Friday, May 31, 2013


I'm sitting on the back deck watching our neighbors make hay in the field just down the hill. They mowed the meadow Tuesday and raked it into windrows Wednesday and Thursday, and now they're driving balers slowly in circles to gather up the hay and form it into giant round bales.

This mechanized mowing is very different from the process Robert Frost described in "Mowing" (read it here), with its easy iambics and soothing sibilants echoing the rhythm of the scythe. The best way to teach the poem would be to take the students out to a field of standing timothy and hand them each a scythe so they can hear "my long scythe whispering to the ground," but I don't teach Frost during haying season and even if I did, where would I get 24 scythes? Instead, I encourage them to pronounce scythe like sigh, and then I tackle the closing line: "My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make."

"To make what?" is the obvious question, except when I am blessed with a farmer or a 4-H member in the class. You have to make hay while the sun shines, I tell them, but what does that mean, making hay? It's just grass. You just let it grow and then cut, dry, and bale it. Where is the making?

The farmer makes the conditions right for the grass to grow and watches the weather to find a stretch of dry, hot days, but he can't make the weather cooperate. He mows the grass (with a machine rather than a scythe these days) and makes it lie in windrows so the sun and wind can transform the grass into hay. Too much moisture and you've got compost, which won't feed your cows--but the farmer can't make the sun shine or the wind blow, and he certainly can't prevent a sudden downpour from ruining the whole process.

The mowing, raking, and baling machines rumbling around the meadow make it look as if the farmer is the active force in the process, making hay while the sun shines, but more important is his passive submission to the forces of nature--walking away, letting the grass lie, leaving the hay to make, period. In a peculiar active-and-passive process, the farmer makes hay or the hay makes while drying in the meadow.

And I shall be telling this with a scythe someday ages and ages hence: two idioms diverged in a meadow and I, I chose the one that whispered by, and that has made all the difference.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Give us this day our daily yuck

Washed the car, cleaned the floor mats (including the one where the leaky oil can sat for far too long), and vacuumed up all the gunk, yuck.

Washed windows, swept and mopped floors, vacuumed up a spider so big it fought back against the suction longer than you'd expect, yuck.

Dusted every duty place, even the dim recesses beneath the plant table by the big picture window, where I unearthed a basket full of mini-binoculars (so that's where they went!) and immense complex colonies of dust mice, yuck.

Swept the front stoop, pulled weeds from between the pavers, and encountered a gazillion angry ants whose larval chambers my thumb had accidentally invaded, yuck.

Planted flowers, mowed the yard, and trimmed with the weed-eater as much as possible considering the sodden weather earlier this week and the sudden dental emergency that led to the kind of pain that precludes weed-eating, yuck.

Having filled my monthly quota of yuck, I'm ready to welcome my houseguests tomorrow and relax for a few days, and I suppose the spiders and gunk and ants and dust mice can also relax, but do you think they'll thank me for the respite? The little ingrates.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nesting instincts

Now that I've finally spotted some prairie warblers, I understand why seeing them is so difficult: they resemble spots of sunlight filtering through the leaves. I've heard their distinctive call for ages but only today saw a pair of them today, with the help of my birding-and-botanizing buddy.

"They're really agitated," she said. "They must have a nest nearby." 

We didn't find the warblers' nest but we found another nest in a dead tree next to our creek, where a pair of northern flickers were feeding nestlings whose tiny heads were occasionally visible inside a hole in the tree. We saw indigo buntings and orioles and a blue-gray gnatcatcher, and we followed the progress of a Louisiana waterthrush along the creekside.

Canoeing yesterday (in the rain), birding today (in the wind/sun/drizzle/humidity)--at this pace I won't know what work looks like!

An unwanted squatter on my mental real estate

Dear Progressive Insurance,

I don't know whether to commend or curse your ability to colonize large swaths of my consciousness by means of inane radio advertisements. 

Let the record show that I am not now nor have I ever been a Progressive Insurance customer, nor am I in the market for insurance. I've relied on the same trusty insurance agent for 15 years and I don't intend to switch. His rates are reasonable, his service exceptional, and his friendliness top-notch--he'll stop and chat in the grocery store or at a college baseball game, and he never ever ever assaults my eardrums with annoying advertising jingles. So he's my guy, now and for the foreseeable future, and you, Progressive, are not.

Which is why I find it peculiar that I often wake up in the morning thinking (unwillingly) about Progressive Insurance--not because I'm interested in your products but because your stupid radio jingles have weaseled their way into my brain in such a way that I can't stop them from popping into consciousness at the most inopportune moments. I'm lying in bed just barely moving toward alertness, preparing to swing my legs over the side of the bed and feel my way toward the bathroom, when suddenly my internal ear is assaulted by the annoying voice of your spokesperson Flo singing earnestly about the Name-Your-Price Tool ("You show us a budget and we'll show you a range of coverage options"). 

I do not in the remotest degree care about the Name-Your-Price Tool, so why must it invade my morning routine? Likewise, I don't need to be reminded 27 times a day that bundling my home and auto insurance together will make me feel like mayor of Savingsville (yes I will!), a town famous for the world's biggest puppy.  And yet that ridiculous lyric pops into my head while I'm driving to work, walking the dog, or washing the dishes, and I am utterly powerless to prevent its incursions.

How did this happen? I could blame the Cleveland Indians, but it's not the team's fault that you're so heavily invested in their success. I don't mind attending games at Progressive Field, even though I still sometimes refer to it as Jacobs Field. I have no feelings, either positive or negative, about Mr. Jacobs, but I attended some pretty exciting games there when his name was on the field and old habits die hard.

I can visit Progressive Field and enjoy the game in person because your advertisements are not constantly assaulting my eardrums. However, I see the Indians play at Progressive Field maybe once or twice each summer, while the rest of the time I cherish one of the greatest joys of baseball season: listening to the Cleveland Indians game on the radio. (Why is baseball better on the radio than on television? Someone should do a study.) If the Indians are playing, the radio is on--we've even rigged up a very long extension cord connected to a rickety old radio so we can listen to the game while working in the garden. I can't quite explain what's so wonderful about listening to the Indians on the radio on a warm summer evening; somehow, Tom Hamilton's call can make even weeding the garden a not unpleasant task.

But you've ruined all that. How many times during each Indians radio broadcast am I forced to listen to your mind-numbingly dreadful jingles? If someone is close enough to the radio to make it convenient he'll turn it off until the jingle is over, but you've wormed your way so insidiously into my brain that I often hear the jingle in my head even while the radio is off.

Which makes your advertising scheme either incredibly brilliant or incredibly stupid, depending on the goal. If you're trying to persuade me to purchase your products, you've failed miserably since, as I've mentioned, I'm not in the market for insurance products and even if I were I would avoid Progressive out of pure hatred for your ads. On the other hand, if your goal is to stake a claim on a certain percentage of my waking thoughts, you've succeeded admirably. 

So congratulations, Progressive Insurance. You'll never earn my business, but you've successfully colonized a chunk of valuable mental real estate. Now if I can just figure out a way to make you pay rent, we'll both be happy.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Free the angry woman upstairs!

It would be perverse to call Nora Eldridge self-indulgent since, after all, self-indulgence is the whole point. Nora, the protagonist of Claire Messud's novel The Woman Upstairs, is a self-contained third-grade teacher who lacks the courage to pursue an artist's life; with middle age looming on the horizon, she seizes an opportunity to indulge in a passion that is as all-consuming as it is careful, discreet, and apparently harmless: she falls in love with a couple and their young son, both singly and as a group. The inevitable betrayal arrives all too predictably. She gets angry. End of story.

But wait! What will she do with that anger? We'll never know because the book ends, just like that, leaving behind the bitter image of an isolated woman fondling her anger in the dark, a masturbatory act much like the one that lies hidden at the center of the plot. "You don't want to know how angry I am," declares Nora near the end of the brief novel, but she's wrong: I want to know not just how angry she is but where than anger will lead her. If, as she insists, this anger has liberated her, convincing her that "to be furious, murderously furious, is to be alive," then I want to see what she'll do with that new life.

But alas, the book ends without providing an answer. The Woman Upstairs is a closed room much like the shoe-box diorama Nora creates: a woman alone between walls pierced by windows but no door, no escape, so the viewer/voyeur can peer through the glass and observed the trapped woman's loneliness just as the reader/voyeur observes the helpless Nora. What if someone smashed a hole in the wall to release Nora along with her all-consuming anger? That's the novel I'd like to read. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sighs, jests, and an amazing dinner

Children behaving badly, parents responding awkwardly--a story as old as Cain and Abel. Recently I've read three novels touching on this topic with varying degrees of success.

Product DetailsFirst the bad news: Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs is a bit of a dud. Like other Russo novels, this one traces the course of a closely-linked set of characters through their lives in a decaying town in upstate New York, a town slowly poisoned by a shuttered tannery that once provided jobs and wealth but now sits rusting while its effluent colors the local water supply and the lives of the people who drink it. Russo's protagonist wonders whether "what provides for is ins the very thing that poisons us," referring not just to the tannery but to the dysfunctional relationships at the center of the plot.

The novel includes a fair dose of Russo humor and some compelling moments, but the characters remain thin and the plot ultimately unbelievable; even more troubling is Russo's repeated use of damaged African-American characters as tools for white redemption. Also, anyone who has ever experienced the mindless bureaucracy of Children's Services or the foster care system will read the final section of the book with raised eyebrows; the ease with which a character transports a dependent child across state lines and then adopts her will inspire not sighs but moist snorts of disbelief.

Product DetailsI emitted snorts of various kinds while reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a novel I've resisted for more than a decade partly because it tends to turn readers into wild-eyed evangelists for Wallace's genius. For good reason: it's a remarkable novel, although I had to read through the first 300 pages before I realized how remarkable. Those first 300 pages are a test, winnowing out the posers and empowering the true believers to forge ahead through more than 1000 pages, and those who pass the test may be excused for thinking themselves  Pretty Darn Special. Give the girl a gold star--she finally finished Infinite Jest!

Except I didn't like it--except when I loved it. My response cycled through the full gamut of emotions, from hate to dislike to like to love to love love love to WHAT? and back to hate again, settling with a profound respect for the achievement coupled with a desire never to read the book again, followed by a compulsion to go right back to the first page and start over so as to make sense of the thing. Okay, it's funny (in places), although the humor can be pretty sophomoric. The plot, such as it is, tumbles, stumbles, stalls, and jerks, sometimes creating intense suspense suggesting how hard Wallace had to work to resist writing the kind of popular thriller you see people reading in airports. The characters--where do I start? The breadth of characters is positively Dickensian, drawn from a variety of subcultures and social strata, but some of them are Dickensian in another sense: so defined by idiosyncrasies that they approach caricature. But just as Wallace resists the conventions of popular thrillers, he rejects Dickensian resolution, leaving readers clueless and questioning.

Here I am talking about Infinite Jest as if it were a typical novel subject to the kind of analysis we apply to Dickens, Tolstoy, or even Proust. In one sense Infinite Jest is a novel about addiction, dramatizing various types of human desperation: "We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately--the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person." Characters in the novel are addicted to heroin, tennis, sex, service, or pleasure, giving themselves away until they wither into oblivion.

But what am I saying? Infinite Jest is not a novel about addiction; rather, it is an addiction, and those who pass the test and read through to the end only to cycle back to the beginning feed their addiction by becoming pushers.

Which I refuse to do. I'm glad I read it, but do I recommend it to others? Not really. Read it, don't read it, I don't really care.

Product DetailsI do care, however, about whether you read The Dinner by Herman Koch. Yes you should--you really should. Like, right now. Go ahead--it's short, just three courses plus an aperitif and digestif. Two couples meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant and discuss their children's problems, and revealing much more will destroy the amazing journey readers must follow as Koch carefully dishes out delicious tidbits that eventually turn to ashes in the mouth.

Three very different books, but in all three the acts of children (or adolescents) ripple outward like waves that lap at the very foundations of home, family, and society itself. Can these families be saved? To find out, you'll have to read these books yourself.    


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A morning chat

This morning I enjoyed a chat with a yellow-breasted chat, although at the time I didn't even know his name. I had walked up the hill in search of prairie warblers, which may or may not be responsible for that distinctive upward-spiraling call I hear frequently up there. I may have seen a prairie warbler, but then again maybe not. It always astounds me how quickly a bird can invisibilize itself--there it sits, clear as day, right up on that branch, but then with barely a motion it disappears as if sliding sideways into another dimension. So once again I heard what may have been a whole mess of prairie warblers but when I finally manage to see them, I'll let you know.

Along the way I saw some other things I wasn't looking for: a clump of purple wisteria hanging from a tree so dead it lacked any hint of bark. A tiny butterfly flitting past so quickly that I couldn't even detect its color. A newly dead possum in the middle of the road, her sharp teeth looking lethal even in death, with one two three four five six SEVEN dead baby possums spread in an arc behind her. A pileated woodpecker shifting from tree to tree in the woods, complaining loudly about Hopeful's squirrel-chasing.

Then I heard this unusual birdsong, a jumble of musical notes interspersed with buzzing and ending with what sounded like a dog's bark. This bird made no effort to hide, sitting on a phone line and singing its heart out. Its throat puffed out every time it started to sing, and I marveled over how this delicate bird could produce so much sound. I had to look him up when I got home--yellow breast, white spectacles, crazy song = yellow-breasted chat. Hello, little bird. I hope we chat again.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Back in the swamp

So I'm back on campus to start working on that big to-do list but find myself thwarted. My new bookshelves have not appeared so I won't be rearranging my books just yet, which is fine since the humidity level is already unbearable. (One of these days someone will invent a dehumidifier that empties itself when I'm out of town.) The good news is that men are on the roof where the big condensers live--maybe they'll finally figure out how to prevent this building from becoming a swamp every summer. Meanwhile, I'll run some errands and go home, where plenty of work awaits.


Monday, May 20, 2013

A big to-do

After spending most of my waking hours for the past five days marveling over my beautiful granddaughter, I have to go home. I don't want to go home, not only because I'm not allowed to take my beautiful granddaughter with me but because I'm frightened of what I'll see when I get there--a messy house, a pile of bills, grass up to my elbows on the front lawn and not a trace of food in the pantry. I'll bet nobody pinched the buds off my basil plants in the herb garden while I was gone. And what about my summer research and writing projects? And rearranging my office to accommodate the new bookshelf? And getting my canoe out on the water again? And tracking down the birds making that distinctive call up on our hill, possibly a flock of prairie warblers?

Wow, that's too much to think about all at once. I'll remind myself of what I keep telling my daughter: it may feel overwhelming at first, but just do one thing at a time and eventually it'll all get done--and what doesn't get done probably wasn't all that important.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

An elevating encounter

Center of my universe!
I'm going down the elevator at the hospital the other day after holding my beautiful granddaughter for the first time when this scruffy-looking old guy, obviously impaired and accompanied by some sort of law-enforcement officer, makes a rather pointed proposition. And suddenly I realize that the world doesn't stop turning just because I'm hiding out in babyland.

Two years ago I spent a few weeks hanging out in hospitals and rehab centers while my mother was sick and now I'm hanging out in the hospital while my daughter recovers from a C-section. I've seen both my mother and my daughter struggle with hospital gowns, hospital food, and hospital nonsense, and I've helped both of them celebrate the return of basic bodily functions. ("You've passed gas! Terrific!") I've cleaned my mother's house and my daughter's house, done their laundry, vacuumed their floors, prepared carefully for their eventual return.

And while I've been consumed with these not unpleasant chores, other people have been living their lives normally, as if utterly unaware that a certain hospital room is the center of my universe. And that's okay. Every day and everywhere people have babies or suffer strokes, fall off ladders or endure major surgery, and every day the world keeps on turning and life goes on. Loss and gain, life and death intersect daily, sometimes even in a single elevator. 

When the doors open, the scruffy-looking man and the law-enforcement officer stay inside to ride to another floor, but I walk through those open doors and step back into the real world, which, oddly enough, just keeps turning.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Real hands-on research

I've been telling my colleagues I'm spending the summer working on a hands-on research project on methods of grandparenting. Am I going to be the kind of grandma who won't shut up about her grandkids? Um, what else is there to talk about?

At one day old, Elizabeth Jeanelle Williams excels at nursing, sleeping, and looking adorable. She has long piano-player fingers and she likes to curl her fist up next to her cheek as if she's thinking profound thoughts. When she yawns, it looks like she's trying to turn her face inside-out. I could spend the entire day looking at her and come back for more tomorrow. In fact, I think I will.


A very grand baby

The temptation at first is to break a new baby into its constituent parts: she has Mama's lips, Daddy's fingers, and a cleft chin that could only come from Grampa. I see in her an echo of our baby daughter 26 years ago: the same dark hair, the same delicate doll-like face. At one day old she already carries a family heritage--a middle name formed from her two grandmothers' middle names (Jean + Nell = Jeanelle). And today she'll get a name of her own, a secret closely guarded by her glowing parents.

I'm looking forward to getting to know her, whoever she is!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Great expectations

So here we sit in the waiting room at the hospital, doing what waiting rooms are made for: waiting. Waiting waiting waiting. And waiting some more. I keep going into Airport Mode, burying my nose in my Kindle and trying to follow the words down the page, but I keep getting lost. How can I read a book--even a really good book--when my daughter is just down the hall in labor?!

She's fine, really. Fine fine fine. Things are progressing nicely, and that's about all I'm sharing in the way of gory details. My son-in-law comes out periodically to deliver progress reports, his whole being one big smile, but my daughter prefers to endure her travail in private, a decision I support one hundred percent. Anyone who wants to give birth before an audience ought to get a reality show. Me, I'm happy to wait.

And wait and wait and wait.

Fortunately, others are here waiting too, and they all share that joyful/expectant/jittery/jumpy/happy/bouncy/incoherent manner of people expecting really exciting news any time now. Any old time. Any. Time. Now.

Now they're all leaving for lunch, but who can think of food at a time like this? I can, as it turns out. The next stage could take a few hours or the rest of the day. But we have granola bars, coffee out of a machine (but who cares how bad it is), and my daughter's in-laws on the way with lunch. We've got everything we need to hang out for a while--books, Kindle, netbook, newspapers, and patience. Patience patience patience. That ought to keep us going as we wait. And wait and wait and wait.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How I've spent my summer vacation (so far)

All day long: haul firewood in to feed the fire in the living-room fireplace because the house is FREEZING but we turned off the big outdoor wood-burning furnace WEEKS ago when daytime temperatures started reaching regularly into the 80s and it's a royal PAIN to crank up the furnace for just a brief cold snap, which is what we hope this is. Brief, that is.

Every evening: haul ragged old tarps and ground-cloths over the flower garden, both herb gardens, the pepper patch, and the long rows of tomato and sweet potato plants so they don't succumb to the frosty overnight temperatures.

Every morning: haul ragged old tarps and ground-cloths off the aforementioned gardens VERY CAREFULLY so as to avoid traumatizing the tender young tomato, pepper, and sweet potato plants because we REALLY don't want to have to re-plant everything after we exercised SUCH excellent foresight in planting the garden well before the impending grandbaby's due date.

Special bonus activity to remind me that this cold snap won't last forever: harvest asparagus while being serenaded by the lovely morning melodies of orioles and brown thrashers. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Avoiding evaluations

Not so long ago--like, maybe, yesterday--I might have proclaimed, rather loudly, that I don't intend to ever read student evaluations again. But there they sit, this semester's course evaluations, a set of links in a nice neat little file folder in my inbox. I try to ignore them but they beckon me. "Come on over here," they say, "I've got something to show you!"

So I read them. And they were about what I'd expected, as they usually are: the same complaints I'd expected, the same commendations I always see. Some students don't like writing reading comments and others love it, and someone always says something like "I didn't like doing the reading comments but they helped me understand the reading." So yeah, I'm not getting rid of reading comments. They work whether students like 'em or not.

If course evaluations are so similar every semester, why read them? Next time I'll ignore their urgent wheedling, refuse to click on the links, stash the whole folder in some forgettable place. Walk away from the evaluations! Nothing to see here!

But first I'll just take a teeny peek... 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Poetry challenge: summer plans

Meetings, mowing, cleaning rooms--
this is how the summer zooms
past in hasty blur and fuss.
My proposal (modest): just
stop and sit a spell and drink
(tea, of course--what did you think?).

That's my attempt at post-grading pre-research mid-moaning doggerel. Anyone else want to give it a shot?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The good, the bad, and the meetings

Good news: classes are over!
Bad news: meetings out the wazoo all week long.

Good news: plenty of opportunities to play Buzzword Bingo!
Bad news: By the time I heard "measurable outcomes," "student engagement," or even "the measurable outcomes and student engagement piece," I'd rather be mowing.

Good news: can't mow when it's raining. May as well stay inside!
Bad news: today's meeting is in the room with lousy acoustics (so it'll be hard to hear buzzwords like "the retention piece"), giant windows (so there's no escaping awareness of the gloomy weather), and freezing temperatures year-round.

Good news: I remembered to wear warm socks and a jacket!
Bad news: who wants to sit in a gloomy room huddling together for warmth with a bunch of exhausted people straining to hear about "the critical-thinking-outcomes-measurement piece"?

All I can muster is a limp hurrah.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Post-grading giddiness

Eight-spotted forester moth
Turning in my grades this morning made me so giddy I wanted to run around in the woods, but it didn't even occur to me to first don fuzzy orange leggings. Leave the leggings to the eight-spotted forester moth!  
blackburnian warbler
My birding-and botanizing buddy joined me for a tromp through the wet woods where warblers a various types were singing in the treetops. We stood still as stones staring up and trying to catch a glimpse of them and we would probably still be standing there now if our necks could stand it. Finally we moved on, inventing more appropriate names as we walked: the Taunting Warbler, the Transparent Warbler, the Better-Luck-Next-Time Warbler.

Then I saw a flutter of feathers right in front of us--a male blackburnian warbler splashing around in the creek, ignoring our presence entirely. He's a tiny little thing--no wonder I couldn't see him up in the trees. Even big, bold, colorful birds (like the scarlet tanager we watched for a while) can becoming invisible amidst the lush foliage.

But we're no longer lost amongst ever-growing piles of grading, so we're moving out from the cover of our offices to make a splash on the big, wide world.   
scarlet tanager

mayapple blossom

Saturday, May 04, 2013

After grading, growing

YES there is life after grading and it smells like fennel.

Not that I am done grading. I've been working my way through a pile of final researched essays from my film students, long papers requiring attention to many disparate elements: clarity of thesis, awareness of scholarly conversation, coherence of argument, punctuation of quotations, format of citations...they're really good papers for the most part, but that much focused attention makes my brain hurt.

So after I finished half of the papers, I rewarded myself by getting my hands dirty in the herb garden. Every spring that plot presents new surprises--why hello, happy little potatoes! Who planted you? And where did all this lovely lemon mint come from? Smells good but we'll have to keep it confined or it'll take over the universe.

Last year's fennel re-seeded itself and I had to thin out the indestructible oregano and thyme to make room for more plants. At the Farmers' Market this morning I picked up rosemary and parsley plants and four kinds of basil--thai, sweet, lemon, and purple basil--and this evening I put them into the ground and gave them water. Now it's time to wait.

But while we wait, we can run our fingers through the feathery fennel fronds to release the tangy-sweet aroma, a promise that good things are waiting when grading is over. 

Professor, assess thyself!

A few things I did right this semester:
  • Made students read sprawling but spectacular novels: Straight Man by Richard Russo, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I would teach any or all of these novels again tomorrow just to have the chance to see students grow to love the works.
  • Developed a unit on the mock-heroic genre for the comedy class, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an excerpt from Don Quixote, Thurber's "Secret Life of Walter Mitty," and an excerpt from Fran Ross's underrated and out-of-print novel Oreo. Ross rocks! 
  • Assigned a Context Project in the honors lit class that sent students out exploring unfamiliar territory and reporting back on their discoveries to help us all understand difficult reading.
  • Dropped the fourth out-of-class essay from the American Lit Survey and replaced it with an in-class essay requiring students to analyze a poem we had not discussed in class, which allowed my students to demonstrate their literary analysis skills instead of simply parroting back what someone else said in class or online.
And a few things I'll do better next time:
  • Find a way to keep students accountable for progress on major research projects so they don't treat research time as an opportunity to slack off. 
  • Stagger due dates for drafts so I don't end up staggering out of the building with my brain cells in a sling. 

One thing I'll never do again:
  • Miss Lonelyhearts. It's just too disheartening to be standing in front of class snorting at West's brutally sardonic humor while students sit and stare, looking as if someone has just bludgeoned their grandmother and eaten their dog for breakfast. Never again. Never ever.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Time for a reboot

I have a pile of papers to grade so naturally I've been fiddling with the template of my blog to try to make commenting work more consistently. I really like the dynamic templates, but if people can't comment, what's the point? This is supposed to be a conversation within a community, but one-way conversations simply aren't any fun. So give it a try and tell me how you like it.

Also, I'm working on updating my links. In the past I've been a little stingy with links, mostly because it's a pain to keep them updated. However, I'm ready for a reboot. Want to be linked? Send me a note and if you're not a money-grubbing robot, I'll add you.

I've been writing this blog since January 2006 for a total of 2194 posts and sometimes I wonder whether I ought to be doing something more important, like, maybe, grading papers, writing assessment reports, or even mowing the lawn. However, this blog serves as a sanity-preserver (for me--and I hope for you too!) and sanity is a rare enough commodity in academe that it's worth preserving. 

So I carry on. Another day, another template. Let's hope this one works!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Finals-week fragments

So I'm meeting with a student to talk about a revised draft and I suggest that he add a particular quote from the end of the novel, and when he looks confused, I realize that the quote I'm suggesting actually lives in an entirely different novel assigned in an entirely different class. It's a rough week for all of us, dude.

When I start seeing sentences about soldiers being "prawns" in the hands of leaders, I know it's time to take a break--especially when a second look reveals that no prawns were injured in the construction of this paper. Pawns is what it says. My eyes are failing or my brain is ailing or my will is quailing or all of the above. (Quailing? Where did that come from?)

So I take a cappuccino break (and no matter how I spell it, the word cappuccino looks wrong). Mom and two adorably well-behaved children sit down at the next table; sister asks little brother whether he likes broccoli; he shakes his head No, and she says, "That's okay. When you're in second or third grade, you'll like broccoli." And the thing is, she enunciates broccoli very carefully, with three full syllables. Who are these children and may I adopt them?

Speaking of children, my adorable grand-baby could arrive any time now. Good thing I've got all these final exams and papers to distract me! Tick tick tick tick tick...