Friday, October 13, 2017

From one frontier to another

On the same day that I flew home from Florida, I found that my home landline was once again out of service, so within a few hours I moved from lauding Frontier Airlines to complaining to Frontier Communications. But now the phone is working again after a mere three days of silence, which is much swifter service than we've received in the past. I find that mentioning my willingness to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio tends to get Frontier's attention, but I only know that because I've had to deal with this same problem so many times. 

On the other hand, my house didn't burn down this week, and neither was it hit by a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or zombie apocalypse, so what do I have to complain about, really? Okay, so the van rental for my field trip got messed up, but then nearly all of my students realized (after much finagling to find a workable date) that they had better things to do and wouldn't be able to go on the field trip anyway, so I cancelled it. Sure, they'll miss a valuable educational experience, but on the plus side, I'll have some unexpected free time Sunday afternoon. Maybe I'll take myself on a field trip and try to see some fall color.

And I can be grateful that I can still see, after dealing with a vision problem that resulted in two optometric appointments in two days and a whole lot of prodding, measuring, and testing of my eyeballs. I have had my corneas poked with a wand. I have stared intently at bright shimmery blue lights while listening to shrieking lasers. I have viewed detailed photographs of the inside of my eyeball, which looks about how you'd expect. Now I'm awaiting results of tests while being reassured that the current problem probably won't get any worse--but if I see something that looks like a rain of black pepper or a dark curtain closing over my vision, I'm supposed to call my eye guy right away.

I just hope he's more reliable than Frontier (Communications) and gets me where I need to be as efficiently as Frontier (Airlines). 


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Enlightened at the library

"How many of you have ever checked out a book from our library?" I asked my first-year seminar students this morning, and only one responded: "I haven't checked out a library book since second grade."

And this, dear reader, is why you could have seen me leading two of my first-year classes on a lively tour through the library this morning, once at 8 a.m. and again at 11. I show them how to make the stacks move, where to find reference books and bound periodicals and DVDs, and how to check out materials, but I also introduce them to a reference librarian--"They live on questions, so if you don't toss them a question once in a while, they'll shrivel up and die right here in the library." 

I like to take them up to the top floor and show them the giant yellow light fixture and say, "This is the light of knowledge shining down on you. When you get stressed out, come up here, lie on the floor, look up at the big yellow sun, and take some deep breaths while you bask in the glow of enlightenment." (Yes, they give me funny looks, but so what? If a little goofiness will make them remember their library tour, I'll get goofy.)

I take them down to the basement and explain the value of a cell-phone-free study zone, and then they spend 15 or 20 minutes in Special Collections, looking at some fun materials our stellar Special Collections director has laid out: letters written by George Washington and Ben Franklin, the hand-written journal of one of our earliest African-American students, a collection of early photographs of the college. David McCullough has been spending some time down there doing research for his next book, but he's not on campus this week--but if my students encounter him, they will at least have a clue who he is.

In the end I require them to use the online library catalog to find a book of interest to them and check it out, and then I sit by the circulation desk to make sure they do it. I can't be sure they'll read the books, but now none of my first-year students will be able to say they haven't checked out a library book since second grade. 

The sun, the sun!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Give your future self a gift," they said, and so I did

A four-day break before midterm in the fall semester usually provides me just enough time to get caught up on grading and class preps and maybe take some long walks or visit the grandkids. This time, though, I went further afield without taking any work with me, which means I had to work like a maniac last week to clear the decks.

Not much sleep any night last week, thanks to piles of papers and essays to grade. Only a few hours of sleep Friday night because I had to listen to the 13-inning Indians game (!), which got me all wound up, and then I had to get up at 3:30 the next morning to drive to the Cleveland airport in time for my flight out to Florida--and not much sleep last night because I had to get up at 4:30 to get to the airport for my flight back to Ohio.

But in between, I had a blast. No papers to grade, no classes to prep, just a few days to stay with my dad while my daughter and son-in-law and grandkids were visiting. I got to visit an old friend, visit my mother's grave, and watch the grandkids race around the house while shrieking with laughter, but the highlight had to be spending a day with my daughter and granddaughter at Sea World. 

When I lived in Florida, I always had friends working at the theme parks who were happy to help me get in free, so it's always a little painful to have to pay the full ticket price. But then the first thing we encountered when we got in the park was the dolphin nursery, where my granddaughter  raced to the window and starting making friends with young dolphins right away. Her delight was worth every penny we paid for the ticket.

I watched her work up the nerve to touch a baby shark's tail, ride a child-sized roller coaster, and climb a high rope bridge at a playground; I heard her laugh with delight as dolphins and whales leapt high in the air, saw her waddle like a penguin and ride a squid on the carousel. We visited injured manatees and learned what dangers the gentle creatures face, and we marveled at sharks swimming over our heads, rays in a shallow tank ready to be touched and fed, and flamingos standing so still they looked like statues.

I came home bone-tired and ready to collapse and thankful that I didn't find a pile of grading waiting for me. I want to go back and thank my past self for giving my present self a gift of a few grading-free days, but at the moment I'm too tired to go hunting for a time machine. 

We saw ibises everywhere.

White pelican, up close and personal.

They look like statues or stuffed toys.

Touching a baby shark


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Midweek madness

When I catch myself writing an e-mail message beginning "Dear Essay, I have attached your April," it's time to take a break from responding to student papers, so I walk up the hall to the department office to get an aspirin, and along the way I overhear a colleague loudly telling her class that "young boys are nuclear bombs!"

And I wonder: has the entire world gone mad or just my little corner of the world? 

My students have given me some marvelous gifts this week, including a couple of great names for Shakespeare-inflected garage bands: "The Switching Antipholuses" and "Syracusan Doppelgangers." They've presented material in class with panache and professionalism, and some of them wrote some really stellar papers. 

But (you knew there was a but, right?) this week I have been called upon to explain an analytical term that we have been using in class since the first week of the semester, a term that students have been quizzed and tested on repeatedly, and I've been compelled to read short response papers from students who think the best way to analyze the work of a visiting author is to complain that he uses too many big words. (Apparently "casserole" counts as a big word.) 

Right now my brain is swimming with ripe little words, many of which I do not care to utter aloud. I'd like to go out for a walk to clear my head, but first I need my colleague to explain that whole young boys = nuclear bombs thing. If I'm in danger of running into a ticking time bomb, I'd like to be sure I have the proper equipment to defuse the danger.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Fifty shades of blue (heron)

I've been wishing I could rewind the tape to a conversation I had with a student last week, but I'm afraid a week's worth of thinking hasn't offered any better answer than the sorry one I gave. The student asked me how I can "justify" considering Cold Mountain literature since, in the student's considered opinion, it's simply "The Civil War version of Fifty Shades of Grey." I mumbled something about the beauty of the language and Frazier's exploration of the human condition, and I suppose I should be grateful that I refrained from sputtering on about the word justify or asking what the heck she's doing reading Fifty freaking Shades of Grey.

I know where the student's coming from: brand-spanking-new freshperson trying to protect her virgin eyeballs from anything untoward, but I fear this will end up like the time I taught Jose Saramago's Blindness and a student wrote a long comment on my course evaluations excoriating me for forcing students to read pornography. (Which Blindness isn't--not by any stretch of the imagination.) 

Among the many ways in which Cold Mountain differs from Fifty Shades of Grey is the sheer number of sex scenes: two in Cold Mountain, both fairly discreet. In fact, one of the sex scenes reminds me of the "Squeal like a pig" scene in Deliverance: more terrifying than titillating. But then if you stretch your definition of sex scenes, you might come up with a third--the story Stobrod tells about Ruby's mother being ravished by a great blue heron:
The tale Ruby's mother told, as recounted by Stobrod, was that the heron strode up on its long back-hinged legs and looked her eye to eye. She claimed, Stobrod said, that the look was unmistakable, not open to but one interpretation. She turned and ran, but the heron chased her into the house, where, as she hunkered on hands and knees trying to squeeze under the bedstead to hide, the heron came upon her from behind. She described what ensued as like a flogging of dreadful scope.
"A flogging of dreadful scope"--if that's all it takes to make Cold Mountain is the Civil War version of Fifty Shades of Grey, then all I can say is, guilty as charged.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A pumpkin-spiced grading break

Some weekends are made for grading papers, prepping classes, and getting caught up on the laundry, but this was not one of those weekends. On Friday I told my students that I probably wouldn't be grading their papers over the weekend unless my visiting grandkids were willing to help. My granddaughter would have been happy to draw a pumpkin on someone's paper, but I don't know how to translate a pumpkin into a grade.

We saw a few pumpkins at Sweetapple Farm, but apparently the local crop isn't particularly abundant this year. We hiked through a corn maze in flawless fall weather, hugged a straw-bale minion and picked a million paw-paws (or maybe slightly fewer), ate chili and went to church and read not quite a million Shel Silverstein poems. We watched our grandson turn salt-shakers into percussion instruments, attempt to eat his weight in Kool-Whip, and practice stepping up onto the hearth and back down again, each time uttering a close approximation of "up!" and "down!" and then pausing for applause.

Now they're gone and the house is quiet. The papers still need grading and I probably ought to think about laundry and dishes and tomorrow's classes, but frankly, I'd rather hug a minion--but since I don't have a minion nearby, I think I'll just chuckle at the memory.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Tackling Shakespeare anxiety

On a day when I introduced one class to the joys of defenestration and led another through critique of the infamous Princess-Di-in-Hell argument, I nevertheless have to admit that the highlight of my day occurred in my comedy class this afternoon when a football player looked at a passage from a Shakespeare play and said, "This isn't so difficult."

We're starting A Comedy of Errors on Monday in a room mostly full of student-athletes taking the class for general education credit (plus a couple of ringers--two English majors!), and every time I've mentioned our upcoming foray into Shakespeare, I've heard groans. I feared that they'd all just read a quick summary online and not even try to read Shakespeare, so I decided to nip that plan in the bud by leading the class in a Shakespeare Anxiety Support Session.

First, I gave them some concrete tips on how to read a Shakespearean text, and then I broke them into groups and gave each group a chunk of the first scene of A Comedy of Errors. The groups had to read, look up words, come to a consensus on meaning, and then explain it to the rest of the class--not exactly innovative pedagogy, but helpful in a room full of guys who aren't afraid to try to tackle a 250-pound football player but who would rather hide in the locker room than read a Shakespeare play.

In the middle of their lively group discussions I heard the words that warmed my heart: "This isn't so difficult."

"Great!" I said. "Now that you've demonstrated your ability to read Shakespeare, you should be ready to tackle the rest of the text!" 

And maybe they will. If not, at least they've read that one passage. Score!