Thursday, February 28, 2013

Failure to communicate 101

As I prepare to meet my Comedy class today, I keep finding myself rehearsing lines that would be more appropriate in Kindergarten: I'm doing this for your own good. This is hurting me more than it's hurting you. If I've told you once, I've told you 1000 times...

The thing is, I have told them 1000 times, or at least 20 times, and I've told them in various forms (orally, in person, on the assignment sheet, via e-mail) and they're still not getting it.

Well, some of them. At least half of the class needs a kick in the pants while the rest are doing just fine on this particular assignment, which offers students a significant grade-boost for a minimal amount of work. All they have to do is read the directions and follow them: submit at least 250 words commenting on a literary work before we discuss that work in class; they can earn only 5 points per submission, but over the course of the semester those 5 points add up to a full 100, which can make a significant difference in the final grade, for good or ill.

I use this system in general education literature classes every semester and I generally have to spend some time at the beginning reminding students of the requirements: Nice work, but your comment falls far below the 250-word requirement, so no credit this time. Or: Excellent analysis, but as the assignment sheet points out, you must submit comments before we discuss the work in class or you get no credit.

Usually all the kinks get worked out within the first two weeks, but here we are a week before the midterm exam and I still have students who have not submitted any comments (of the 10 due before next week) or who continued to submit comments that are too short or too late to get any credit.

And here's the thing: they're apparently not even reading my responses to their comments, because they keep making those same mistakes and they seem oblivious to the fact that they're not getting any credit.

I honestly don't know what to do with these students. I don't want to berate the entire class when only a few students are having trouble, but sending them more e-mails explaining the problem is unlikely to work when they haven't paid any attention to the messages I've already sent. How do I get through to students who have ignored everything I've ever said about the assignment, either in person or in writing?

I suppose I could tell them for the thousand-and-first time...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Addled (in ALL CAPS)

I knew the day would come when my four preps/four writing proficiency courses would addle my brain, and now it's here. Ample evidence: 

1. I almost missed my 1:00 class because I thought today was TUESDAY.

2. I distributed a handout with instructions that made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER because somehow I substituted the word SYLLABUS where THESIS was supposed to be.

3. I was surprised when a student reminded me that our class is meeting in the library Friday (according to the SYLLABUS) and I had to stand in front of the class looking STUPID while trying to remember WHY I had scheduled a LIBRARY VISIT.

4. I forgot to pack my LUNCH this morning and then, when I went out to buy something, forgot to take my PURSE to pay for it.

5. I found on my desk a yellow sticky note with a phone number and the letters UHC and even though it's clearly my handwriting, I have NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS.  

Now here I am in my office surrounded by the wreckage of my morning. It's 2:12 p.m. Can I possibly restore order in a mere two hours or shall I just pack it in and call it a day?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Welcome to my window well!

So I walk into my office after class and find: a body.

Not a dead body. What do you think this is, CSI? If this were CSI, I would be surrounded by tall, slender, stylishly dressed people who keep whipping off their sunglasses and making dramatic statements; instead, I'm surrounded by ordinary-looking people who don't even wear sunglasses to work because we work in a basement, not a crime lab or a morgue. Although, come to think of it, the basement is not without its morgue-esque qualities (morgue-iness?): it's dank, dark, and musty enough for any morgue, and some of my students do a pretty good impersonation of a corpse in class.

But I digress. 

The body I found in my office was not dead and neither was it, technically in my office. It was sitting in the window well where it would be blocking the sun if we had any sunshine today instead of this horrid dank dark musty cold wintery rainy mess. 

When I first looked up up up, far above my head to my tiny dungeon window, I thought that someone had left a pile of discarded clothes right in my window well, but then it moved. It's alive! But who is it? Nondescript beige jacket, vague gray hat, basic working-man apparel. Homeless person? My window well can't be a particularly comfy place to hang out, so maybe it's one of the tree-removal dudes busily deleting a row of ash trees right next to my building. But why would anyone take a break in my window well others are available closer to the road?

Then I notice: he's smoking. I know a smoker who wears that coat and that hat! It's one of my colleagues seeking shelter from the rain while he takes a smoke break. I call out his name but he can't hear (who knew the glass was that thick?), and he's facing away from the window so he can't see me. I could throw something up there to get his attention, but what would I say? "You're blocking my sun?" There isn't any.

I don't begrudge him a little shelter from the storm--in fact, basic human decency demands that I provide a more hospitable welcome. I ought to equip my window well with a little rug or a soft cushion--or, better yet, heat and light, cheery yellow walls painted with birds, a sturdy desk and comfy chair. If the window well were more like my office, I'd be tempted to hang out there myself!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Loving those lightbulb moments

A student comes to me for help with paper and somewhere in the course of our discussion I see a lightbulb burst into full glow just above her head. Suddenly she gets it. What did I say--or not say?

Another student comes in to talk about what's so great about the English major, and she asks me whether I went to college knowing what I wanted to do. I tell her I entered college undecided but chose English after a professor wrote on my final paper, "If you don't go into English, I shall go into mourning." She leaves still undecided, but we're making progress. If she doesn't go into English...some other department will be very well blessed by her presence.

I'm reading the essay exams from my film class and they're all batting around the same general idea in a reasonably competent manner, but then I read one that points out an important element of the film that I had never even considered--and it changes the way I look at this scene. There's this ridiculous line in the film textbook warning that professors are unlikely to learn anything new from students, but I'm happy to report that it's wrong wrong wrong.  

Prufrock day in American Lit! Before class, a little bumper music: Simon and Garfunkel singing "The Dangling Conversation" (link here). I get to squeeze the universe into a ball and roll it toward a room full of students. Will they answer the overwhelming question or deflect it? Either way, at least the question gets asked.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my job?  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cold gold

 The buzzards have begun to return from their southern sojourn--two weeks earlier than usual!--but year-round residents are still bundled up in their winter plumage. Dozens of goldfinches gather around the thistle feeders, their buff-and-black colors a muted echo of their flashy summer feathers. We saw an indigo bunting yesterday and a northern flicker today, wild turkeys last week and at least a half dozen downy woodpeckers this morning. Everything, it seems, is on the move. Can spring be far behind? 

(Tell that to my hands. They got so cold when I went out to get these shots that they're still complaining hours later.)  

Friday, February 22, 2013

To be or not to be (promoted)

The admin asked me to be in my office between 3 and 5 on Friday. I would rather be up and doing, but when the admin says be, I say, "How high?" Especially when I'm supposed to be waiting for an important piece of information re: promotion. So here I sit between 3 and 5--being.

It's not easy being me. I could be doing my taxes or my class preps or my grading, but doing wasn't part of the agreement: I am under orders to simply be for two hours on a Friday afternoon while awaiting important news from a person not known for punctuality. Is being something I can accomplish while listening to music? Live music would be better, but where would I get a mariachi band this late on a Friday when there's ice all over the roads? Do mariachi bands even exist in locales subject to ice?

Do-doodly-do-do, be-beedly-be-be, just let it be. I sit and wait for a while, and then, just to change things up, I wait and sit. Sit. Wait. Wait. Sit. Boring. Let's face it: being is boring. Maybe I'm not doing it right--instead of simply being, maybe I should try being in the moment, but what moment and how do I go about being in it? Someone send me an instruction book, preferably one translated into four languages so I can sit here and be entertained. And a mariachi band. How about a mariachi band equipped with an instruction book?

But wait: being entertained was not part of the admin's insistence that I be in my office from 3 to 5. On Friday afternoon. To await important information. From a person not known for punctuality.

If I'm still here being patient at 7, please send in the Saint Bernards. Equipped with a multi-lingual instruction booklet and a mariachi band. And, if possible, a promotion.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My mobile boneyard

Whoever parks beside my car today or even glances inside will be greeted by the fleshless skull of a deer stacked atop a pile of miscellaneous bones. I hope they don't call Campus Police to report that I'm operating a mobile boneyard on campus. Is that even legal?

It's not every day that I come to campus equipped with a big ol' box o' deer parts, but one of my colleagues has dogs that hanker after bones and we have an excess, thanks to Hopeful, who helpfully hauls home all kinds of animals, both intact and in pieces. This time of year, it is not at all unusual to look outside and say, with a sinking feeling, "She's brought home another head." 

Deer head, of course. No human beings were harmed in the making of this movie. I hope.

Eventually we end up with dessicated deer parts and bones scattered all over the yard, which then looks more like a boneyard than a front yard. So when my colleague last week mentioned that he spends more than $40 a week buying bones for his hounds, I offered to ease his burden. Hence the box of bones in the back seat of my car, which I left unlocked for my colleague's convenience. Who's going to steal a box of bones--or a 19-year-old car with 252,000 miles on it? Good luck trying to start it in this cold weather!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And the Oscar for tongue-biting goes to...

This morning when a clueless driver incapable of interpreting a big white arrow and a "One Way" sign pulled into the parking lot in the wrong direction and clogged traffic, I wanted to yell--but I didn't. Probably a visitor, I thought; maybe even a potential student. So I sat in my car biting my tongue while waiting for the traffic to untangle so I could park.

Biting my tongue may well be my greatest skill, developed over decades as a pastor's wife. Back when we lived in church-owned parsonages I would often be the target of complaints about, for instance, the parsonage electric bill. I would show up for church Sunday morning laden with children and Sunday-School teaching materials and be greeted at the door by some sweet old church lady waving the electric bill in my face and demanding to be told why it was so high. "Because the house has no insulation so every ounce of heat leaks out while we shiver indoors under layers and layers of wool" is what I could not say, so I bit my tongue, smiled, and bottled up my anger until we got home, where anger sometimes leaked out all over my poor innocent children.

Not a good situation, but this kind of experience, repeated over decades, fully equipped me to avoid saying things I would really like to say. Recently in a class, for instance, I wanted to snap out, "Instead of parroting back what your high school teacher told you, can't you look at the actual words on the page?" Or this morning: "What part of 'One Way' do you not understand? If you can't read the words, maybe you could look at that big white arrow painted right in your path."

But I didn't. Would letting the anger out help the situation? I don't know.

Here's one thing I do know: all that bottled-up anger doesn't just go away. At some point it'll spill out, perhaps over innocent bystanders. So that's why I like to let it out here. Turning anger to humor dissipates its power--and if someone finds it entertaining, I have done my part. Even if that someone is only me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A love/hate kind of day

A funny thing happened on the way to my Concepts of Comedy class: each student who submitted reading comments thoroughly hated one poem--but no two students hated the same poem, and any poem hated by one student was loved by another.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when students respond passionately to poems dealing with passionate topics: love, hate, death, suicide, and religion. We looked at incongruity of style and substance in Stevie Smith's "Sunt Leones" (link) and Dorothy Parker's "Resume" (link), and we examined love poems you'll never find inside a Hallmark card: Parker's "Love Poem" (link) and Julie Sheehan's "Hate Poem" (link). A love poem full of hate and a hate poem full of love: the perfect recipe for either comedy or tragedy.

Speaking of love/hate relationships, I tried to enrich our discussion of Ambrose Bierce's "The New Decalogue" (link) by reading aloud some entries from The Devil's Dictionary, including his long definition of Regalia, which includes the incomparable phrase "The Blatherhood of Insufferable Stuff." Half of my students bore up under the onslaught as if being pelted by bloody entrails while the other half wore smiles that threatened to break their faces wide open. I ignored the hateful half and kept reading. Bierce may be a polarizing figure, but on a day when we're discussing dark comedy, he's worth pursuing.

"You know he's still out there," I told my students. "Bierce's body was never found, so he's still out there wandering the Mexican wilderness--or else he's sitting at a bar with Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa while Elvis warms up to sing a few tunes."

Did anyone laugh? Maybe a little. Most looked puzzled, a look I see frequently in that class. All in all, it was a love/hate kind of day in a love/hate kind of class that is turning out to be a perfect recipe for either comedy or tragedy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pardon the interrup--

A student came into my office and apologized for interrupting my work. "My work itself is an interruption," I said. "In fact, this entire day has been a series of interruptions inside interruptions until I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing anymore."

What I was supposed to be doing at that particular moment was helping a student understand transitional devices, not a thrilling topic for discussion but we managed. That talk interrupted an attempt to write an exam, which, in turn, was interrupted by a class and a workout at the rec center and then another class, which was interrupted before it even began because the classroom door was shut and locked and I don't have any keys to that building.

But somehow we survived all that and now here I am disentangling myself from all those embedded layers of interruptions so that I can think about maybe perhaps at some point (gasp!) going home while the sun is still shining. Shocking, I know. I'll be on campus for Very Important Events just about every evening this week, including the mysterious "be in your office from 3 to 5 Friday" event, unless it gets interrupted by, say, a meteor strike.

It could happen. Even locked doors can't prevent that kind of interruption.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

What's opera, doc?

Spending an afternoon at the opera today made me realize that I'm really not doing too badly for a savage raised by wolves.

My people are not opera people. Well, my daughter is an opera person and she's working really hard to help me appreciate good music, but I grew up in a household that tended more toward Johnny Cash than Placido Domingo. I still recall the time a high-school classmate corrected my pronunciation of "Placido Domingo." How was I supposed to know it's not supposed to rhyme with "placebo"?

I've seen some Gilbert and Sullivan but never a real opera all the way through, so when some colleagues formed a carpool to travel an hour north and watch a performance of the Metropolitan Opera's Rigoletto simulcast live in tiny, provincial Zanesville, Ohio, I decided to give it a try. My daughter met me at the theater where we settled into our comfy seats for a high-def, high-class, high-culture experience.

It was pretty good, I think. I'm not really qualified to judge, but if good opera involves colorful costumes, dramatic sets, remarkable voices, and compelling music, then this was good. I would have been lost without the subtitles and I'm annoyed that the Duke got away scot-free at the end, but the time whizzed by quickly and I kept wanting to clap. (But what's the point? The performers are in New York. They can't tell whether we're clapping, stomping, or throwing popcorn at the screen.)

At the end I appreciated one unheralded advantage of having been raised by wolves far from the realm of opera: no one will ever ask me to sing a demanding song in Italian in front of a live audience while lying on my back in the trunk of a car. So there's that. If there's an opera award for Best Performance by a Soon-to-be-Corpse Stuffed in the Trunk of a Classic Car, Diana Damrau ought to get it. 

Just don't ask me to pronounce her name.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

There's a reason they call it "lifelong learning"

One of my students apologized for falling asleep in class and another thanked me for using large print on my Prezi slides. "I'm legally blind," he said, "but I can read the print if it's big enough."

Why is a woman who can't sleep all night sitting in a late-afternoon class? And what is a legally blind man doing in a film class? I'm just happy they're in class, even though they're not taking exams or writing papers or getting academic credit for the experience. I'm teaching a Learning in Retirement class for the first time ever, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. 

I confess I was initially motivated by the money--not a huge amount but enough to make it worth my while to teach one two-hour session each week for eight weeks, especially since I'm drawing on material I'm using in my film class so there's no new preparation required.

After four weeks, though, it's not about the money any more. It's just fun. 

The 20 or so students in my class are retired professors, schoolteachers, librarians, counselors, journalists, housewives, and who knows what else, but here's what they have in common: they know stuff. A lot of stuff.  And they'll eagerly share that stuff during class discussions--no one stares at the desk in hopes that I won't call on them. I learn something from them every week, even though I'm supposed to be the expert.

They speak up in class and ask terrific questions and they are incredibly appreciative. Late afternoon is not my most energetic time of day and today I was particularly tired, fumbling with technology and tripping over words, but as we were leaving, just about every student thanked me. I can't remember the last time a college student thanked me for a class (no matter how brilliant), but my Learning in Retirement folks thank me even when I fumble and stumble.

They wouldn't be there unless they really wanted to learn, so they show up, week after week, even if they haven't slept or can't see. I like them, these old folks. They're the kind of people I want to be when I retire. In fact, the sooner, the better! How about tomorrow?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stop boring me. Please. Just stop.

Rule #1 for writing papers in my classes: Don't bore me. 

If the material is boring, use interesting words--starting in the title and introduction. "Poetry Essay" is not an interesting title. Neither is "Literature Essay." And don't even get me started on "Essay 1." Imagine that the future of the planet depends upon your ability to hook every random eyeball that happens to glance upon your title. Notice how the concept of hooking eyeballs makes you squirm? Kind of icky, isn't it? But it got your attention. Made you look!

But hooking isn't enough: you've got to set the hook with an interesting opening line. Today I've been shuffling through a pile of papers trying to find an opening line that makes me want to keep reading, and so far the pickings are pretty slim. "Since ancient times, authors have written poetry" is true but so obvious that I can't imagine a reader who would find it interesting. 

Well, okay, I can try: an alien planet where poetry does not exist accidentally intercepts a broadcast of Billy Collins reading "The Lanyard" (link) and cannot comprehend the function of such a peculiar arrangement of words. Overwhelmed by curiosity, the alien planet sends anthropologists to earth to research the history and purpose of poetry, but they possess only the most rudimentary understanding of the English language and human history. That alien anthropologist would be the ideal audience for a sentence like "Since ancient times, authors have written poetry."

But I am not that alien. So say something interesting and stop boring me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A little moral calculus

First, let b = the number of weeks of winter bleakness we've endured. Subtract w (the wonderfulness of today's weather) and multiply by m (the number of late meetings I've attended in the past 7 days). Add p (the number of papers I need to grade by tomorrow) and stir gently until it reaches temperature t (my current blood pressure multiplied by the number of times I encountered ludacris used as an adjective in student papers today). Pour into heart-shaped molds and cool until pliable, then toss to the dog.

Which is what I'm doing with the rest of the day. Yes: I'm skipping out on office hours and taking my pile of papers home, where they will sit patiently in my bag while I take the dog out for a long walk in the beautiful gorgeous irresistible sunny weather. I know it's wrong, but my moral calculus tells me that sometimes you've gotta be bad to be good. So sayonara, sweetheart. I'm going to the dogs. Dog. Whatever.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A literary boxing match

Take the characters from readings and films assigned in my classes today and tomorrow and put them in the ring together. Who wins?

Round One
In this corner, Mary Tyrone, the morphine addict from Long Day's Journey Into Night; in the other corner, the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Hold on, folks--that rabbit may have sharp pointy teeth, but Mary's constant whining makes the rabbit's head explode! 

Round Two
The Misfit (from "A Good Man is Hard to Find") meets Sonny Steele (a good man who is hard to find in The Electric Horseman):  The Misfit wields a gun, but Sonny's sparkling electric-blue cowboy get-up blinds him so he can't aim straight. Sonny wins by a lumen!  

Round Three

Eugene O'Neill meets Eudora Welty in the battle of the euphonious names. Welty wins it by a syllable!

Round Four
Rising Star, the aging racehorse in The Electric Horseman, meets the coconut-shell horsey sounds from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but Rising Star is so doped up that all he can do is settle down for a nice nap. The coconut shells gallop off with the win!

Round Five 
James Tyrone, armed with a hedge-trimmer, meets the Knights who say Ni--and Tyrone trims their shrubbery!

Round Six
The sad-sack traveling salesman from Eudora Welty's "Death of a Traveling Salesman" meets Hallie Martin, the sassy journalist played by Jane Fonda in The Electric Horseman: it's a draw. The salesman disables Hallie by opening his sample cases full of ladies' shoes, but then he keels over from a heart attack and nobody even notices. 

Round Seven 
The backseat-driving talkative grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" meets the French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Which one will shut up first? It's impossible to say--once they get started, they never stop. This match may go on forever!

Friday, February 08, 2013

On poetic polysyndeton

Lists are useful: to encourage my advanced writing students to attend to the rhythms and sounds of language, I get them to make lists and arrange them in sentences in particularly euphonious ways. An excellent example of this practice appears in an article called "Street Life" in the Feb. 11&18 New Yorker, in which Joseph Mitchell describes his fascination with the ornamentation of buildings:

I never get tired of gazing from the back seats of buses at the stone eagles and the stone owls and the stone dolphins and the stone lions' heads and the stone bulls' heads and the stone rams' heads and the stone urns and the stone tassels and the stone laurel wreaths and the stone scallop shells  and the cast-iron stars and the cast-iron rosettes and the cast-iron medallions and the clusters of cast-iron acanthus leaves bolted to the capitals of cast-iron Corinthian columns and the festoons of cast-iron flowers and the swags of cast-iron fruit and the zinc brackets in the shape of oak leaves propping up the zinc cornices of brownstone houses and the scroll-sawed bargeboards framing the dormers of decaying old mansard-roofed mansions and the terra-cotta cherubs and nymphs and satyrs and sibyls and sphinxes and Atlases and Dianas and Medusas serving as keystones in arches over the doorways and windows of tenement houses.

The polysyndeton and repetition would be right at home in those Old Testament passages describing the ornamentation of the Temple, and if you read it out loud the incantatory rhythm casts a poetic spell. Phrasing controls pace, with the short phrases at the beginning expanding into longer phrases before moving toward that final swift outpouring of "nymphs and satyrs and sibyls and sphinxes" and so on. 

The repetitions and lists continue in the next paragraph, culminating in a short, simple sentence that punctuates the whole:

There are some remarkably silly-looking things among these ornaments, but they are silly-looking things that have lasted for a hundred years or more in the dirtiest and most corrosive air in the world, the equivalent of a thousand years in an olive grove in Greece, and there is something triumphant about them--they have triumphed over time and ice and frost and heat and humidity and wind and rain and brutally abrupt temperature fluctuations and rust and pigeon droppings and smoke and soot and sulfuric acid, not to speak of the perpetual nail-loosening and timber-weakening and stone-cracking and mortar-crumbling vibration from the traffic down below. Furthermore, they have triumphed over profound changes in architectural styles. I revere them. 

That's the way to make a list. That's the way to make a statement. That's the way to make me want to go to New York.   

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Teacher's helper

Last night I dreamed a PowerPoint presentation--and a pretty useful one at that. (Far more useful than the information Edgar Allan Poe one imparted to me in a dream. "Ulalume," he said, "means soccer coach.")

This morning I spent an hour or so putting together the presentation, strictly following the detailed instructions imparted within my dream.  Tomorrow I'll present the material in my Romancing the Beast class to introduce the history and significance of the Western film (in preparation for viewing The Electric Horseman). It's a pretty darned interesting presentation, including photos, film clips, and quotations from the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner, but I'm not sure I can take full credit for a presentation created while I was sleeping.

Clearly my subconscious knew that I needed to present this information, but I don't know how to give my subconscious a pat on the back. Maybe I should nominate my subconscious for the Innovative Teaching Award--but what would my subconscious do with the money, and where would it hang the plaque?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel or a train coming through?

In just twelve short months I've moved from assuming that I'll never retire to wishing I could retire right now--today if possible. Tomorrow at the latest. 

How did this happen?

For years I used to tell people, "I can't retire until I pay off my awful horrible oppressive very bad debts and I'll never pay off my awful horrible oppressive very bad debts, so I guess I'll never retire." Then I received an unexpected windfall--and then another--and now it looks like I may actually pay off my awful horrible oppressive very bad debts well before reaching retirement age.

Then my oncologist handed me a bunch of scary numbers and I thought, "That's it, then. I'll be dead long before I'm old enough to retire." But then I recovered and the numbers went into hiding, and now it's entirely possible that I'll still be alive and kicking when it's time to retire.
Of course I'm such a workaholic that I've always feared idleness, assuming that the absence of regular teaching in my life would drive me quickly crazy. But then last spring my sabbatical convinced me that I can enjoy a meaningful, rewarding existence even without standing in the classroom every day. 

So now I'm willing to admit that I will someday retire--but I'm beginning to wonder whether I can keep doing this for another 12 or 15 years.

Yesterday our department worked on scheduling next year's courses, and I took a good hard look down the coming decade: teaching the same handful of courses in a regular rotation, with the occasional special topics course thrown in for the sake of variety, to students who express open contempt for the material, on a campus that rewards hard work with more hard work and places annoying bureaucratic obstacles in the path of interesting ideas. 

I don't know if I can keep doing this. I don't know how anyone can keep doing this. 

Is this a mid-life crisis or just the usual fourth-week malaise? Years ago I left a job I loved in journalism because I found myself doing the same things over and over with no new challenges, and now I'm looking at the same prospect. Here I am once again doing a job I love but wondering how long I'll be able to stand it without some new challenges, but this time I can't quit because I've advanced so far I'm unemployable. 

So I guess it's time to find some new challenges. But where do I begin? 


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Snow problem

When the ambulance came screaming up the center of the state highway last night, I knew I needed to move off the side of the road--but I couldn't find it. 

The side of the road, that is. 

I was poking along at 25 mph on a broad expanse of snow, with no visible edge lines and no clear indication of where the road ended and the shoulder began. Where was the ditch? Where was the river? Impossible to say. Slamming on the brakes was not an option--I wasn't really in the mood for doing donuts in the middle of the highway. But here was this ambulance, lights flashing and sirens blaring, bearing right down toward me in the middle of the highway, so I nudged over toward where I imagined the edge of the road might be and watched the ambulance scream past with inches to spare.

Not so long ago such an encounter would have made me hyperventilate, but last night I managed to drive home over snow-covered roads without breaking a sweat. I credit the Volvo. For years I drove cars that lacked stability in snow, little wimpy cars just begging for an opportunity to wobble and spin, so driving in snow made me a little bit crazy. My Volvo, on the other hand, is built like a tank and handles like one too: I may have to take it slow, but I'll get there, snow or no snow.

Well, mostly. I made it about halfway up the driveway last night before sliding sideways and deciding to call it a day. My husband's car suffered a similar fate, and our neighbors's car spun out on the road, dashed across the end of our driveway, and sunk into a snow-covered farm field. This morning our driveway was studded with cars parked at jaunty angles in the snow, but mine was the first to move on out.

And driving to work this morning was a breeze: a little slush on the highway, a few slippery spots on the brick streets in town, but no reason to panic. Just another small adventure along the highway of life.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Something's missing here

First exam of the semester! I'm excited, but I suspect that "excited" isn't quite the right word to describe my students' feelings. It feels as if the semester just started, but we've read and discussed two batches of poems and nine short stories published between 1865 and 1900, and we've also thoroughly examined the development of realism, naturalism, and literary impressionism, so an exam right now works just perfectly.

Something's missing, though. Nineteen students on the roster, 14 in the classroom taking the exam...that's not right. One student is taking the exam in the Academic Resource Center and another had surgery and has not been in class in two weeks, but where are the rest? No e-mails, no calls, no excuses. It's a mystery. I don't know how the missing students intend to get caught up, but on the other hand, it's really easy to grade a blank exam.