Monday, October 30, 2006

Extreme grading

In the past few hours I've read both the best student paper I've seen this semester and the worst.

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

The perils of anonymity

The chief advantage of online anonymity is the ability to speak without being known. This is also the chief disadvantage.

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.

You first.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I took advantage of a brief hiatus in the deluge to take a walk and survey conditions. Our babbling brook has reached full Raging Torrent stage but it's not out of its banks or over our bridge, although I imagine that some of our neighbors with lower bridges are pretty much stuck at home today. I saw three deer crossing the creek at a relatively low spot and even they were struggling to keep their heads above water. The bluff across the road from our meadow is awash in rollicking little waterfalls that will last as long as the wet weather does, and the path up to the upper meadow looks like one oozing mass of mud. All in all, it looks like we'll have a lovely weekend--Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

Indecision in the dairy section

All I wanted to do was make some kohlrabi soup--a simple desire born of the abundance of kohlrabi in our garden combined with the kind of cold, wet, nasty weather that drives one soupward. I didn't expect to be faced with a crisis of indecision in the dairy section.

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

Morning exercise

I had a little fantasy this morning while doing my pre-dawn exercises involving an ice scraper and three cars with ice-covered windows. I reach and scrape and do a little hop and reach and scrape and wish I had a garage, except I do have a garage--an incipient garage or, considering the construction materials piled all over the floor, perhaps a garage kit. The saga of our emerging garage goes back to early 2005, and it's too painful to tell in any detail. It was supposed to be usable in August of 2005 and then in November. A year later, it still isn't. If we had all the money we've poured into this project, we could sew it together into a nice blanket to keep the ice off our cars.

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

Time out

I've just succeeded in making a recalcitrant computer program do its job by following the complex and sophisticated instructions of our IT department: "Didja try rebooting?" Power down, power up, bingo: it works. It's not quite as satisfying as kicking the Coke machine, but it's definitely more effective.

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

Nothing to say

I'm not sure what to write about today but I know a few things I'm not going to write about. I definitely won't mention the resume that listed, under Work Experience, "assassinating new mangers," and I don't intend to say a word about the Washington Post article proclaiming that grammar is back in fashion (but you can read about it here). I don't intend to talk about the aspect of student advising I enjoy (putting data into little boxes on forms) and the part I really dislike (dealing with students who don't have any kind of plan, vision, or purpose for their lives and who are happy to remain blissfully ignorant of the requirements for their programs).

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

The journey that never ends

When asked what readers should think about the ending of Voyage along the Horizon, Javier Marias responded thus:
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.

How many roads?

Last week Jan Freeman tracked down the origin of a particularly egregious bowdlerization of a Bob Dylan song; you can read about it here.

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

Nominally, spelling

I've been trying to grade a pile of papers this afternoon but I keep getting distracted by an annoyingly insistent internal debate regarding spelling. The writing assignment calls for a straightforward summary of the ideas of a particular literary theorist, and the papers I've looked at are competent if not brilliant; however, in three out of four papers, the author's name is spelled wrong. We're not talking about Baudrillard either; the names under discussion are no more difficult than Smith or Jones. It annoys me to see the same author's name spelled three different ways in the same paper, but how do I translate this annoyance into a grade?

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

Living for the weekend

Friday! And after a week of rain, our babbling brook has become a raging torrent. The road isn't under water (yet), but the river is rising and more rain is on the way. Could be an exciting weekend.

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

Mark my words

I come before you today to address a serious problem that threatens the moral fiber of this institution and indeed of this great nation. I speak, of course, of smelly dry-erase markers.

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, was I saying something?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I generally don't make a habit of noticing my visitors' undergarments (or lack thereof); after all, out of sight is out of mind, and I'd have to be out of my mind to pay attention to what my visitors choose to keep out of sight. However, when a woman old enough to know better comes sashaying into my office with her assets swinging in the breeze, it's difficult not to notice--and wish I hadn't.

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.

Better living through punctuation

I drove to work in the dark this morning, the wet black pavement reinforcing the feeling that I was driving straight down into the maw of a ravenous beast, and then I found my 8:00 composition students sitting in the dark classroom with the lights off and their heads on the desks. A bleak beginning--and a perfect time to delve into ideas about how to make the world a better place.

"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

Better than Tetris

A gentle buzz fills the room as my students discuss some literary theory in groups, and a bigger buzz fills my brain as I stand before the class blogging while they work. I get a particular thrill out of blogging during class, the same kind of thrill I used to get as a journalist when I would sit at the back of a meeting of the Board of Public Affairs frantically tip-tapping on the keys of a laptop computer while three old farts sat up front discussing, say, water and sewer rates. They would occasionally look my way as if eager to have their words preserved for eternity, and I would nod and smile mysteriously and keep tapping away at a game of Tetris.

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

Remedy for relevance

The latest PMLA arrived chock-full of articles about the relationship between the Humanities and Human Rights, an important and interesting topic to be sure but it made me wonder whether the discipline is entering into another bout of Relevance Envy, when scholars who have spent their lives developing expertise in, for instance, 17th-century poetry feel the sudden urge to prove that the topic plays an essential role in our understanding of current political and social issues. Relevance Envy is a cousin to Sliderule Envy, which compels literary scholars to quantify uncontrollably while attempting to introduce scientific rigor into the study of literature. Both maladies are characterized by feverish bursts of scholarly activity pursued with evangelical fervor, followed by a quick fall into torpor acompanied by feelings of regret and futility. There's only one remedy--bed rest and a good book--and while the bed rest may be superfluous, there's no better way to convince one of one's utter irrelevance than to curl up with a good book.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Don't tread on me

If an ad in the Oct. 16 issue of the New Yorker can be believed, then today's well-dressed woman is wearing on her head a shoe. At least I think that's a shoe; it bears a striking resemblance to either a medieval torture device or a complicated piece of plumbing paraphernalia, but it bears the Louis Vuitton label so whatever it is, I can't afford it. Which is just as well because I'd hate to end up looking like the woman in the ad, whose expression suggests that she's only vaguely aware that something strikingly inappropriate has landed on her head.

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.

Birds of a feather

A pair of plump woodpeckers paid a visit recently. They tend to stick around all winter long.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Important Imput

I just received a message thanking me for my "imput" on a particular topic and I was ready to guffaw loudly, but then I wondered: what term would you use to describe information received via Instant Messaging? IMput sounds about right; it's still not right in this case, though, because whatever input I put into this project was not communicated via IM. However, the popularity of Instant Messaging suggests a brave new world of innovative vocabulary. How do you describe former Rep. Foley's instant messages to congressional pages? IMmature. How do Instant Messagers regard conventional spelling and grammar rules? IMmaterial. What happens to a student whose addiction to Instant Messaging causes him to crash and burn in his classes? Self-IMmolation.

I could go on all day--but I'd rather hear from others. Come on: send me your imput.

A one-sided conversation

There's nothing worse than showing up ready for a rousing discussion of wonderful literature and finding the class unprepared. I had re-read Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon over the weekend and I walked into class eager to dive head-first into my second-favorite Morrison novel, but I had forgotten one thing: my students just got back from fall break. Nobody reads literature over fall break. Not even when the assigned reading is by Toni Morrison.

I did my little song-and-dance about Lorain and Morrison's other novels and kinship and rituals and community, but when we got done dancing around the novel and had to actually step into it, the room went silent. Faces became blank and eyes avoided my gaze. It was clear that no one--no one!--had done the required reading.

I wanted to ask what they had read over break but I was afraid the answer would be "nothing." how can anyone go four days without reading? How can anyone spend four days in the presence of an unread Toni Morrison novel and not open it up? I felt like a chef offering an exquisite feast to starving people only to have them say, "No thanks; I'm on a diet," or like a suitor presenting a diamond ring to the love of his life only to hear her say, "Hold on, would you? I've got to take this call."

I suppose I can try again Wednesday. I think I'll let them do the teaching this time. Maybe we'll all learn something new.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Excess baggage

I'm back home again and ready to face the world--although I'm not sure I'm ready to face the 98 e-mail messages waiting in my inbox. I did check e-mail a few times while I was away, but I stopped after a cockroach crawled out from under the keyboard at coffeeshop. I've heard of bugs in the system, but that's just too much.

Would it hurt anything if I just deleted all 98 messages? I am, after all, still on fall break, and I prefer not to carry that kind of baggage on a vacation day. On the other hand, if I ignore them today, they'll still be waiting for me tomorrow along with 98 more. What I need is someone to weed through the messages and tell me which ones are important and which ones can be deleted unread. Where's my entourage when I need them?

Must have left 'em in Kentucky.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Absent-minded prof

Yesterday I encountered two faculty members who had a big influence on my life 20-some years ago and neither one of them remembered me. I shouldn't be surprised: I don't visit or maintain contact for more than 20 years and then I pop up out of the blue and say "Remember me?" They've been working on remembering the hordes of new students they encounter in classes every semester while I've become a dim memory.

The amazing thing, though, is that professors can have a tremendous impact on their students' minds without the students making much impact on the professors' minds. If one of my current composition students shows up 20 years from now and says, "Remember me? You changed my life!" I'm sure I'll be flattered, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to remember her name. Students who take one class with me and then fade into the crowd tend to blur together in my mind; the ones I remember most are those who make some kind of trouble and those I see in several classes, primarily English majors.

Even the more memorable students graduate eventually (or if they don't graduate, at least they go away), and new crowds of students demand my attention. In the long term, how many can I possibly remember? Not many. Which is why I can expect someday to replay the scene I experienced yesterday, only in reverse: this time I'll be the befuddled prof trying to remember the name of the student whose has never forgotten the influence I had on his or her life. "Thank you," I'll say, 'Whoever you are."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

On speed

It was a perfect day for driving: clear blue sky, crisp air, lovely red and yellow fall leaves everywhere. In five hours on the road today I passed Measely Ridge Road, Gravel Wash Road, Tranquility Pike, and Basil Rutter Field, Home of the Bulldogs. I saw plenty of deer carcasses but also a more unusual type of roadkill: teddy bears, at least a dozen of 'em, strewn along the side of I-75. The turkey vultures were more interested in the deer.

It's been a while since I drove on I-75 and I had forgotten that the average interstate driver considers the speed limit merely a suggestion. I was going 70 most of the time and I was being passed by little old ladies in Packards, toddlers on Big Wheels, and sloths on crutches. After all that speed it was good to come to a complete stop.

I'll be visiting my daughter at college for the next few days. I'm writing this from her room in the same dorm where I lived 23 years ago, except it's much nicer now, brighter and prettier and air conditioned, not to mention wired. There's a flurry of activity around me but I'm happy to just be still for a while, to enjoy a three-day detour from the high-speed highway of life. Tuesday morning I'll be on the road again but until then my speed limit will hover as close to 0 as I can get it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Laptop lapses

My 8:00 class looks a bit disjointed this morning: roughly half the students face forward while the other half have turned their desks to face the back wall. It looks like half the class is being punished, but no: they're just taking their midterm, an in-class essay, and those who choose to use a laptop are facing the back wall so I can see all the screens. I've told them that they can use any resource available inside the classroom, but if I see any signs of e-mailing, instant messaging, googling, or other attempts to connect with people outside the classroom, their grade is toast.

I really would prefer not to spend the next hour looking over the shoulders of hard-working students, but prior encounters with cheaters have made me cautious. My composition classes emphasize writing as a recursive process involving revision, and computers make revision much easier--but they also introduce new problems, not the least of which is misplaced trust in spelling checkers. In the past I have had students use instant messaging to "help" each other during exams, and more than one student has discovered the horrors of losing a finished essay to a technological glitch.

I warn them about these problems in advance, and I remind them that technological difficulties do not excuse late work. Still, many prefer to write on laptops, and I am loath to tell them no. So there they sit, facing the wall, their fingers flying across the keyboard as if writing for their lives. The results will be legible, but will they be coherent? I'll know in an hour--or slightly less.

P.S. Class is over--finally--and the biggest problem was getting the last few students to leave! I kept having this conversation:

"I need more time."
"Time is up."
"But I'm not finished."
"But time is up."
"But I can't write a whole essay in 90 minutes."
"One of the goals of an in-class essay is to assess your ability to organize your ideas and write under pressure. That means when time is up, you turn in your essay."
"But I need more time."
"Everyone would like more time. Turn it in."
"But I'm not finished."
"Another class needs this room. Turn it in."
"But I need more time."

Finally I had to chase the last two students out of the classroom, but they followed me into my office to continue to beg for more time to finish their essays. One refused to leave my office no matter how many times I said "No no no no no!" He would walk out and then walk back in with a big grin on his face and a huge "Please" issuing from his mouth. I don't know how many times I said no before he finally left.

Now I have a big pile of student papers on my desk and two more midterms to give. I need more time.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

News of the world

Tonight on a walk up our country road I saw two snakes, one dead and one living; three aptly-named Giant Puffball Mushrooms; a white tree trunk entwined by poison ivy vines bearing brilliant crimson leaves; a garden plot covered with colorful gourds; paw-paws and buckeyes dangling from trees.

No guns. No deranged gunmen. No murdered schoolgirls. No fear.

Out here in the country we feel safe. There are no metal detectors in the local schools, few locks on the neighbors' doors. We hear talk of thefts and hunting accidents, but murder belongs elsewhere, in the hectic cities and their suburbs. What can hurt us out here?

Today's news reminds us that nobody's safe, and it's news I'd rather not face. Instead I seek news of two snakes, three mushrooms, a pretty tree, a garden full of gourds, and a fruitful forest where violence occurs only among non-human beasts.

Desperately seeking dignity

At the beginning of Singin' in the Rain, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) declares that his show-biz career has been characterized by a single-minded devotion to Dignity--but flashbacks suggest otherwise, portraying him as a checkered-suited buffoon willing to do anything for a laugh. It's difficult to maintain dignity while tap-dancing for quarters in the local dive or being pelted by rotten fruit in a grimy Vaudeville theater.

It's also difficult to maintain dignity while reading a pile of student papers analyzing Singin' in the Rain. I love Singin' in the Rain. I love writing about Singin' in the Rain. I love reading about Singin' in the Rain. What I don't love is singing about Singin' in the Rain, but I can't help it: my students' papers infect my brain with all those peppy songs, and the next thing I know I'm sashaying into the classroom singing "Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously."

That's where dignity flies out the window. English professors are not supposed to sashay down the hall, and we are definitely not supposed to sing nonsensical tongue-twisters while approaching students preparing to take a difficult midterm exam. An English professor who enters the classroom singing about Moses's erroneous supposition re: toeses is unlikely to be looked upon as entirely respectable, particularly if said professor can't carry a tune. Good thing I'm too much of a klutz to attempt to tap-dance. If my students start carrying rotten fruit to class, though, I'm in big trouble.

Fortunately, this Singin' obsession will be over soon and my students will be moving on to the next topic of conversation: The Conversation, a film utterly devoid of peppy tunes and tap-dancing. The only danger is that I might end up creeping stealthily through the halls while mumbling incomprehensibly--in other words, acting like an English professor.

Dignity. Always dignity.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Writher's block

One of my students wrote about an author's unique "writhing style," which is certainly vivid but not quite what she had intended. What would cause a writer to writhe and how would that writhing style be made evident on the page? I'm at a loss for words--perhaps I'm experiencing Writher's Block, for which the remedy is a quick trip to the shores of Catatonia.