, but that’s because they are my friends.  Just like it’s not good to watch the news 24/7, it’s not good to be tapped into all of the conversations in one’s field 24/7.

What I’ve done instead is to cultivate relationships within my department with people outside of my field about research and writing.  No, they don’t know “all the things” in my field, and I don’t know those things in theirs, but they are my… intellectual reservoir… if that makes sense.  Now, it’s worth noting that I was the only person in my (tiny) grad program working in my area while I was in residence, so I’m used to doing this.  And it would be a hell of a lot harder if all my grad school friends who were local had been in my field: I would have felt a much greater sense of loss upon arriving in my current locale, I know.

I guess what I think, about the whole “I don’t have local people who do what I do!” thing, is that this is ok for me.  But it’s only ok because I have lovely friends elsewhere who talk about stuff in my field with me, and I have lovely friends here who might not be in my field but whom are my intellectual soul-mates: we can talk about theory and the discipline and teaching and service – no, they can’t talk about my specific authors with me in more than a cursory way, but all those other things are so important to me, too!  And also: I am (and always have been) weirdly isolationist in my ideas about scholarship.  I like the idea that I might come up with an idea that isn’t informed by (or indebted to) the current conversation.  Sure, I’ll need to inform myself about that before writing up my wacko idea, and I’ll be excited to do that, but if I waited for being regularly involved in the “current field-specific conversation” to have an idea, well, I’d never have one.

Finally, Virago asks:

What say you, oh wise people of the internet? How do I shake off the doldrums? Do you ever feel like this? What do you do to shake off the Blahs and get out of the rut?

I’ve already responded in some ways to these questions.  But here’s where I turn to the metaphorical rut/track stuff at the beginning of the post.  In some ways, I’ve embraced my rut.  It’s great that people know who I am, how I think, and what I have done, and that I get opportunities because of that.  Am I sometimes bored by being the go-to person about x way of approaching y author?  Sure.  But it doesn’t mean that this approach is boring, and, frankly, isn’t that why we all write a first book?  So those things will fall into our laps?  And it’s nice, sometimes, to write an invited article that is right in one’s wheelhouse and that doesn’t push us into new territory – and doing so can even help to generate a new idea in spite of the fact that it’s just going along inside the rut.

But the way that I’ve approached getting out of the rut has been through pursuing things like grants and workshop opportunities outside of my university.  It has been through being much more selective about service – basically after having been a slave to it for four years, I’ve now realized that it’s not my turn anymore, and I have more important things to do with my energy.  It has been through developing new courses (as much work as that is) as opposed to just redesigning ones in my wheelhouse.

But really, emotionally?  It has been through realizing that tenure means never having to say you’re sorry.  I’m no longer on a track, and that is liberating.  I can pursue an idea that turns out to be nothing, and that is totally ok.  I can try something out and have it fail disastrously, and not only won’t I lose my job for that, but also it might lead me to the next amazing thing that I will do.  I no longer have to be “on track.”  I have earned the right to go off the track.  And sometimes that will land you in a rut, but sometimes it will land you on the open road.

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I posted a brief thing about this on my Fb page today, but I want to talk about it more fully, and y’all are due for a “real” post from me, so here we go.

I am teaching “honors” comp for the second time this semester, and so I’m starting to be able to trace some trends about the “issues” that come up that are different from the “issues” of “regular” comp students.  And what follows is one of them.

In order to get into “honors” comp, students have to attain a minimum ACT score, so this means that they come in as generally proficient writers.  I don’t typically have to work with them on massive problems with grammar and punctuation, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time on defining “the paragraph” or things like that.  This is exciting: it means that I actually get to teach about style and the benefits of revision when it comes to “polishing” as opposed to “fixing.”  In that regard, teaching my little freshmen to write is actually more of a treat than teaching some of my English majors to write: these students come in with a “toolbox” that is already pretty much full, so it’s not about giving them the tools so much as it is about showing them how to use tools that they already have.

That said, this doesn’t mean that they have nothing to learn about writing, or nothing to learn about the writing process.  So a certain frustrating problem has come up with some frequency for me, and I think it might just be the nature of teaching students who have always done pretty well with writing: they feel like they are getting something “wrong” if they need to revise, and they tend (to some extent) to blame me for them getting it “wrong” – they think that I have some secret agenda that I’m not communicating to them if they need to invest themselves in their papers.

(I don’t have some secret agenda: it’s all right there in the assignments that I give them and in the instruction that I give them in class.  All peer review and my draft comments do is break down what is all already written in the assignment sheet into its component parts.  My assignment sheets are comprehensive, and they have bullet points, y’all.  There is no mystery.  And part of what I’m teaching them is how to read a freaking assignment sheet and to interpret it in order to respond to it with good results.)

Let me be clear: my frustration isn’t with this subset of students – and it is by no means all of them, though it is a fair percentage – has nothing to do with them being “lazy.”  They are not “lazy.”  They just interpret having to invest time and energy in their work as a personal failure.  Even if that investment ultimately pays off in a “good” grade.  (And by “good” I mean a grade in the A-range.)

So, for example, in a conference with a student today, zie expressed frustration because zie had worked for “two hours” on hir draft for peer review, and after going through the peer review process, getting feedback both from hir peers and from me, the student had to “spend another four hours” working on the essay (a 4-6 page rhetorical analysis), a process that zie described as “scrapping the whole thing and starting over.”

Now, here’s the thing: the student didn’t scrap the whole thing and start over.  Zie took that first draft, reorganized the ideas that zie had already included, cut out some sentences that didn’t advance the argument and expanded on some points that zie hadn’t fully developed originally.  Now, to me, that sounds like a textbook definition of what revision should include, and it sounds like a success story.  But the student perceived it as “getting it wrong” on the draft, and as needing to respond to (my) arbitrary demands for the final version.  So it’s not that the student didn’t work hard (zie did) nor that the student didn’t produce a very useful “shitty first draft” (zie did – and really, I wouldn’t even call it “shitty”).  But the student’s expectations for what “success” is (I will write a draft in two hours and it will be perfect with only minor adjustments to make – a comma here, a fixed typo there) don’t align with the expectations for a final draft of a sophisticated, fully developed essay for college (you need to invest a bunch of time after your initial version to really present your ideas in the most effective way possible).

Now, some observations:

  • 6 hours total spent on a 4-6 page paper that ultimately receives a grade in the A-range seems like not very much time to spend, particularly when the students didn’t have any additional outside-of-class reading or writing assignments for the week before the final version was due – and they even had some in-class time to work together in groups on ideas and approaches, guided by a worksheet.  In other words: the student, who is taking a course worth three credit hours spent two hours for every hour spent in the classroom.  This perfectly aligns with what we tell students they should expect in college (and is actually far below what we often expect of them as they move into upper-level courses, in which they usually have reading in addition to a paper assignment in a given week).
  • Some of the problem is the messages that the student received from hir high school AP English teacher about how to write to do well on the AP test.  Good advice, it turns out, for doing well on that test.  So I spent some time today talking to this student about how test rubrics look for certain things, and so the high school teacher wasn’t “wrong” – in fact, I advise students in similar ways who are preparing for the writing section of the GRE who want to go to graduate school.  But just because you are doing good “writing for the test” writing doesn’t mean that you are doing good writing.  It means that you are adequately meeting the needs of a particular rubric (one reason why I hate rubrics, as a teacher of writing, actually: sophisticated transitions and complex sentence structures and original and engaging style don’t often neatly correspond to rubrics that are applied universally) which will give you a particular result.  Should you be able to adjust your writing to a particular rubric (or audience) for particular reasons?  Sure.  But that doesn’t mean that you are writing “perfectly” when you do.  So part of this is an audience issue.
  • This student clearly cares about doing well, and this student clearly wants to do college “right.”  That’s awesome.  But doing it “right” and doing it “exceptionally well” are not the same thing.  “Exceptionally well” takes more than two hours.  Also: doing it “exceptionally well” means more than just generally responding to an assignment in a less than original way.
  • I myself was this sort of a student at certain times in my academic career, so I totally identify with feeling pissed off that “all my work” wasn’t enough.  I get it, really and truly.

But so at any rate, this post isn’t so much a complaint as a question: do you all face similar issues with otherwise “strong” students?  How do you communicate to them that having to work and doing the work is a success and not a failure?  In other words, is there something that I’m missing here (part of me really thinks this is just a phase and that by the end of the course the student will “get it”) about how to address this frustration (students’ frustration as well as my own?)?

But let me conclude:

I have a student – a STEM major no less! – who is rocking every assignment.  Like, perfect responses.  This student takes every paper to the writing center, in addition to doing the peer review in class, and in addition to coming to check in with me about questions zie has after all of that during my office hours.  And the student’s drafts are pretty much A-range work before all of that.  I am a notoriously tough grader: I have given this student A+ grades on the first two assignments.  This. Has. Never. Happened. In. The. History. Of. My. Career.  Zie is a first-year student.  I would read an essay by this student every day for the rest of my life if I could do so.  I mean really: zie is a delight – like a special present for me as a teacher.  I want to make zie an English major just because I feel like zie would think about all things awesomely and write about them all awesomely.  On the other hand, I don’t want zie to be an English major because I want zie to follow hir own path.  I am trying very hard not to push zie in a direction that is not hir own.

I also have another student – a [insert specialization here] management major – who is vaguely earnest and inappropriate, but very creative! – who isn’t a super A++ but who is working super hard and who clearly is very creative and excited about hir writing.  Zie spends hours and hours on hir papers, and wants to spend even more!

In other words, not all students think that the more work they put in the suckier they are.  Some of them like that they are being challenged and pushed and they don’t view being asked to do more work as a negative review.

I give these last examples to be clear: this is NOT a “students suck” post.  This is a genuine question: how do I get them to see that when I ask them to revise, when I ask them to do more, it’s because I believe in them?  Is that an attainable goal to have for all of my students?  Or do some just need time to realize that this is true?

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I know, I know.  I said you could expect a real post last week, but then Life Got in the Way.

 

First, The Dude and I had to have our first actual both-of-us-were-totally-pissed-off-at-each-other fight on Valentine’s eve, which also happened to be like two days before the three month mark of us being together.  Those two things combined might send any pair into a tailspin, I’d say.  Very high pressure.  The specifics aren’t really important – other than that the conflict did reveal some important things (about him to me: when in doubt, The Dude will try to minimize something that he knows is going to upset me, and his first impulse is to “keep me happy” as opposed to dealing with an issue head on, which I suppose some people might enjoy, but I find it very hard to take; about me to him: if you try to minimize something that is going to upset me, and, indeed, if you reveal that you’re just trying to “keep me happy” like I need to be placated and “handled,” I turn into a fucking lunatic) and it all resulted in a very positive conversation about How We Deal with Things Individually and How That Will Work for Us Together, Feelings, and Things Going Forward, and ultimately we had a lovely Valentine’s date (on Friday, as planned) and it was fun and cool and we saw each other Sunday, too, which was also delightful.  Long story short: all’s well that ends well, and probably we were due for a fight, and this wasn’t so bad, as such things go.  Indeed, I think it’s a good sign that we didn’t break up!  (We both totally thought about it, which is oddly comforting, that we both thought about it but we both didn’t pull the trigger, which might not seem comforting to many of you out there, but he and I both have histories of cutting our losses quickly if things seem to be going south, so the fact that we didn’t in this instance is a Good Thing.)

Second, last week I got a test in one class and papers in three others, plus I’m dying under my reading load this semester, and then between meetings and students (I had 14 individual conferences with students on Thursday alone) and things related to a search in the department and curriculum proposals (for it turns out that now that I’m not responsible for serving on any curriculum committees I have time to initiate changes, since nobody else seems to have the will to do such things) and all other manner of mid-semester business, I barely have a minute to breathe.  To give you a sense of how things are, I woke up this morning with a terrible headache, called in sick, took medicine to make the headache go away, and once it did, I proceeded to use the day to grade, to read (all major reading done for the next two and a half weeks!), and to write assignments, as well as to think about some abstracts I need to write and submit.  Yes, I took a sick day less because I was sick than because I really needed to catch up on work. I don’t think I’ve had to do that since maybe my second or third year on the tenure track.  Would I have done that if I didn’t wake up with the headache?  No.  But today was a day I could afford to miss (none of my classes will be behind because of it), and so I took my chance.  And I’m actually feeling a lot better about everything (and my headache is gone!) for having done so. *
So that’s all the news on this end.  I know, boring.  And I know that this doesn’t actually count as a “real” post, in the sense of writing a post with a “topic” that has like a “thesis statement” and actually addresses some “issue,” but I promise that one of those will come along sometime soon.  It’s just hard to manage posts like that when I’m so overwhelmed with various discrete tasks on my to do list plus the whole trying to have a life thing (not just The Dude – trying to keep up with friends and stuff as well).  Don’t even ask me how actual writing is going.  (It isn’t.)
*I should probably admit that my craziness with work might have contributed to my lunacy last week with The Dude.  But that does not mean that I wasn’t actually pissed off at him for very real things: just that I might have gone a little more crazy than I would have done if I didn’t feel like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders work-wise.  We did talk about that as well, and about what he can do to make such freak-outs in his direction when I’m under a lot of pressure at work less likely in the future.  It’s worth noting that when I told my mom about the argument this weekend, and when I explained what’s going on with me at work, she laughed and expressed how happy she was that he bore the brunt of my stress-induced craziness, since usually she’s the one who sets me off.  She also seems to think that he’s pretty great if he’s able to withstand stressed-out me.

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It occurs to me that when I planned my courses for this semester I wasn’t entirely in my right mind.  I would like to blame The Dude for this, but, really, it’s not (entirely) his fault.  If anything, part of my problems right now are that I had decided that I was going to check out of the dating scene until summer, and that was when I decided what books I would make my students buy for the four separate preps that I teach.  Frankly, if I were not dating, I would have a lot more time for reading.  As it is, I am under a lot of Reading Pressure.  Like, imagine reading for comps while also doing all the duties of a tenured professor.  This is my situation.  I do at least partially blame that Phil Collins guy I went out with before I went out with The Dude, because if that date weren’t so horrible, I might not have made these silly choices.  But who am I kidding?  The Blame rests with Me.  Sigh.

That said, part of how I designed my courses does have to do with the fact that I constructed them during the initial Lovesick Phase with The Dude, where I felt like Anything Was Possible.  Now that we have settled into this Thing of ours, it occurs to me that Anything is not, in fact, possible, and reading takes a fuck of a lot of time and energy.  Ah well.  I shall soldier on.  Only 10 more weeks of the regular semester to go.

But this week is especially rough.  I gave a test today (although, huzzah, those tests are already graded because of the stroke of genius I had (in spite of my Lovesickness) that I should design a 1-hour test and screen a movie afterwards), three batches of papers to arrive tomorrow.  One of those batches of papers I need to do some assessment-related stuff with, too, which reminds me that I need to design a release-form for students before I collect them (the next time I teach the course there will be IRB approval, but for now, I just need to make sure they are ok with me collecting the assignments with names taken off for a thing related to a grant; also, I need to design an assessment rubric for how some other non-important assignments relate to this assignment; active learning turns out to be a pain in my ass, at least for the purposes of fulfilling the terms of the grant). Plus we’ve got a not-pre-scheduled department meeting tomorrow (related to a Very Important Topic, so I’m not comfortable missing it, even though I don’t plan on saying a word), plus I’m giving a talk tomorrow evening.  Plus I’ve got 14 individual student conferences scheduled for Thursday (though to be fair, they are only 10 minutes a piece), plus I’m finishing up a novel in one class and starting a new novel in another.  And I’ve got two other appointments scheduled for Thursday, too, plus I’ve got an MA thesis to read and respond to.  Plus it’s motherfucking Valentine’s Day this week (though, thank goodness, The Dude was totally amenable to making Valentine’s Day for us happen on Friday, though it’s also the case that I’m cooking, which means the need to go grocery shopping and to chef up a delicious meal (though, to be fair, the level of difficulty of that meal is totally my decision, for he would be happy with something much easier than what I have planned). That said, though, by the time that Friday arrives, I might be a zombie.

I don’t know why I do this to myself.  There is no reason why I should think that I can do All The Things at the same time, or that I should do All The Things at the same time.  But I think that maybe this is just who I am.  S0.

Ok, enough complaining and whining, though.

You know what’s great about The Dude?

  1. He has been totally cool about the fact that I’m busy and overwhelmed and, following that, blowing him off a little (although, of course, that initially made me freak out on him, though it turns out that his coolness does not mean that he’s a jerk but rather that he is supportive and I am ungenerously suspicious).
  2. He is not a guy who thinks flowers are an appropriate present for a holiday (for, as he and I both agree, they DIE, but I also don’t love flowers because of a whole sordid story from my parents’ divorce in which my mother, after she’d kicked my dad out, received the bill for the flowers that my father purchased for her, AS WELL AS THE ONES THAT HE PURCHASED FOR THE HOME-WRECKER WHO WOULD BECOME MY STEPMOTHER, for their closely spaced birthdays, so I tend to see flowers as insincere and fucked up, as such things go, though I didn’t get into all of that with The Dude when he announced I would be getting two fun presents, as opposed to flowers, but rather I just enthusiastically agreed that he was entirely right in his antipathy to flowers as anything but a spontaneous occasional offering for a non-gift-giving time).
  3. EVEN The Man-Kitty has accepted him.  For true.  It all started when The Dude somehow convinced The Man-Kitty to PLAY like 3 weeks ago (which The Man-Kitty does with no one, not even with me most of the time), and this weekend The Man-Kitty ran up to him for petting when he arrived PLUS when we were hanging out The Man-Kitty totally rolled onto his back, baring his furry, furry belly,  in a snoring sleep In The Same Room with The Dude.  This is UNPRECEDENTED.  The Man-Kitty does not make himself vulnerable in this way when Visitors are in the vicinity.  EVER.  (The Man-Kitty’s usual M.O. is to entice people with his fluffy self, while glaring at them and planning their deaths, and then when they try to pet him, he bops them on the hand, which, let’s note, he did with The Dude for a good couple of months.  But now, apparently, he has decided that The Dude is One of His People.  Also, let’s note that he only has three people: me, G. my stepdad, and FL.  And there’s no rhyme or reason to his appreciation of G and FL, given the fact that he only sees them on random visits and he apparently took to them on sight.)

So, sure, there is still the Problem of The Dude’s Old Dog, Little Mama (I love her, and she loves me, but he is entirely unreasonable about her, I think even more so now that it is clear that she loves me), and sure, there is still the Problem of My Relationship-Phobia, but all is well with The Dude, in spite of the fact that it is really interfering with the many hours that I appear to need this semester for reading.

On that note, I need to sleep, because dude, I’ve got a motherfucker of a week ahead of me.  (And let’s not even talk about the writing I should be doing but have no time or energy to do, because if we talk about that, I might cry.)

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I’m sure you’ve all heard about the latest salvo in the war against the liberal arts.  You know, I used to get exceptionally exercised about reports like this.  I used to worry that it would mean the end of the world as I know it, the end of the world as I want it to be, etc.

And now I’m tired.  Because you know what?  As soon as some person makes this sort of a claim, there is a huge shitstorm, and then, guess what, it turns out that nothing much changes.

I know, I’m that person who didn’t stand up when the Nazis came for my neighbor next door, and then my next neighbor and my next neighbor and then there was nobody to fight for me when they come for me.  I get it, I do.  I’m supposed to be filled with righteous indignation and rage and all that.

Just like I’m supposed to be all angry because there isn’t a humanities person on the main committee for my university’s strategic plan (though, as far as I can tell, very few – almost no – humanities folks put their names forward, and those who did got put on “working groups” that report to the main committee, which is mainly a clearing-house committee that has to deal with all the things but isn’t actually all that involved in the vision for the plan).

I can’t do it anymore.  The energy that it takes for me to be pissed off about these things actually takes me away from making the liberal arts – specifically the humanities, specifically literature – exciting and interesting for my students.  And nothing much I’ve done to fight the good fight has made much difference in policy decisions, looking back.  Also: my colleagues in Business and Health Professions and all those sexy employable majors really think that their students need to take my courses.  And they are even cool with the small percentage of students that major in English majoring in English.  And my students are alright, because, guess what?  My students, by and large, go on to get jobs.  They teach, they work in offices, they go to graduate school, they start businesses.  No, they don’t have a job that directly links to the English major, most of them.  So it’s not like how if you major in “information technology” you then become an IT guy.  But that doesn’t mean that they are unemployed or that they are a drain on the economy.

Look, I’ve got a cousin who majored in accounting.  She graduated from college this spring, and she was unemployed and just hanging out for four months.  And now she’s working in a job that has nothing to do with her degree.  Yes, that’s a sample size of one.  But my point is this: how is this a “more valuable” major than one in the liberal arts?  That’s right: it isn’t.  A particular major doesn’t guarantee any single student a particular life path or a particular career path.  And you know what?  Since that’s the case, it’s probably a good idea to major in something that is more than a job training program, because it will be easier to adapt if you do.  But the liberal arts, the humanities, or even something as specific as English probably aren’t for everyone, or even for most students.  That is just fine.  It doesn’t, however, mean that those disciplines are without value for those students who gravitate for them.

Here’s a funny thing about the way that I see the work that I do.  I don’t actually strive to replicate myself, and I don’t actually prefer to teach majors.  English majors can be real pains in the ass.  You know what I really strive to do as a professor?  I really strive to teach students that literature and writing and reading are things that have the potential to enrich their lives, no matter what “job” they end up working at.  Because you know what I care about?  I care about educating them, regardless of the major that they declare.  Fancy that.

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Like Riding a Bike

I’m teaching the Survey of Blank Literature in my General Area for the first time in 4 years.  I didn’t intentionally let it fall out of my rotation of courses that I teach for that long, but the time off was good.  That said, with most of my classes, that much time off inspires me to do crazy shit like totally revamp the course, teaching all new texts, or doing all different assignments, or some combination of the two.

But the beauty of the survey is that it pretty much has to cover certain shit, both in terms of what they read and the assignments that evaluate what they are learning.  I mean, I’ve updated the course, and I’ve found a way to get to the 21st century, which I’ve never done before, but still: the prep for the most part is done, and all I need to do is briefly review materials that I already know really well and I’m good to go.  Yes, there is rereading, but that is actually sort of like putting on a comfortable sweatshirt I’ve owned since college.

Revamping one’s courses is a Good Thing, for sure, and I never want to become the professor up front who is reading off of yellow lecture notes from 20 years ago.  But you know, there is something about the Tried and True that is totally excellent.  Indeed, once you learn how to ride a bike, you don’t forget how to ride one, or at least that’s what I hear, not having ridden a bike since I was a teenager (and, I should probably note, I was shitty at riding a bike even when I did it with some regularity, always running into parked cars or hitting a bump and flying over the handlebars and stuff, so maybe this isn’t the best metaphor for what I’m talking about here).

My other classes are awesome, too, and I love them, and I love the work that I’m doing.  But every other class I’m teaching this semester is requiring a great deal of work, work that I’ve made for myself.  Sure, I think the work that I’m doing is important and necessary, but it ain’t easy teaching so much new stuff, and as the semester continues my reading and planning is only going to increase, again, because of decisions that I’ve made.  Which, in theory, are good decisions, but in practice are a bit of a pain in the ass.

Only 12 more weeks to go!

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Two Weeks In

In all but one of my classes, the semester is well underway.  (The one class meets Monday nights, so I’ve only seen them once, so who the hell knows about them.)  And while it’s still early days, I’m pretty stoked.  Why? Well, here is the semester so far.

  • I’m co-supervising a grad student’s capstone project (It’s a portfolio deal where the student revises two major projects to publishable quality) and while she still has a long way to go, there are really interesting ideas there, and I actually believe she can write something of publishable quality with mentoring.  Which, you know, is the point of the whole exercise.
  • In each of my three courses that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, all of the students are energetic and enthusiastic and they talk.  This is such a change from my classes last semester!  I have been blessed by whatever god is in charge of talkative students!  And, it seems, they are doing the reading!  Even in the gen ed lit class in which I’m assigning a lot of reading, and difficult reading at that!  Huzzah!
  • I think that part of the difference with the talking is, in fact, the population of students.  However.  I also think part of the difference is in the way that I’m handling discussion and the way that I’m handling connecting the dots between what I’m asking them to do and what I expect them to learn.  Which is great to see that working so quickly.
  • I think I might be a better teacher in the Spring than in the Fall.  Which sucks to realize, but I think it’s true.  When I think about my “great semesters” throughout history, I only have one “great semester” that happened in the fall.  That’s in 9 years.  I think part of this has to do with the weird rhythm of Fall Semester, and with the days getting shorter and the weather getting crappier, but I think part of it is that the break between Spring and Fall is long enough that I forget the lessons that I learned about what works and what doesn’t.  I make corrections between Fall and Spring.  And then I have a good Spring and I am less thoughtful about the Fall.  And I make the same stupid mistakes I thought I’d corrected in the Spring in the following Fall.  I’m wondering if knowing this is half the battle – that maybe I can break the stupid cycle of learning the same things over and over again now that I see that this is happening?  Hmm.  I also wonder why it took me 9 years in this job to realize this, but I’m choosing to focus on the positive.
  • In terms of the courses themselves that I’m teaching, I am so flipping excited about what I’m actually teaching!!!!  I love the books!  I love the assignments!  I love love love what I’ve put together for my students!  Now, it is true that I’ve assigned a lot of shit to myself this semester.  I’m teaching many “new” texts. (I put that in quotes because I’ve read all but one thing I’m teaching, but some of what I’m teaching I haven’t read for years, and some of the things I’ve only read once.  So I’m going to have a lot of reading, particularly once we hit about week 7.  In other words, what’s exciting now might become a Really Bad Idea as time marches on.  I’m hoping, though, that my enthusiasm for what I’m doing is going to make the work seem like it’s not work.
  • In one of my classes, I’ve totally got a student who is rocking a handlebar mustache.  While that might seem superficial, it makes me smile, and that is a nice energy boost at the end of the day, to have something that has nothing to do with teaching or anything that makes me smile.  It doesn’t hurt that he has good things to contribute to the class, but also: Handlebar Mustache. Unironically, if not unselfconsciously.  It’s such a nice change from the typical facial hair of today’s male English major, which tends to be the scruffy homeless dude scraggly beard.  (Note: that beard makes it so that a) I am constantly mistaking one dude in the major for another and b) whenever I’m out in the world, I’m convinced I see former students of mine from afar, and then it turns out to be a total stranger up close.)
  • Remember that student from my course last semester who was a first semester freshman who was so freaking enthusiastic and intense and awesome with the ideas but who gave me pause because he needed to catch up to himself in terms of technique and methodology and all that jazz?  Well, the good news is that he is not taking a course with me this semester.  The better news is that he’s taking a class with CF, so she will reinforce some of what I introduced to him last semester, as well as introducing him to new and more awesome things for majors, and also it’s the intro to the discipline course, so he’s going to learn a heck of a lot about English Studies and about the ways and means of things that he needs to know to succeed.  The totally freaking awesome news is that he wrote a paper over the break – you know, just for fun – using Nietzsche to talk about Kerouac, and he’s meeting with me to talk about it – among other things – on Tuesday, and he’s interested in working up a presentation for the student research thingie that happens every spring.  AND HE IS ONLY A FRESHMAN!!!!!  Yes, he’s intense, and yes, he has a lot to learn, but I am so excited that I get to mentor him!  And I’m so excited that he wants me to mentor him!  Huzzah!!!!!  If this continues, he’s going to need his own pseudonym, but I don’t want to jinx it by giving him one prematurely 🙂

Aside from the teaching, the semester is also underway in terms of service and research.  Well, in terms of thinking about research and in terms of service annoying the fuck out of me.  The good news is that after I presented some service stuff at this week’s department meeting, which got the usual bullshit responses in the meeting itself, a number of colleagues approached me later to say that they had my back (and people did also back me up in the meeting, but it still left me in a very bad mood after the meeting itself that people think I’m trying to do something nefarious when really I’m just trying to get shit done in spite of obstacles – also known as obstructionist assholes – and it’s frustrating that I know that what I want to happen will happen ultimately, so the whole fighting the obstructionists thing is just a waste of my time as opposed to engaging in meaningful debate).  The bad news is that I’ve just been thinking about research rather than writing.  I need to get on the research plan in the next week.  For serious.

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