Thursday, November 30, 2006

Attack of the turnips

Maybe that should be attack on the turnips. Yesterday I felt positively barbaric while trying to cut into a turnip the size of a person's head. It was a wonderfully fresh turnip that popped open with a satisfying snap, but still: what can I do with a turnip that big? It turned up in a Moroccan stew with chicken and currants and sweet potatoes and cinnamon, a hearty meal that made the house smell like heaven, if they have turnips and cinnamon in heaven.

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

Loving literature, sort of

This morning I did something I've never done before: I told a student to drop his English major. First, though, I invited him to explain why he wanted to be an English major.

"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

To BUH or not to BUH

I've just encountered an infelicitous acronym: BUH. Certain persons on our campus are capable of being referred to officially as BUHs. The actual meaning is downright uninteresting, but before I reveal it, I'd welcome some suggestions. To whom would you apply the acronym BUH?

Unexpected gifts

It was a stupid thing to do but I have no one but myself to blame: I'm meeting individually with my literature students all day today and tomorrow and part of Wednesday to talk about their final papers. Every 15 minutes, a student comes walking through my office door prepared to discuss ways to improve his or her paper, or possibly not. Anything else I need to do--class preps, reading and responding to e-mail, visiting the ladies' room--has to get squeezed between appointments. The only reason I'm able to write this right now is that someone missed an appointment. As a compulsively punctual person, I generally get annoyed when people miss appointments, but today every missed appointment is like a gift, like a small quantity of breathing room tied up with a bow. If I knew where to get more of the same, that would pretty much take care of my Christmas shopping list.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Games people play

Twenty-six years ago just at this time of year, a young man I had met the day before beat me at Scrabble. What could I do? Reader, I married him.

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

Home free

So it's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm in the kitchen making corn chowder at the request of the college kid who's on her way home from Kentucky, and suddenly I hear on the radio that an accident has closed I-64 in both directions near Ashland, Kentucky. It's going to be a very long afternoon.

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

Thankful for nothing

The young man just left for school, the college kid is driving home this evening, and the bearded wonder got called to substitute at a school with a name so ridiculous that if I mentioned it no one would believe me so let's just call it the Everyone Is Special Academy.

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

Putting students to sleep

I put a class full of students to sleep this morning, which isn't my favorite way to start the day. Afterward I was griping to one of my colleagues--"I just wasn't at my best this morning; last day to cover material for the research paper and it wasn't scintillating"--and she said, "How often are your students at their best? How often do they give you stuff that's not scintillating?"

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

"I can't e-mail," he e-mailed

All my students have papers due so naturally it's Horrible Excuse Week. I've heard about more broken alarm clocks, midnight vomiting episodes, and family emergencies than I'd ever imagined could happen in one week; apparently our campus has become a vortex of personal disaster.

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

Writing about thinking about writing about thinking

"Writing is a technology to think with," wrote Richard E. Miller--or so I've been telling my freshman composition students all semester. Now that I need to actually locate the original quotation so I can get the wording just right and cite it properly, I can't find it.

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

A pougham too farrh

If the vagaries of English spelling interest you, there's an amusing poem (or perhaps I should write "pougham") on the topic over at Language Log today. My favorite lines:

With their flash cards looking like prescriptions for the catarrh
And their mnemnmonics, blast 'em. They go too farrh.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gruel R Us

Yesterday I ate at a new local lunch spot where I was served the worst potato soup I've ever encountered--it looked like gruel and tasted like seasoned cornstarch. With so many other local restaurants serving excellent soup, I doubt that the new place will last long. What annoyed me most, though, is that potato soup isn't exactly rocket science. It's not that difficult, people! Listen up:

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.

Deadline experiment

I conducted an experiment in an upper-level literature class this semester, and I am now prepared to share the results.

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.

Bluebird of happiness?

It may not be the official Bluebird of Happiness, but it did make me very happy last month when a flock of bluebirds came flitting around our woods. They're gone now, but they were delightful for a time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Incomprehensible ignorance

I've been trying to comprehend this morning's news out of Iraq: over 100 educators kidnapped, universities shut down, classes cancelled. This incident is shocking on so many levels, but here's what I've been puzzling over: what kind of organization thinks it can gain power by shutting down education? How credible is a group willing to die (or kill) for the belief that ignorance is bliss? All my years of education leave me speechless.

Monday, November 13, 2006

In the stacks

Not long ago my daughter was telling me about a recent date: her boyfriend took her to a large acacemic library, and "Mom, you wouldn't believe it, they have shelves that move!"

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.

When "no" means "yes"

Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch included an article about a junior high school in Columbus that is trying to cure an outbreak of inappropriate touching among the students. One 14-year-old boy was quoted saying, "The girls say they don't like it, but they really do."

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

A Chiropodist in Pangea

I've just finished Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days, which drills ever deeper into the mountain of history until it bursts out into sunlight on the other side, and I don't want to give away the wonders of the book but I have to share a delicious moment of satire--Whitehead's description of a party celebrating the release of a new book: "They had gathered in a club called Glasnost to partake of the spread, the panoply of bite-sized widgets laid out by the publisher of Godfrey Frank's A Chiropodist in Pangea, a fifteen-hundred-page grimoire of mysterious content that would debut in a few days on the New York Times best-seller list. There was some question as to whether it would be categorized as fiction or nonfiction. Someone had to read it first."

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

Perpetual construction project update

Drum roll, please:

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!



Cancelled class this morning to cope with a minor dental emergency: a crown fell out. My dentist glued it back in this morning (and let me just say how much I appreciate office hours that begin at 7:40 a.m.), but he said this is only a temporary fix, that because of problems with the interface (!) between the crown and the tooth we'll have to start looking for "a permanent solution," which sounds close enough to The Final Solution to suggest euthansia, which would be perfectly fine with me right now because even though there's nothing remotely resembling a nerve left in that tooth, my entire face hurts enough to make me want to put it out of its misery.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

No waffling on whifflers

Today I learned a new (very old) word: whiffler, an attendant who clears the way for a procession, derived from a Middle English term for an armed attendant, which in turn derives from OE wifel, meaning battle-ax. Whifflers are the big brawny (sometimes armed) guys who shove the adoring crowd out of the way before the parade passes by, the crowd controllers in the entourage.

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?

Found poetry

Lines Encountered a Few Paragraphs into a Student Paper, Where They Work Better as Poetry than as Argument

The poet is a way
for the world to keep moving
and for the people
on its surface
to stay faithful.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Unveiling John Henry

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.

On jargon

I used the word "jargon" in class yesterday and my students asked me to define it. Apparently "jargon" has become jargon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Exit poll

The polls have closed and my own personal exit poll indicates that in the one race I really care about, my husband's ballot cancelled out mine. We could have stayed home and achieved the same effect, but at least this way we can congratulate ourselves on doing our civic duty. I wanted to do my civic duty before my 8:00 class so I wouldn't have to make a special 17-mile trip out to my polling place and back in the middle of the day, and I mistakenly assumed that the polls wouldn't be crowded at 6:45 a.m. Amazing how many people vote that early. We could have held a barn dance if it weren't so difficult to fit an accordion inside a voting booth.

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

How annoyed should I be

...when a whole mess of students miss my class because they have a big project due in another class later that day?

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

Failure to launch

Because we're done with band competitions, because my son is interested in aviation, because the film won lots of awards, because we never saw it when it was showing in theaters, we stayed home last night and watched The Aviator on DVD. All day I've been trying to figure out why I found the film utterly awful.

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

The truth about chipmunks (well, sort of)

Some poor misguided soul, possibly a student eagerly pursuing knowledge, ended up on my blog after typing the following question into Google: "What are the behaviors and factoids of the chipmunk?" If memory serves, the only chipmunks I've mentioned on this site have been dead ones dangling from the mouth of a stray cat eager to bribe its way into our warm house. I don't know if that counts as a behavior or a factoid, but either way, it's not enough to fill a research paper. In order to rectify the dearth of information re: behaviors and factoids of the chipmunk, I offer the following:

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's edgy

"Everyone's on edge this week," said our student office assistant, and she's right, but perhaps there are good reasons. Everyone is registering for spring classes or advising students or trying desperately to contact intransigent advisees, and those who aren't offering heartfelt stories about why they should be allowed into a class ahead of everyone else on the waitlist are listening to such stories.

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

It beggars the imagination

Yesterday I received a paper from a student who apparently has no awareness of the sexual connotations of the word "bugger," resulting in sentences referring to a certain character as "an outstanding bugger" who attends "a bugger convention." The character in question is, as you may have surmised, a surveillance expert.

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?

Advice for the advisor?

Another season of advising is nearly over and I've concluded that I'm not a very good advisor. I'm a pro at filling out forms and fitting together courses to suit a student's needs, and I'm pretty good at guiding students through the general education maze since I know our curriculum inside out.

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?