Friday, September 22, 2017

A+ in Mask-Juggling

In my office this week I have met with students sincerely attempting to improve their writing and others desperate to offer excuses about why their writing stinks, when sometimes it really doesn't. I have felt the need to inform students that due dates matter, that they are still responsible for the material even if they neglected to complete the reading assignments, and that "that" is not a verb--and I've had the pleasure of telling a very nervous student that he's a good writer regardless of what anyone may have told him in high school.

This week I have laid hands on students more than usual: a heartfelt hug to a student who is withdrawing for medical reasons, and a tug on a set of headphones that were preventing a student from being fully present in class. That incident could have gone very badly in a variety of ways, but in the moment I couldn't think of another way to get the student to take the quiz I was trying to hand him.

With one student I've expressed sympathy for a death in the family, and then with the next I've had to put on my Mean English Professor gaze and deliver a stern sermon on the importance of taking responsibility for one's actions. It's hard to shift from one persona to another in a short span of time--maybe I need a set of masks to make the switch more seamless. The problem is that I don't always know which Me the students need when they come into my office, and switching masks in the middle of a session might be awkward.

The hardest part of my week was meeting with a student facing a really serious and life-changing problem just a few minutes before class, an encounter that left me feeling bereft, but then I had to go and face a whole room full of students who needed a whole different Me of the non-bereft variety. Where can I find a Competent Teacher mask? 

But now office hours are over. Time to take off the mask, put my feet on the desk, and turn my attention to the next urgent task. (Close the door on the way out, would you?)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Foggy fall morning

I thought I saw the Eye of Sauron in our upper meadow this morning, but a closer look revealed a spider web smiling in the tall grass. Dense fog shrouded the meadow without dimming the yellow glow of goldenrod or the brilliance of the few leaves that have already turned red. I saw puny clusters of dark fruit hanging from wild grapevines while other sections of vine continued to send out tendrils curling into the unknown. Days like today make me appreciate a teaching schedule that keeps me away from campus on Thursdays--except of course for that one student who needs to meet with me and can't find another available time. Time to say goodbye to the foggy meadow and head to town.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ixnay on the athwray

Note to self: Who made you the Parking Police? Starting the day with a heated altercation over traffic laws is not a brilliant idea, even if the anger grows every time you see that particular colleague violate the one-way street sign until you feel as if you're going to explode. Releasing the pressure with a face-to-face encounter first thing in the morning is only going to sour the rest of the day--and on a day when you have a horde of first-year students coming to conferences, you can't afford to be sour.

So here I am in my office trying to think happy thoughts before my students start arriving. This is all I've got:
  • Language Log comments on the new Range Rover model called the Velar, which makes me wonder: will we ever see a Ford Fricative on the market? (Click here for a little linguistics humor--very little.)  
  • Speaking of language, if you missed Talk Like a Pirate Day, McSweeney's offers some other options (click here). Hey, I won't even have to practice for "Talk Like a Woman Who's Constantly Freezing at Work Day"!
  • In other language-related news, I could have made a real killing points-wise the other day if only Words With Friends would accept Pig-Latin. Ixnay on the ointspay!
Hmmm....this isn't working. Someone tell me something funny--or else! (What? I'm not even authorized to issue parking tickets, much less comedy tickets.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of pawpaws and papers

On Saturday I had an encounter with a talking tree walking around the Pawpaw Festival (meaning the tree was walking, kind of a neat trick), along with a guy in a pawpaw suit. I sincerely hope the suit had a cooling system because it had to be hot inside that big wad of foam in relentless 80-degree sunshine.

The resident farmer has been wanting to learn how to transplant pawpaw saplings from the edge of our woods out to the meadow because they allegedly produce more fruit in full sun, so he attended a lecture on pawpaw husbandry while I wandered around looking at the craft booths, which were neither as abundant nor as interesting as they were the last time I was there. The children's play area looked great, though, which made me wish I'd had the forethought to bring a passel of children with me. Where are those grandkids when I need them? (Soon I'll have more--another grandchild on the way in March! I've told my daughter that Spring Break would be the ideal time to deliver, but we'll see whether the little one cooperates.)

On Sunday we went out with a bucket to our own pawpaw patch, which is producing plenty of fruit this year (unlike last year when a late freeze doomed the local pawpaw crop). We found only one fruit ripe enough to pick, but we'll check for more later in the week. It was a gorgeous day for a walk in the woods, with soft fall air bringing the promise of color and change.

The garden is winding down, which is kind of a relief because I've run out of interesting ways to prepare eggplant. Tomatoes and peppers are still producing abundantly, though. We've never had so many habanero peppers--we've given away at least a bushel and there are many more on the plants, while other types of peppers are ripening more slowly. I'm excited about getting some good pimento peppers, but I'll leave the ghost peppers to the resident masochist. 

But now I have to turn away from nature's abundance and devote myself to the heavy crop of student drafts I've been reaping. I hope I'll find some as juicy and sweet as a pawpaw or as pointed as a habanero pepper, but it wouldn't surprise me to find some papers that aren't quite ripe yet. Give 'em time--they'll mature.

Impossible to get photos without random children in them.

Pawpaw: ugly but delicious.

Fall color on the way!


Saturday, September 16, 2017

From autocorrect to epiphany

The other morning my phone told me to "get grace at nerdiness," which is either a Zen koan or a bizarre autocorrect error. I dutifully collected my colleague at the auto-repair shop but kept my eyes open for nerdiness all the while.

It's hard to keep my eyes open, though, when all I want to do is sleep. I figured out, finally, why I've had all the energy of a squashed pumpkin lately, and now I'm taking antibiotics for a rather unfortunate infection, along with a medication that I wouldn't want to take if I wore contacts because it can permanently stain them ORANGE, which at the moment is also the hue of some of my bodily fluids. I don't want to read the small print on this drug because if it's going to turn me into an Oompa-Loompa, I don't want to know about it. All I care about is the reduction in pain and the possibility that I might be able to sleep for more than two hours at a time, which may result in an increase in energy and concentration. I'll let you know in a day or two.

Meanwhile I'm enjoying a harmonic convergence of texts. My honors students have reached the part of The Odyssey when Odysseus's old nurse recognizes him by his scar, and my comedy students have reached the moment in A Horse Walks Into a Bar when the judge scribbles the name of Odysseus's nurse on a napkin at a comedy club to remind him of the importance of recognition, the magical epiphany of seeing through the mask to the inner person, and the fact that this recognition occurs through the revelation of a scar. Pain reveals the person: not a particularly funny concept, but in context, it's both deeply moving and amusing.

I'll tell you what, though: no one would have overlooked Odysseus if his pain had turned into an Oompa-Loompa. (Autocorrect that!) 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Building the infrastructure to teach a new text

The advantage of teaching a brand-new novel hot off the presses is that students won't be able to rely on online summaries and potted papers so they'll have to start from scratch with the text itself. The disadvantage is that I'm starting from scratch too.

True, I've read the book before and worked it into the first paper assignment, but I have none of the infrastructure I need to open a text to students. I'm reading the book again and marking up the pages, writing lecture notes and group-work prompts, thinking about exam questions, locating information about the author and his context. I have to anticipate areas of ignorance: Can I expect my students to know enough about the Holocaust, the recent history of Israel, or the 1956 Sinai Campaign? Will they know what a kibbutz is? What about the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock?

That's a lot to expect of students who thought a class on comic literature would be an easy way to get their general education credit, but there's more: David Grossman's A Horse Walks into a Bar is a deeply philosophical work, focusing on a stand-up comic struggling through a two-hour routine with an audience sitting in judgment. Alongside the jokes and clowning around, he raises questions about the problem of pain, about who is responsible for human suffering and whether dignity is possible in the face of injustice and loss. And what role does comedy play? The very existence of Holocaust jokes raises all kinds of interesting and uncomfortable questions.

This won't be an easy ride for any of us: while I'm scrambling to develop compelling lesson plans and class activities, my students are struggling to figure out why they're reading this often uncomfortable philosophical novel in a comedy class. 

At least I hope they are. Maybe they're frantically searching for online summaries and cursing me for choosing such a recent book. If they are, don't tell me--I don't want to know.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Storm report: disruption and survival

After the storm, my dad reports that Irma's bark was worse than her bite, at least in his area: he stayed up all night listening to the wind and rain, but in the morning he found just a few limbs down and no major damage. He didn't even lose power, although his television and internet service were cut off. For those fortunate enough to escape the worst of the winds, the storm was just a brief disruption. (But we await word from one of my husband's aunts, who still lacks power and so far remains unreachable.)

A smaller disruption occurred last year when a new natural gas pipeline snaked its way through our rural area and across our road. After months of temporary road closures and big trucks making muddy messes, our road reverted to its usual sylvan quietness. But the area cleared for the new gas pipeline created a perfect corridor for deer to move from the woods down to the creek, so we see them there frequently. Yesterday a doe and two fawns were grazing there when I drove past, and I happened to have the camera in the car, so I stopped and shot a few photos. They seem unbothered by me as long as I stayed in the unmoving car, but the minute the car started moving, they bolted. Deer grazing out in the open in broad daylight: they'll quit that behavior as soon as hunting season starts. They won't even need an evacuation warning.