Friday, December 29, 2006
If you need more evidence, look at how tens of thousands of us spend our Christmas holidays: attending academic conferences. I'm not at MLA this year but I've been there before and there's nothing relaxing about it. Any event that requires me to prominently display my credentials on my chest is not a vacation, and any event that involves interviewing or being interviewed is the antithesis of a holiday.
I've thought about this problem and I think the reason academics are so bad at taking time off is that so much of our job simply doesn't look like work. Grading papers, teaching, and attending committee meetings all appear to be work, but everything else I do for work also looks a lot like what I do for play: reading, writing, thinking. I can do those things just about anywhere, and I do, which means work and play intermingle promiscuously. Since I'm always sort of working, why not do it at the office?
And if that kind of logic takes me to the office when no one has any business being there, I shouldn't be surprised to find others there doing the same thing.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
How do I celebrate? A walk sounds about right, especially since my body feels like it's been chained to a computer desk for two days. Maybe I can find a Christmas cookie somewhere and a mug of hot cocoa. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Too hot for a fire. I'll settle for marzipan and a communal toast: to words! Long may they flow.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Gifts wrapped: check.
Stockings hung by chimney with care: check.
Traditional Christmas lasagne assembled: check.
Hold on there. Since when did lasagne become a traditional Christmas meal? Shouldn't that be a ham or a roast or a turkey? What kind of person cooks lasagne on Christmas?
This break from tradition is not entirely my fault. I tried to come up with another plan; in fact, I spent several weeks periodically asking family members what they wanted for Christmas dinner, and the most useful response I received was "something good." "Okay then," I said, "I'll just have to adjust that liver-and-onions with brussels sprouts menu and cancel that big order of Salmiak. What'll I do with this case of Spam, though? I know--let's exercise some holiday spirit and give it to the poor! I'm sure the poor like Spam!"
After going through this ridiculous exercise a few times, I realized that an important part of my constituency had gone unpolled. I immediately repaired the oversight: "Self," I said, "What would you like to eat on Christmas?" Hence, a big pan of lasagne is now nestled snug in the fridge, waiting to be popped in the oven tomorrow. That's right: all the hard work is done, so tomorrow I can just relax and enjoy. I think I like this tradition.
I'm not quite so crazy about the traditional Christmas Eve turnips, but I had to make room in the fridge for the lasagne so those turnips had to be cooked and consumed. I'm more sanguine about the pre-Christmas-Eve tacos and flan, which is also not traditional holiday fare but is quite appropriate for a house full of young people celebrating a birthday. The college chick turned 20 today, which means that 20 years ago today I was enjoying the traditional I.V. drip following an emergency C-section. That was the year I baked 14 dozen traditional Christmas cookies to serve at our Christmas Eve open house, but the trip to the hospital sort of relocated the party. I hope the maternity ward nurses enjoyed all those cookies. They earned them: on Christmas morning they brought me a Christmas stocking stuffed with a beautiful baby girl. We still hang that stocking by the chimney every year to remind us that tradition isn't everything, that sometimes the best gifts are unexpected. Twenty years ago, a baby girl; tomorrow, lasagne; a year from now--who knows?
For tonight, everything's checked off the list, except I ought to leave a little something out for Santa. Hope he likes turnips.
Friday, December 22, 2006
For the past two years I've gone to MLA to give papers and interview people for job openings, and while it's much more fun to be the interviewer than the interviewee, the task is not without its horrors: the big room lined with intelligent people oozing desperation, the lineup of dark suits, the strangers crying in the ladies' room, those awkward pauses when it becomes clear that the interviewee simply won't do but the interview must nevertheless grind on to its sorry conclusion. This year, thank heaven, my department has no openings to fill, so I'll just sit back and enjoy the status quo.
And we're not going to Florida to visit relatives this Christmas either, much as we'd enjoy a dose of sunshine right now. (Note to whoever is in charge of the weather: the song says "white Christmas," not "wet Christmas.") These days, most of our traveling involves visiting the college kid at her campus or taking the high school senior to visit colleges, so the travel funds have been hopelessly depleted. A year from now I'll have two kids in college, and any family travel will have to work around their various course schedules. I keep telling myself that this is just a stage, that one of these days both kids will be done with school and we'll have no schedules to consult but our own, but meanwhile, we'll just have to be patient. And this Christmas, that means staying home.
But that's okay. We have what we need for a cosy family Christmas: cookies, eggnog, board games, books, plenty of firewood. Now all we need are visitors to share the fun. Come by any time--we're ready for you.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
One thing I found a bit disconcerting: as the hearse and the long wagging tail of cars made it slow way down the highway, cars traveling in the other direction pulled off the road in respect. Some of the drivers got out of the cars and stood with their heads bowed while the procession moved past. This is a charming gesture although I confess I don't quite understand it: surely everyone who stops can't possibly know the dead guy, so for whom are they showing respect? For death itself? For the mourners? For me? I was, after all, attached, through no fault of my own, to the tail end of this funeral procession. As I saw these strangers bowing silently in my direction, I wanted to open my window and yell out, "I'm not with them!" But that would be rude. And so I drove on, silently accepting the solemn gestures despite my unworthiness to receive them.
Then we reached a fork in the road where the funeral procession took the road less traveled by while I stayed on the main highway. I'll take the other fork another day, but for now, I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Two children, one exchange student, 12 foster children, if I'm remembering correctly. How many birthday parties? Difficult to say. One dog, one cat, one rabbit, and long ago an aquarium full of fish. How many fleas?
Two B.A.'s, one M.Div., one M.A., one Ph.D., and a kid almost halfway through a degree in Music Education. How much have we paid for tuition? Too scary to count.
One shoebox-size apartment, two rickety mobile homes in the same trailer park, one 18-foot travel trailer that we lived in the two summers we worked in campgrounds (and if you really want to get to know someone, spend two summers in a space that small), five parsonages (and only the first and last were truly awful), and one home of our own with an emerging garage. Ten dwellings in 24 years!
One 1970 puke-green Dodge Dart (sold to a kid who wanted to use it "to race cops"), one Mazda GLC (sold, dying), two Honda Civics (both wrecked, not my fault), two Honda CRX's (one sold, dying, and the 1991 model still sputtering along with 170,000 miles on it), two Toyota minivans (one sold, one still running with 190,000 miles on it), one Dodge Neon (needs a paint job that would cost more than we paid for the car), one Nissan Sentra (currently in the possession of the college kid). Ten cars in 24 years! Four of them still running! How many miles have we driven? Impossible to say.
Five thousand miles in two weeks on the Grand Canyon trip, camping all the way. Five hundred miles each week during the three Kentucky/Ohio commmuting years. Forty miles a day for my round trip to work. Road trips to Michigan, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, Arkansas, Florida Florida Florida. That long drive to Albuquerque when I was pregnant and slept the whole way back. Trips to Iowa, to Kentucky, to Indiana to look at colleges. To D.C. for MLA, and to Philadelphia for same. To West Virginia to ski. Does it count if it was a rental car? But then we've got to add airline miles--to California, Vancouver, Madrid, Auckland, Florida Florida Florida. How many of those flights did we pay for? How many did the college cover because I was giving papers?
How much money have we earned? Spent? Borrowed? Difficult to say. We've worked for three campgrounds, five newspapers, 13 churches, two institutions of higher education, one Farmers' Market, and a whole host of schools that employ the bearded wonder as a substitute teacher. Supported the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, marching band, pep band, basketball, softball, Spanish Club, and the National Honor Society. How many fund-raising drives? I'd rather forget.
How many pairs of shoes? Tubes of toothpaste? Bottles of aspirin? How much for electricity, water, garbage pickup, television, movies, trips to see The Nutcracker? How many cloth diapers washed and folded? How many disasters avoided by the skin of our teeth? (By fire, one; by water, two; by car, too many to count.)
How many arguments? How many laughs? How many times have we wondered how we'd make it through another day? Somehow it all has to add up to 24 years, but I can't seem to do the math.
Instead, I'll do the marriage. Maybe I'll try the math again after another 24 years.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I did, however, receive a message before finals from a student who knew she had bombed the class and wanted to know when it would be offered again so she can re-take it in hopes of improving her grade. She asked for my suggestions on how she can improve her performance, "aside from attending class." Well, I would say that attending class is a good start, and once she gets that little detail figured out we can talk about some other helpful habits, like doing the reading assignments and remembering to turn in papers. But I have no other suggestions at this time "aside from attending class."
Saturday, December 16, 2006
And what am I doing while all this music swirls around me? Tap-tap-tapping on the computer keyboard, of course. In a house full of eclectic talents, this just happens to be mine.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I've been working up the courage to call this writing project a book, but it's difficult. Back in grad school everyone always referred to the dissertation as the "little writing project," as in "I understand you're working on a little writing project." If "dissertation" sounds frightening, then "a little writing project" ought to sound comforting, but somehow it didn't then and it doesn't now. Minimizing the size of the mountain only makes me wonder why I find the climbing so difficult.
For a while now I've been immersed in a different kind of little writing project but I'm not yet ready to call it a book. Just a little something I'm fiddling with in my spare time, you know, nothing serious, just an insignificant bunch of words--and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I even know exactly how many.
The more important question is: How many more?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Suppose the young man is having trouble motivating himself to get out of bed in the morning, a not uncommon occurrence. Crank up Christmas with the Chipmunks to full blast and before you know it, the young man is stomping into the kitchen to turn it off. It's more fun, though, to annoy the resident bread-baker when he's up to his elbows in bread dough: just put that new Aaron Neville CD on and wait for the falsetto spots. The breadman cringes every time, but he can't adjust those little buttons with bread dough all over his hands.
When it comes to Christmas music, we all love it--most of it--but we also know how to take advantage of each other's dislikes. Right now, for instance, the men are playing a CD that offers them ample opportunities to poke fun at me. Why? Because no matter how many times I'm reminded of the name of the group, I can't remember it, and I always end up calling them something totally inappropriate like "Subterranean Railway." (It's Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but I can say that with assurance only because I just hollered up the stairs to pry that piece of information out of my son, who is seeking revenge for all those times he's been awakened by The Chipmunks.) If you ask me again in an hour, I'll wrinkle my brow and say something like "Not Mannheim Steamroller."
I have the same problem remembering the French phrase used to describe a road that ends in a circular turnaround; I have to run through a whole litany of phrases and then half the time I still can't come up with the right one: coup d'etat, tete a tete, rue morgue, vache du plage, higgledy-piggledy, Perth Amboy...it's useless. I'll remember it an hour from now when I no longer care.
But how can I concentrate on such a minor matter when lovely Christmas music is playing and my taste buds are being treated to warm apple crisp served with vanilla ice cream? I know the word for that: a la mode. Why worry about ammo when we can enjoy apple crisp a la mode?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
A laughing Jesus I can envision, but a laughing Mary? She's not laughing in all those byzantine icons, but then neither is anyone else. In fact, if religious art is any indication, the laugh was a heresy introduced after the Second Vatican Council. I'm trying to recall an image of Mary that suggests laughter, but nothing is coming to mind; the most we ever see is a sort of Mona Lisa smile--quiet, subtle, mysterious. If Hitchens is right, then Mary was less likely to crack a joke than to purse her lips and say, "That's not funny." And the minute those lips were pursed, you can bet some byzantine artist would come along and start slathering on the gold leaf. Did you ever try to crack a smile through half an inch of gold leaf? That's gotta hurt. If Mary followed the Hitchens model of humor-free females, where, then, did Jesus get his excellent sense of humor?
Our furry green friend points out that Hitchens's argument relating humor to powerlessness is a bit circular: men use humor as a smoke screen to hide their own powerlessness, while women use humorlessness to hide their power. If this theory is correct, then surely ultimate power should be linked with ultimate humorlessness, which gives us a stern Jesus straight out of The Name of the Rose. Meanwhile, Mary, the submissive, servantlike handmaiden of the Lord, ought to have a lucrative career in stand-up comedy.
But this is all, of course, mere speculation--as is Hitchens's article, for that matter. I'm sure it would never enter into anyone's head to immerse either of us in a vat of pigs' blood simply for the sin of getting serious about humor. But if someone has to suffer for the cause, let it be Christopher Hitchens. He's the one who links humor with powerlessness, and the way I see it, he can use all the powerlessness he can get.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I've been mulling over possible responses, most of them remarkably unfunny, which would just provide further support for his underlying assumption that (most) women aren't particularly funny, or that women don't feel the pressure to be funny that men do. I know some very funny women, but they're not professionally funny--their humor is not a career in itself but a byproduct that bubbles out while they're otherwise occupied. This suggests that Hitchens is right, sort of, but this annoys me because I want him to be wrong, but proving him wrong would require a whole lot of serious, articulate prose, preferably with a coherent argument involving bullet points and scientific studies quantifying differences in humor levels. And you know what? That's just not funny.
So let Christopher Hitchens be funny today. I'll go back to being morose.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
"Why?" I respond.
"Because one of us would have to remember to write down the title of all those books and I for one am not in the mood."
"Piffle," I reply. "Don't you think it would be interesting to know how many books I've read in a year?"
"Interesting to whom?"
"Well, to me, of course, and possibly you."
"Or possibly not." I pause. "What's the payoff?"
"You know, is there a prize at bottom of the box? Some sort of reward to make all that record-keeping worthwhile?"
"There would be a number."
"Like I need another number in my life. Who cares how many books I read in a year's time?"
"But it's not just a number. It's a list. You know how fun it is to dissect a person's personality based on the books stacked on the nightstand. A list of books I've read in a year might reveal interesting personality traits."
"Reveal to whom? Is there anyone out there who needs to know how many times I've read A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--or failed to finish The Magic Mountain?"
"You've got a point there," I admit. "How about this: I'll start the list, and if it gets annoying, I'll quit."
"Fine," I reply. "I predict that before March roars in, you'll forget the whole thing."
And of course I was right: I started a list somewhere, but then I got distracted, and I didn't think about it again until right now. But that doesn't have to be the end of it. January is coming, and with it a whole new year. "Self," I say, "I've got a great idea."
But all I can do is roll my eyes and sigh, "Here we go again."
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Okay, there's a little more to it than that. Last night I persuaded the family to play the Trivial Pursuit Book Lovers' Edition for the first time, and never have I been so grateful for having once read Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America. We stopped after nearly two hours of play, when I had four wedges, my son had three, and the bearded wonder--well, he kept responding with variations on The Catcher in the Rye, so what do you expect? "The Cupcake in the Rye," he would say, or 'The Admiral in the Rye." I kept getting questions about books written by baseball managers and professional wrestlers, not exactly the kind of reading you'll find on my bedside table.
This morning the bearded wonder redeemed himself by making a wonderful birthday breakfast, which had to take place fairly early because our son was off to take the ACT, followed by a haircut and Christmas shopping and playing drums in the pep band at the high school basketball game, so 6:45 a.m. was the only time we would be together all day. I got some great birthday loot, including two books from my wish list: Jose Saramago's Seeing and David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. And I spent most of the afternoon just sitting around reading.
Now we're thinking about getting out of the house and going to that basketball game. I don't really care about the game, but it would be a good chance to see the unlittle drummer boy in action again. ("The Drummer in the Rye"?) So off we go into the cold dark night to yell hurrah at young people with seemingly unending reservoirs of energy. They'll never be POPs--and just for tonight, neither will I.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Either way, my eyes hurt. I intend to take them home and give them a rest, preferably in front of a roaring fire. They've earned a break. After reading all that microscopic print, my eyes deserve an A+.
Good thing I don't give grades for penmanship.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
This is just the beginning of a long litany of questions my dentist asks when contemplating my molars.
"Were you ever in a bad car wreck? Beaten frequently as a child? Ever fall head-first out of a fourth-floor window?"
No, no, and no.
"These teeth show signs of severe trauma," he says.
"I used to chew on ice a lot," I tell him, and he just leans back and rubs his forehead. I'm doing my best, really; can I help it that I'm brutal on teeth?
Since 1998, those two upper molars have been through Dental Hell: root canals, temporary crowns, fractures, permanant crowns, surgery, more fractures, another crown made with an experimental material, and today a fractured crown. These teeth are both traumatized and traumatizing.
I like my dentist, but that doesn't mean I want to see him every other week. But that's what happens when you carry around the teeth of a person who has fallen head-first out of a fourth-floor window. Wish I knew who that person was so I could give her back her teeth.
Meanwhile, I'll go chew on some gravel.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
1. Some time ago, I asked for creative uses for the acronym BUH (read about it here), and I received several clever responses. Oh for a world in which one needed an acronym to describe Burly Urchin Huggers! But no: BUH is actually used on our campus to refer to Budget Unit Heads, a horrible enough title in itself but perfectly wretched when abbreviated as BUH. All I can say is "Blech."
2. I never revealed my personal contribution to our collective faculty wish list (here). I would gladly second many of my colleagues' suggestions, but the items I contributed to the list were "a day without excuses" and "Diet Coke with Lime in the faculty lounge." I suppose I shouldn't make professors at other institutions envious by mentioning that our faculty lounge is stocked with free soft drinks and sometimes snacks, which I appreciate very much; the problem is that we are a Pepsi campus, so anyone who prefers Diet Coke (with or without lime) has to smuggle it in from outside. Well, a girl can dream, can't she?
3. No, I didn't really give my friends giant turnips for Christmas, as I threatened to do here, and I know at least one of my colleagues was deeply disappointed. (Sorry, J!) Instead, they'll have to content themselves with the transcendent dark chocolate mint fudge described here.
That's all for now, unless someone can think of any other pressing reason to delay grading all those final exams.
Questions are good. I welcome them. I wish more students would ask questions about concepts they don't understand. However, 30 seconds before a final exam is the wrong time to ask a professor to explain a concept she has spent the previous 15 weeks trying to convey to you through lectures, class discussions, readings, and writing assignments. If you haven't made the effort to master the concept all semester, what makes you think you can learn it in 30 seconds?
I understand that we don't all share the same vocabulary, and I know you must be befuddled to see an unfamiliar phrase in the first essay question, but no, I'm not going to explain what I mean by "conventions of narrative." It must have been frustrating all semester not to know what the word "conventions" means on the frequent occasions when it has come up in class, but if you didn't understand the word, why didn't you ask about it in class? Or if you're not comfortable asking questions in class, why not write the word down so you can look it up later? But that would require actually (a) bringing writing materials to class; (b) paying attention to lectures and discussions; and (c) caring. I suppose it's easier just to let an unfamiliar term waft past unmolested.
As for "narrative," you will recall that the class actaully read a chapter of the textbook dealing with that very topic in some depth, and that we discussed the concept in class and looked at specific examples of various methods of narration--including, as a matter of fact, the very example the final exam question asks you to discuss. If you didn't understand the term "narrative," how did you make it through that lengthy chapter? I suppose it would be rude to ask to what use you put your textbook, assuming that you purchased it.
If not, then I understand your confusion, but that doesn't mean I'll answer your question. For one thing, the concept is not conducive to being boiled down into a 30-second sound bite, and for another, just-in-time delivery works well for Santa, but what you are engaged in is not wish fulfillment but education and education requires long-term effort. Exams are learning experiences and if the primary lesson you learn from this exam is that you need to start putting some effort into your education at some point earlier than the final exam period, then all I can say is Merry Christmas.
Any other questions?
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Scop Smith: A foreigner arriving for a face-off with a fen-dwelling demon, but does Beowulf stand a chance? Hrothgar remaining cautiously optimistic for a swift end to the violence, but his pal Hunferth hedging his bets. He's with our roving reporter Hrolf Hraether at Heorot. Hrolf?"
Hrolf: I'm standing here with Hunferth, one of Hrothgar's loyal thanes. Tell me, Mr. Hunferth, what makes you think Beowulf will fail?
Hunferth: Who is this Beowulf anyway? Sure, his win-loss record is impressive, but he bombed that swimming-match with Breca, and this time he's fighting a real monster--with no home-field advantage!
Hrolf: Is there any concern about the fact that he's a foreigner?
Hunferth: Darn tootin'! Hrothgar has an impressive team of talented retainers right here, so why draft an outsider to do a Dane's work? And what does Beowulf want anyway? Another ring? How many rings can an armed man wear?
Hrolf: That's Hunferth on the scene at Heorot. Back to you, Scop.
Scop: Thanks, Hrolf. By the way, what's the weather look like out there?
Hrolf: The forecast says partly murky with chance of mist, and we're seeing a little of that mist rising from the fen in the distance right now.
Scop: There you have it, fair and balanced as always. Next up: The View welcomes Wealhtheow for a segment on choosing the right goblet for the well-appointed meadhall. Reporting from the Anglo-Saxon News Network, I'm Scop Smith.
Monday, December 04, 2006
I have tried to educate students about the origin and development of italics, how in the old days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people had to write out important documents longhand or on a typewriter, italic print simply was not available to the average person, so underlining was used instead. Today anyone can italicize, and they do so wantonly and promiscuously--italicizing here, underlining there, and sometimes (gasp!) doing both at the same time.
Frankly, I'm a little tired of the whole topic. An easy solution would be to outlaw italics--round up all those little left-leaning letters and haul 'em off in handcuffs until they learn to behave. But then I would loose upon the unsuspecting public a generation of students who believe the only way to get italics right is to leave 'em out. Wouldn't it be better to teach students to apply critical thinking to their typographic choices?
That's the approach I've taken so far, and it's clearly not working. I've been writing it all semester and it looks like I'll be writing it for a while longer: do not mix italics and underlining in the same document.
Where's that rubber stamp when I need it?
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Put sugar, cream, and butter in a heavy saucepan. Pull up a tall chair, turn your back on the world, and stir.
Laundry needs folding? Sorry--keep stirring. Cat throwing up? Someone else will have to clean it up. Bills beg to be paid? It's not worth ruining the recipe.
Focus full attention on the pan. Watch the bubbles bursting open with a bloop. Give a stir. Glance at the candy thermometer. Stir some more. Drag the spoon through the bubbling sugar to make serpentine lines in bubbling chaos. Look at the thermometer. Look at the bubbles. Stir, stir, stir.
Wait with sweet anticipation for that moment of tension toward the end, when it appears as if the mercury might be ready to rise past that little line. Wait for it! Getting closer! Not quite yet, but maybe--yes, there it goes! Grab the pan off the heat and get ready to burst into action.
The moment of transcendence is over--but while it lasted, ahhhhh, how sweet.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
An elevator in [a busy classroom building]
A day without excuses
A jet pack to get me to work
More hair...in the right places
World peace and an end to hunger
Diet Coke with Lime in the faculty lounge
For the Detroit Lions to win the Superbowl
Borders gift cards
A sixth platonic solid
Proper climate control in my office
Water from the fountain of youth
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The resident turnip-monger tells me that there are 30 more turnips that size still in the garden and he has to pull them up before the first freeze. What can we do with 30 melon-sized turnips? We'll sell a few at the Farmers' Market, but the rest will have to make their way into our winter meals. When we have more tomatoes or hot peppers than we can handle, I take them to work and distribute them among my grateful colleagues, but I'm afraid turnips are a hard sell. A few years ago when weather conditions produced a glut of turnips in our valley, one of the you-pick produce places had a big sign by the highway advertising "You-Pick Turnips," but I didn't notice any long lines of pickers waiting to partake. A little turnip goes a long way, and a big turnip longer, and 30 big turnips--well, let's just say it's a good thing Christmas is coming.
Now the only challenge is to figure out how to wrap 'em.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
"I just love literature," he said.
"Really," I said. "Because when I consider what I've seen of your work over the past three years, I don't see any of the usual signs of a love for literature, such as actually attending your literature classes, reading the assigned literature, or writing papers demonstrating any interest in or skills for analyzing literature."
The student agreed that he had been remiss in those areas--and, as it happened, he had already decided to drop the English major and focus on his second major, so all is well. Still, I couldn't help feeling a bit guilty, the way a top chef might feel telling a young person to go ahead and eat another Big Mac, or the way a true believer might feel telling a pagan, "You know, heaven's overrated." Being an English major is a sort of nirvana I wish everyone could experience. Everyone, that is, who loves literature enough to suffer for it, something my student was unwilling to do.
So the world is now down one English major. Somehow, my heart will go on.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Last night he beat me at Scrabble again, but not by much. For a long time he was the only man to ever beat me at Scrabble, but then once a few years ago our son put a Q on a triple-word score and beat the socks off the rest of the family. Recently the kid came close to beating me at Boggle, but not quite close enough. One of these days he'll beat me and I'll be happy to hand over the Boggle Champion crown. One of the crowning achievements of my life will be raising a child who can beat me at Boggle.
But who will beat me at my new game? Today I happened upon the Trivial Pursuit Book Lovers' Edition on sale at 50 percent off, so naturally I snatched it up. Generally we play Trivial Pursuit in teams, with one parent and one child per team; the Dad team gets all the sports questions right while the Mom team excels at arts and entertainment, and this way everyone gets a chance to win occasionally.
But the Book Lovers' edition is another kettle of fish entirely. I'm afraid I'll never persuade any of my family members to play. I could take it to my office, but who has time to play at work? Here's an idea: my 45th birthday is coming up next month, and nothing would please me more than to gather some book-lovers 'round the game board and play the day away.
Now I just need to locate some book-lovers who also love games. Any takers? I promise not to marry the winner.
Friday, November 24, 2006
This is the worst part of being a parent: knowing that my child could be in danger but not being able to do anything about it. I try calling her dorm room; she's already left. I know she's traveling with a friend who has a cell phone, but I don't know that friend's number and even if I did, she could easily be out of range of a tower. The radio tells me traffic could be stopped for hours while the accident is under investigation. What can I do but chop vegetables?
There are thousands of people driving that road today, I tell myself. The chances that my daughter would be involved in that wreck must be infinitesimal. Still, I can't help recalling that last spring when she was driving home alone, she made a pit stop in a remote area and a male maintenance worker followed her into the ladies' room. What are the odds that she would be the only person stopped at a rest area at any given moment? She's not traveling alone this time and she's carrying pepper spray, but a lot of good that would do against an out-of-control tractor trailer.
I need to stop thinking about mangled automobiles and focus on the soup. Corn chowder: her favorite. Hope she makes it home to eat some. Hope I can make myself stop picturing nightmare scenarios long enough to finish cooking. Hope against hope that all is well.
When she finally arrives home unscathed and we gather round the chowder, that's my Thanksgiving. Everything that comes later is just gravy.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
You know what that means. Yes: I'm home alone.
No classes. No meetings. No need to leave the house.
Think of the possiblities: I could curl up with a good book, get caught up on my ironing, clean bathrooms, go for a walk, pay bills, visit the emerging garage, tackle that pile of student papers, put photos in albums, or even eat buttered popcorn while watching Law and Order reruns. We're going to the in-laws' house for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so the only thing I really need to do today is bake two pecan pies. Piece of cake. Or pie, as the case may be.
Of all the things I could be thankful for today, there's nothing I appreciate more than the freedom to do absolutely nothing.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
She has a point. Having just read a pile of papers with an extremely low scintillation rating, I'm well aware of students' willingness to offer me heaping masses of mediocrity. If they can have an off day (or an off week or off semester), why can't I?
So I'm giving myself a free pass today. I'll admit that it wasn't my best performance, but so what? I'll scintillate tomorrow.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Or not, as the case may be. Far be it from me to suggest that students are devoting time and energy to inventing imaginary disasters when they could be devoting those resources to the papers they're supposed to be writing. But then how much time and energy do I want to put into investigating these implausible stories? The correct answer would be none.
Still, there are excuses that earn such low scores on the Plausibility Meter that I'm tempted to follow up. For instance, a student who has failed to turn in about half the assignments for the class e-mailed me to tell me he can't e-mail me his draft because he currently has no access to e-mail.
He's at a conference, he says, an academic conference in a major city, and we all know how difficult it is to get access to the internet at academic conferences in major modern cities, so I'd just better go ahead and accept his draft on Wednesday because he has no access to e-mail today. And he said all this in an e-mail message that I received when? Just after class today, naturally, just at the moment when it dawned on him that whoops, he's missed class again and this time it really matters, unlike all the other times when he missed class without any excuse whatsoever.
Which is worse, a ridiculously implausible excuse or no excuse at all?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
I know it's marked in my first copy of Miller's book Writing at the End of the World, but that copy of the book is missing. It may have been stolen from my office, but with an office full of books, why would someone steal that one? More likely I loaned it to someone and then forgot. I do this all the time. I still don't know who has my first copy of the Whale Rider DVD, nor do I know what ever happened to my first hardback copy of The Thurber Carnival. I say "first copy" because I finally gave up on trying to get the loaned copies back and purchased new ones, which happens more often than I'd care to admit. If I charged late fees on borrowed books, I'd be on my way to the Bahamas by now. I need to just give up on lending out any book I ever want to see again.
Instead, I learn to live without them or buy a second copy. I recently repurchased Writing at the End of the World for the express purpose of locating the "technology to think with" statement, and I have just finished re-reading it, which I didn't mind doing because it's a wonderful book, but even though I was on the lookout for that statement, I never found it. Found all kinds of other good stuff, but not the particular sentence I need to find. Not even anything close.
Now I'm starting to doubt my memory. Did Richard E. Miller really write that or did I see it somewhere else and falsely attribute it to him? Should I go back and re-read everything I might have been reading at the time I first read Writing at the End of the World? Where do I start?
Back to square one--or page one, as the case may be.
Friday, November 17, 2006
With their flash cards looking like prescriptions for the catarrh
And their mnemnmonics, blast 'em. They go too farrh.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
In a large stock pot with a heavy bottom, melt a little olive oil and a little butter. (No cheating; use the real thing.) Toss in some chopped onion and celery and one chopped sweet red bell pepper or fresh pimento. If you like garlic, throw some in there. Saute for a few minutes and then throw in a pile of peeled, chopped potatoes. Add some salt and pepper and just enough water or chicken broth to cover the vegetables, and then put a lid on it and let it simmer for 30 minutes or so. If the potatoes aren't soft, cook it longer. If you like it smooth, puree the whole thing; if not, use a potato masher to smoosh some of the potatoes and leave it lumpy. Stir in just enough half-and-half to make it creamy. Heat just until warmed through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with hearty bread.
This is an easy dish: ten minutes to chop stuff, 30 minutes or so to cook it, and all the ingredients are readily available. When it's this easy, there's simply no excuse for serving gruel.
In the past, I have assigned four short papers and one long paper in that class, with set dates for each of the short papers. This semester, though, I gave the students a list of 13 short-paper topics with 13 deadlines; students were free to choose any four of those papers and turn them in on the appropriate deadline. The only caveat was that they had to turn in at least two of the papers before midterm.
At the beginning of the semester, I encouraged students to select topics they cared about and were equipped to write about, and some did. On many class days, I could be certain that at least a few of the students had written short papers about the material under discussion and had therefore thought about the literature before class. Also, since deadlines were spread out, papers trickled in on various dates and I was never overwhelmed by grading in that class.
I had expected that some students would procrastinate and write the last possible papers, and that proved to be the case. Of my 14 students, one completed all four papers before midterm and then had plenty of time to work on other projects. Two more completed three papers before midterm. Two students missed so many deadlines that they completed only three short papers. The remaining nine students completed two papers before midterm and two after, with most of them settling for the last possible papers.
Overall, I'm fairly pleased with the system. Students who were motivated to get projects out of the way early were able to do so, and I received papers on a wider variety of topics than I normally would. But here's the question: given some flexibility in deadlines and topics, why do most students select the latest possible moment to do the work regardless of whether they found the topic appealing? And why did two out of 14 students allow themselves to get so far behind that they ran out of deadlines entirely and turned in only three papers? I know everyone procrastinates, but this seems a bit excessive. Now the students who just turned in the final short paper have to scramble to work on the long paper, due next week.
If I had been given this kind of option as a student, what would I have done? I don't know, but I like this system well enough to use it again--and hope my students can motivate themselves to choose appropriate deadlines.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
Next time I'm in despair because ignorance is a renewable resource and nothing I do seems to make a dent in the supply, I'll comfort myself with the knowledge that I have raised a child (a) whose idea of a terrific date is a visit to an academic library and (b) who can get really excited about shelves that move.
There, in a nutshell, you have every rapist's justification for his action. Where did a 14-year-old learn that a woman's "No" is just a flirty invitation? Let's hope the boy's parents saw his name in the paper and decided to give him a more complete education. If not, let's hope the girls at that school will soon learn how to deliver a well-placed kick.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Among those who have not read it, a variety of theories about the book are bruited about: is it about a "lecherous haberdasher who's really the head of Conde Nast" or "a history of the twentieth century as seen through a bunion"? And what of its author? Godfrey Frank "quoted French theorists who liked to inflate helpless nouns with rhetorical gases until they burst into italics" and wrote hip scholarly articles about a pop band called Fire Drill and the Orderly Fashions: "He situated them in a lineage of the Dionysian going back centuries, he located their Thanatotic flourishes as a necessary guise in the final days of a self-conscious century." In the end he becomes one with the band, performing a song about the death of Roland Barthes.
What does this have to do with John Henry? Everything. But you'll have to read the book to find out why.
Friday, November 10, 2006
There is siding on my garage.
That's right: siding! On my garage!
First windows and now siding! What's next: doors?
I don't want to go overboard here, but I have a feeling that one of these days I might actually be able to--wait for it--park a CAR!!! In my GARAGE!!!!
Siding on my garage!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Imagine how smoothly my life would proceed if I were accompanied by a whole host of whifflers. A bevy of whifflers would make a visit to the mall much more productive, particularly in the Christmas season, and I could really use some whifflers when I'm trying to use the drive-through at the bank at 5:30 Friday afternoon. My whiffler contingent would be trained to respond to whistled commands issued by my official Whiffler Whistler, who would supervise the guy in charge of keeping the other whifflers in line--the Whiffler Wrangler. Woe to the whiffler who oversteps his authority! The Whiffler Whistler would whistle for the Whiffler Wrangler, who would wrestle the scofflaw whiffler into awareness of his authority. And then the Whiffler Whistler, the Whiffler Wrangler, and the entire entourage of whifflers would play a refreshing round of whiffle-ball and eat a stack of fluffy waffles.
There's only one problem with this plan: in today's world, where do I find a mess of whifflers? Wal-Mart?
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Alphonse Miggs sits in the Social Room of the Millhouse Inn, he sits on his hands at a table of eight, with seven folks he doesn't know. At the start of the evening his knuckles brushed against a lump in his jacket pocket. He withdrew a mothball and, supremely embarrassed, thrust it back where it came. He wasn't sure if anyone noticed his mark of shame. For the rest of the night he felt cursed with invisible pockets and all at the dinner can see his shame, the great pearl of napthalene clinging to his person, smell the fumes of social incompetence emanating from it.
Invisible pockets! Fumes of social incompetence! Apparently Alphonse Miggs has been raiding the closets of my nightmares. Miggs appears in Colson Whitehead's second novel, John Henry Days, which I am just now getting around to reading although it was published five years ago. I loved The Intuitionist and I've put Apex Hides the Hurt on my Christmas wish list, hoping that Whitehead can live up to the promise of his first book.
His second book, John Henry Days, is delightful, certainly more coherent than reviews led me to expect. Its quirky cast of journalists on a junket includes one J. Sutter, described as an "inveigler of invites and slayer of crudites, this drink ticket fondler and slim tipper, open bar opportunist, master of vouchers, queue-jumping wrangler of receipts." Sutter ventures into West Virginia for the unveiling of a new postage stamp commemorating John Henry, and there he encounters the aforementioned Alphonse Miggs, who at the moment seems to be on the verge of going postal, but I'm only 80 pages in so what do I know?
Well, I do know one thing: wherever Alphonse Miggs gets his clothes, I'm not shopping there.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
One thing I'm looking forward to is a decline in the number of annoying political phone calls. This will leave us more energy to deal with the endless annoying phone calls from colleges trying to recruit the resident high school senior. He definitely gets my vote for Most Popular Resident of Our House Right Now, which is quite an achievement for a kid who's not even old enough to vote. Exit polls on the college recruiting phone calls suggest that the race is still too close to call, but a rapid influx of cash could make a big difference in the outcome.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Moderately annoyed? Annoyed enough to put a question on the final exam that will be comprehensible only to those who attended to day's class? Or not annoyed at all?
"Threes are being planted all over campus," wrote one of my students, and another student who was rather tickled at this image quickly created the illustration. My question is: if threes, why not fours or fives or even seventeens? Do I detect the specter of a 42 lurking just beyond the horizon?
Sunday, November 05, 2006
For one thing, it's too long by at least half an hour; I kept hoping another airplane would crash and burn and put the entire film out of its misery. But that's not the only reason. Too many of the characters are thoroughly one-dimensional, including Alan Alda's sleazy politician and Alec Baldwin's reprise of his role from Glengarry Glen Ross. Cate Blanchett's cartoonish caricature of Katherine Hepburn was laughable, one of the few amusing spots in an otherwise humorless film. She tromped and sputtered like Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, but in that film Hepburn's energy was more than matched by Cary Grant's. Poor Cate Blanchett has only Leo DiCaprio, who is just, let's face it, small--and I'm not talking about physical stature. I kept having this feeling I was watching an elaborate dream sequence in one of the Our Gang comedies, with DiCaprio as Alfalfa.
But there's one other thing that really annoyed me about this film, and it's taken me all day to put my finger on it: It's clear that Martin Scorsese wants us to view Howard Hughes as a sort of David righteously defying the twin Goliaths of the film and airline industries, and while it's true that Hughes was a victim of his own peculiar neuroses, he was, after all, Howard Hughes. Since when does the richest man in the world get to play the role of spunky little David? Especially when the penultimate scene features one of Hughes's minions reassuring him by saying, "Howard, everyone works for you."
Despite all the lovely airplanes, The Aviator doesn't work for me. My only consolation is that I didn't have to spend $8 on a ticket.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Chipmunks are related, both etymologically and genetically, to Chia Pets. The two species have been known to reproduce, but their offspring are infertile and require frequent mowing.
Fossil evidence suggests that an early cousin of the chipmunk grew twelve feet tall and trolled for mini-marshmallows in the lakes of lime Jello that once covered most of Wisconsin. Their extinction was hastened by the introduction of Jello Lite.
Chipmunk behavior results largely from a strong instinctual drive to watch hours and hours of Chip 'n' Dale cartoons, which provide young chipmunks with models for their own antics. In chipmunk cosmology, Chip 'n' Dale are the primary deities.
Chipmunks' cheeks can stretch wide enough to allow them to swallow themselves, primarily because their factoids are larger than their deltoids.
Chipmunks may not be smart enough to be president, but they know a thing or two. For instance, you would never find a chipmunk searching for information about the behaviors and factoids of the chipmunk on an academic blog. Chipmunks know better. They use Wikipedia. In fact, you know all those editors who obsessively sort and store information on Wikipedia? Chipmunks, every one of 'em.
That's all I know about chipmunks.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Everyone is also writing or reading or grading papers or listening to excuses about why papers are not done, and everyone else is preparing or viewing or evaluating presentations. Everyone is getting ready for the two academic conferences meeting campus next week, and everyone else is making plans to get away for the weekend or hunker down in the library.
Everyone's attending committee meetings and football games and open mike nights and information sessions about the January cruise, except for those who are taking advantage of the beautiful weather to play hooky from all their responsibilities.
With everyone carrying on at such a hectic rate, it's no wonder everyone is on edge. The challenge, of course, is to avoid falling over the edge, because no one knows what's on the other side. Maybe everyone just needs to take a deep breath and relax. Let's all put our feet up and stare out the window for awhile, and if we feel ourselves drifting away from the edge, that's okay: it'll still be there when we get back.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Is it possible that this student has never been exposed to the vulgar use of "bugger"?
If so, how do I inform the student of this connotation without coming across as the Guardian of the Dirty Words?
What I stink at is giving advice. I can give pretty good advice to students looking for the right courses to help them achieve their goals, but I never know what to say to students with no clear goals or with incompatible goals. What do I tell the kid whose mom wants him to major in engineering but whose coach doesn't want him to take any lab courses this semester? Should I tell him not to listen to his mother or not to listen to his coach?
And what do I tell the sophomore who has nearly completed his general education requirements but still has no idea what major he wants to pursue and insists on taking courses that will "count" for something? I'm tempted to suggest that he first figure out what his life is going to count for and then we'll fill in the details, but there's no little box on the degree audit sheet for that.
What do I tell the student who wants to pursue a demanding major despite failing every class she takes in that department? I can't say, "You know, there's no shame in being a welder. The world needs welders."
What do I say to the student who is clearly here to party and does not care what classes he takes as long as he doesn't have to get up before 11 a.m.? I want to remind him that someone somewhere is paying a big wad of money for his perpetual party, but I'm sure he's already heard that argument from his mom--and if he's not listening to her, why would he listen to me?
Advisors ought to advise: it's part of the job. Students, in turn, ought to study: that's why they're here. I am always happy to advise students willing to devote themselves to studying; it's the other type that makes me crazy. Where can the advisor seek advice?
Monday, October 30, 2006
The terrific paper opens with a zippy sentence that ignites fireworks in my mind. The bad paper begins with a vague generalization.
The terrific paper approaches the topic in an unexpected and exciting way. The bad paper restates the same tired opinions that bored me when I first encountered them in student writing twenty years ago.
The terrific paper takes the assignment as a starting point and exceeds all expectations. The bad paper fulfills the bare minimum and then just sputters out.
The terrific paper relies on clear reasoning and information from reliable sources to make its points. The bad paper chases its own tail without ever really achieving anything except the required word count.
The terrific paper presents an original argument that advances the scholarly conversation on the topic. The bad paper was copied directly from a web site without attribution.
Despite these vast differences, these two papers have one important thing in common: they're both really easy to grade. If every paper resembled one of these extremes, I'd have that pile of papers finished in no time.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Say you've been reading an academic blog off and on for a while and you've grown to enjoy and appreciate the blogger, inasmuch as it is possible to appreciate someone whose name you don't know. You may know a lot about the blogger, including names of pets or cars and attitudes toward both students and supervisors, but that one key piece of information is always withheld.
Then suppose one day that blog just disappears with no forwarding address.
There could be plenty of reasons for the disappearance: technical difficulties, head lice, high dudgeon, incarceration, chemotherapy, or a sudden desire for a whole-life makeover. But you'll never know, will you? Without a name, you can't even track the person down without devoting a lot of time and energy and technological know-how that you never got around to developing because of all the time you've spent building up your tenure file, and then if by some freak of nature you did manage to track the person down, what would you say? "Um, you don't know me but I've been reading your blog and I've been wondering: you know that job situation you were talking about? How did that ever turn out, anyway? None of my business, of course, but what ever happened with that head lice infestation?"
No, that blogger has become yet another story you'll never know the end of.
That's the problem with anonymity: it's too easy for individuals to fade out of the community. If this is, indeed, a community. It's tempting to think of the blogosphere as a sort of amorphous online community of compulsive communicators, but it's more like an twelve-step group in which individuals are represented by shape-shifting puppets. When a puppet disappears, what can the community do? Laugh, mourn, move on? It's impossible to know.
The solution, of course, is simple: eliminate anonymity. Name names. Reveal faces.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The problem is that the recipe calls for heavy cream. While heavy cream imparts a lovely texture that makes the tangy taste of kohlrabi cuddle right up to one's tongue, it also tends over time to put the squeeze on one's heart health. I could just subtitute milk for the cream, but I don't like to give up the texture entirely, so I usually buy half-and-half.
Yesterday, for the first time, I was faced with the following options: traditional, low-fat, or fat-free half-and-half. Now I'm really confused. The problem, I think, stems from the fact that I'm not entirely sure what half-and-half is. It's creamier than milk but wimpier than whipping cream, and I've always assumed that the difference is in the fat content.
Now I have to wonder: how is fat-free half-and-half different from skim milk? Would low-fat half-and-half impart the requisite creamy texture to the soup? Do I have to try each one of these varieties to find out? I've got a lot of kohlrabi, but even I don't want to eat kohlrabi soup every day. And if half-and-half can be fat-free, why can't we buy fat-free whipping cream?
That's just too much to think about on a Friday afternoon, so in the end I wimped out and opted for traditional half-and-half. The results were excellent: creamy but not overly rich, tangy but not bitter--an ideal soup for a cold rainy day. That warm, soothing soup blanketed my mind and removed all desire to interrogate dairy products. Fat content? Who cares! Just pour me some more of that kohlrabi soup.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
But there are signs of hope: our new contractor has been squeezing in some work on our garage while trying to finish another larger project; last week the power company hooked up the electricity, and yesterday someone tied bright orange construction tape to the sign at the end of our driveway to signal that this is the place where stuff is happening. Bring it on! I need a garage.
Meanwhile, I'll reach and scrape and reach and scrape and indulge in elaborate fantasies about my emerging garage.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I'm trying to think of a human equivalent for this technique: "Common cold? Let's just stop that heart for a few minutes and start it up again and see if that solves the problem."
With all the technological know-how at our disposal, it's astounding that the most frequent remedy for computer problems is something as simple as giving the computer a little nap. If it works with toddlers, why not with computers?
Next time my computer acts up, I'll send it to the time-out box.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I'm not going to talk about the weather (cold but crisp, a perfect fall day) or the fact that when I reluctantly left the house at 7:00 this morning I had to walk away from a lovely fire blazing in the fireplace, the first fire the resident firebrand has started this season. I won't puzzle over possible reasons for the excellent quality of my freshman students' most recent papers, and I won't mention how much I enjoyed reading them or how proud I am of their progress.
I certainly don't intend to write about how disappointed I've been in Sia Figiel's fiction, which seems unpolished and derivative, and I don't even want to think about whether I should force myself to read a book just because I spent good money on it. I'd rather not revisit the angst I experienced yesterday when the server was down and I couldn't check my e-mail for more than three hours, and I really don't want to write about the disturbing new noise emanating from the underside of my car.
Now that that's settled, it looks like I really don't have anything to write about today. Guess I'll just put it off until tomorrow.
Monday, October 23, 2006
That the end of the novel isn't usually very important. In fact, people never seem to remember the endings of novels (most especially crime novels--that's what makes them so re-readable) and movies (especially, once again, thrillers and whodunits). Conclusions and final explanations are often the most irrelevant--and disappointing--parts of a novel. What counts the most--and what we remember the most--is the atmosphere, the style, the path, the journey, and the world in which we have immersed ourselves for a few hours or a few days while reading a novel or watching a movie. What matters, then, is the journey along the horizon--in other words, the journey that never ends.
Now, everybody, sing it with me! "How many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult...."
Sunday, October 22, 2006
If a name is a word like any other word, then spelling the author's name wrong should be no more serious than spelling any other word wrong. But somehow it is more serious--of this I am certain. How can anyone write an entire paper about a particular author and never bother to notice how that author spells her name? That kind of carelessness makes me wonder how accurately the paper conveys the author's words and ideas--and sure enough, further checking reveals a whole host of inaccurately transcribed quotations and sloppy paraphrases, all brought to light by a bit of carelessness with names.
Before I make big red marks all over the page, though, I am reminded of a book by a noted ecocritical scholar (and published by a university press) in which he spelled the same author's name three different ways on the same page. That combination of carelessness and bad copyediting made me question the reliability of the entire book, a response that strikes even me as excessive.
After all, it's just a name. Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, regardless of how they're spelled. As long as the ideas are explained clearly, who cares how the names are spelled?
The answer, I'm afraid, is I do. I care deeply. I realize this makes me a bit of a pedant, but I frimly bleieve that anyone wishing to be taken seriously in a conversation, literary or otherwise, ought to accord others the basic respect of calling them by their names--their own names, and not some clumsy approximation.
Now that that's settled, my next challenge also involves putting letters in the right place: what leters will I place on that big pile of papers?
Friday, October 20, 2006
This morning's class involved a heated discussion of Amiri Baraka's play "Dutchman," heated not because of the topic but because of the temperature. We have a campus crawling with smart people but we can't manage to keep our environment comfortable: a week ago it was freezing in here and now I sweat through every class. Some brilliant person turned the thermostat up to 80 degrees in one of the rooms, which inspired someone to open the window, which made the heating system work even harder, which goes a long way toward explaining why the bills are so high. The room I was in this morning doesn't have windows, so we were stuck with the heat--unless we wanted to meet outside, which is difficult when the rain won't go away.
But despite all the griping and groaning, there's one important fact to remember: it's Friday, and neither rain nor heat nor dark of night can keep the weekend from making its appointed rounds.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I stand before a class full of students engaged in the pursuit of knowledge when suddenly the intoxicating scent of dry-erase markers wafts over me, making me woozy, loopy, and disconnected from reality, which results in a struggle to maintain dignity and order. Then the scent drifts among the students and in no time at all they're begging for more: "Bring it over here! Let me sniff it! Dr. X always lets me sniff his markers!" Before you know it, the class has devolved into chaos, with scent-addled students fighting for another sniff from the marker. Over time, this results in our loosing upon the unsuspecting public a generation of loopy students intent upon pursuing their next hit of marker and willing to run over anyone who stands in their way.
Now is the time to prevent this tragedy. Nip it in the bud, I say! It's time to demand that Congress enact comprehensive marker-control legislation, because when smelly markers are outlawed, only outlaws will have smelly markers. I could list the benefits of such legislation on the dry-erase board right here, starting with....um, was I saying something?
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Some people just shouldn't go braless, and I would include in that category most well-endowed women over the age of 60. The last time the Braless Wonder came into my office, many people noticed her lack of appropriate undergarments, so this time they were on the lookout. "Didja see?" they asked. Yes, I saw; I had no choice but to see. I tried to maintain eye contact and avoid any knowledge of anything below the neck, but then she sat down and let it all hang out right at my eye level. It's difficult to keep an intelligent conversation going in the presence of such pendulous, prominent, unprotected bosoms.
After she left, some of us were talking about taking up a collection to buy her some bras, but there's no tactful way to broach the delicate topic of cup size with a woman far past the bra-burning age. When I am old I shall wear purple--but I'll be sure to accompany it with appropriate undergarments.
"An ideal world would be full of friendly soccer players that own exotic pets," wrote one group of students, while another insisted on less formal education and more gadgets. My students want to live in luxurious houses with plenty of technology and people to serve their needs, but they also want an end to poverty and class distinctions. They want world peace, but they also insist on voice-activated televisions. One would outlaw early-morning English classes and all fine arts classes, while another student calls for more music in the world. Some want no rules at all, while others want more rules and better enforcement.
In my ideal world, everyone would write elegant, effective sentences all the time--which is why we spent the rest of the class period puzzling over punctuation. By the end of class, the rain had stopped and the sun was out and the world looked like a better place, or if not better, at least significantly brighter.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Blogging is better than Tetris, and blogging in class is better than anything that ever happened during a Board of Public Affairs meeting, including the meeting in which the chair of the BPA called the water and sewer superintendent "Baldy" on the public record. But even this would lose its thrill if I did it all the time--and besides, my students need me. So I'll just hit "publish" and get back to work.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I realize that it's a mistake to seek sartorial advice from slick magazine ads touting products that aren't even available out here in the sticks. If I looked to New Yorker ads for fashion advice, I might show up for work one day wearing little more than sequins, feathers, and an elephant, and that would be traumatic for all involved, not least the elephant. If I wore that Louis Vuitton shoe on my head, my colleagues would not exclaim over my fashion sense or rush out to buy Louis Vuitton shoes to balance on their own noggins. No: they would back slowly away saying soothingly, "There there now, everything's going to be just fine," and then they'd bolt for the phones to call for reinforcements.
So thanks just the same, Louis Vuitton, but if shoes on the head are the latest fashion trend, I think I'll sit this one out. It isn't the first time and it won't be the last that I'll sit on the sidelines watching the fashion parade and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I could go on all day--but I'd rather hear from others. Come on: send me your imput.