Monday, September 01, 2014

(Unless it's Bozo's funeral)

Today I kicked off the comedy class with a one-question poll: "Would you ever wear a clown costume to a funeral?"

Although several students came up with very specific circumstances under which wearing a clown costume to a funeral would be appropriate (e.g., the funeral of a clown), the majority agreed that in most cases such attire would be disrespectful if not outright offensive.

But where is it written that Thou Shalt Not Wear a Clown Costume to a Funeral? How do we learn these things? How can we all be so certain that wearing a clown costume to a funeral is unacceptable without ever being specifically instructed?

Moreover, why do we sing the national anthem before football and baseball games but not before bowling, surfing, or poker tournaments? ("Because football and baseball express the national character but gambling doesn't," said one student, but how does that square with the number of people who gamble on sports?)

And why don't Catholic churches have to post big signs in the foyer saying "Please don't drink the holy water"? ("Because everyone knows"--but how do they know? And what if they don't?)

And why do we accept all these practices as "normal" without ever questioning them?

The topic of the day was the nature of rituals and their unspoken conventions. We are working our way through Matthew Bevis's excellent Comedy: A Very Short Introduction, in which he asserts that "comic riot is predicated on ritual." Comedy, he claims, provides a safe place to expose, illuminate, or critique the unspoken rules that guide human behavior.

Today we looked at those unspoken rules functioning in Eudora Welty's short story "Petrified Man," in which comedy provides a stage to playfully critique the gender conventions of the 1940s. A sideshow freak and a little boy bear the brunt of women's repressed anger, but the men get the last word. 

There were some puzzled expressions in my classroom today. Welty's story is peculiar and puzzling and not entirely funny, while watching intelligent people try to draw fine distinctions between football and poker was pretty amusing. I'm definitely going to enjoy this class. Whether we all learn a thing or two is another question entirely. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ode to the uncommon comma

There's no abasement
in quibbling over placement
of a comma,
even if yo' momma
(or Lynn Truss,
who must
be disgus-
ted with us)
taught you the rules.
You're not a fool
just because you want to color outside the lines
Intelligent people
can be deepl-
y divided
(in often one-sided
over punctuation.
So skip the drama
and place the comma
(on purpose, not by accident)
where it's meant
to be.
And if we
every once in a while,
we'll do it with style.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Feasting on color

This time of year it's exciting to consider all the colors in the garden: deep purple eggplants hiding behind gray-green leaves, mottled watermelons angled among vines, yellow sunflower blooms stretching into the sky. 

This year we planted rainbow Swiss chard, with bright red, yellow, and orange stalks teasing the eye like a candy-shop window display. And how can so many different colors coexist on the same tomato plant? They'll all turn red eventually and then I'll have to process them, but for now I'm happy to feast my eyes on their luscious colors. Mm-mm good!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First-day oddities

Some things just don't compute:
  • Of the 10 women in my 9:00 class, 7 have names beginning with C or K, including three Chelseas. What are the odds?
  • To help me get to know my new students, I ask them to respond to questions related to the course material when I call roll in the first week or two of class. Yesterday's questions were "Who's your favorite African-American author?" and "What's the funniest thing you read or saw over the summer?" The most common answer, provided by more than half of the students in each class, was "I don't know" or "I can't think of anything."
  • Who is teaching students that addressing a professor as "Miss [First Name]" is a great idea? I'd like to get hold of that person for a good talking-to. This is not kindergarten, and I am not Miss Beverly.
  • It's always interesting to give students a writing prompt on the first day of class and see how they interpret the word "essay." Of the alleged essays I received yesterday, only a handful have a thesis statement or extend beyond a single paragraph. The good news is that most of them include some really interesting ideas.
Looks like I've got my work cut out for me! Time to tackle Day Two: all freshpersons, all the time. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hup, two, three, four, bring your pencils in the door!

Fall classes start in an hour and I am ready! In fact I've been ready for a week but had to wait for students to actually arrive. I'm never very good at waiting, which is why I spent last week saying Yes to everyone who asked me to do anything, including spending four hours one rainy morning helping incoming freshpersons unload their baggage in front of their dorm. (And let me just say this: if it takes four vehicles to tote all your baggage, you packed too much.)

I didn't want to spend the weekend obsessing over my classes, so I drove north (without my laptop!) to get some grandchild therapy. At one point my adorable granddaughter sat in my lap pointing at a picture of Humpty Dumpty and saying "Hup-hup," and I wanted to give her an A+. She's doing her homework, practicing new skills, and coming back later to build on those skills--just what I like to see in my students.

We'll see how well my students do today. I make them all write on the first day of class and I expect to see something significantly more sophisticated than "Hup-hup." I'll take them where they are and hope to move them to the next level by the end of the semester, but to make that happen, we have to start work right now. 

Am I ready? You bet! But let's hope they are too.   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My new office!

Finally, photos of my new happy place!

The view from the doorway. The big window lets in plenty of light, and notice the utter absence of ugly green furniture.

Built-in bookshelves!

Storage closet and nook where I can hang regalia and jackets.

Plenty of room to tuck things away.

Feeling right at home here!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When abundance is a burden

My heart sings when I get home from campus and see a cooler full of ears of corn in the foyer, but then it sinks because I know the two of us can't eat 60 ears of corn before it goes bad and therefore someone is going to have to shuck and process all that corn for the freezer, and it looks like that someone is me.

This is the season of abundance. We took tomatoes to church and campus this week but today my kitchen counter is covered with more, and the fridge is full of broccoli, beans, radishes, peppers, squash, swiss chard, and I don't know what else. Downstairs bunches of basil hang from the ceiling to dry, and the potato bin is brimming with spuds.

I can't complain because I love to eat fresh veggies, but I do complain because I don't always love to process them. And now I'm busy with another kind of abundance on campus--meetings, paperwork, class preps, and then more meetings. I need to hire some part-time help to process the vegetables so I can focus on classes, or vice versa. 

Good thing I'm not in this alone. I came home full of energy yesterday and processed the corn, but tonight I'm dragging so my sweet hubby is taking care of the beans. First, though, it's time to dig into a little bit of heaven: the first cantaloup of the season. You won't hear any complaints about that kind of abundance!