Friday, March 30, 2018

And grandbaby makes three

This afternoon my grandson kept practicing his rudimentary sentence-generating skills. "Baby here," he said, and he was right: baby is here, and she's a beauty. Grandbaby number three is a beautiful girl, 9 pounds 14 ounces with curly hair and healthy lungs but so far no name. (They're working on it.)

And Grandma is here too, for which I am grateful. I woke up at 4 a.m. with a bad case of the fidgets, unaware that my daughter was going into labor 100 miles away, but I was soon made aware and made tracks up the highway so I got to hold the little one when she was brand new and then watch her meet her siblings. She seemed distinctly unimpressed with the big wide world and her boisterous family, but she's got time to get to know us. 

And I have the whole weekend to get to know her before I have to get back to work. Welcome to the world, little one! It's a happier place with you in it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Don't mess with nesting

My daughter tells me that over the past few days she's been busy cleaning the house, sewing curtains, and baking cookies--all the hallmarks of nesting behavior. Baby on the way? Great time to sew some curtains, scrub some grout, and strip some wallpaper! Because let's face it: you'll have no time or energy to do any of that with a newborn in the house.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind having some wallpaper to strip or grout to scrub right now, but I'm stuck sitting in a quiet classroom while my Literary Theory students take an exam. I've been carrying a packed suitcase in the car for days and I'm working several days ahead on everything to make sure I have contingency plans for all my classes, but here I still am. 

A colleague is prepared to step in and teach one of my classes when I leave, but so far he's had no use for the bundle of reading material and discussion questions I gave him. My students have grown accustomed to hearing me start sentences with "If I'm not here on Wednesday" or Friday or Monday or whatever, but here I still am. Another colleague has agreed to meet with my last couple of advisees in case I leave town in a hurry, but here I still am, trying very hard not to think about where I'd rather be right now.

Waiting gives me the fidgets. Frankly, a little mindless physical labor would be really helpful right now: I could take my frustrations out by grout-scrubbing instead of letting that nervous energy bounce around inside my skull all day long and long into the night. The problem is that the fidgets have reached that level of intensity conducive toward doing stupid stuff, like carefully packing up my computer cord so I can use my laptop at home but then leaving the laptop at the office. Give me a major physical task right now and I'm likely to get all befuddled, stripping the curtains, sewing the grout, and baking the wallpaper.

So I'm kind of amazed that my daughter remains so calm, so able to put her nest in order on the verge of childbirth. She has this massive physical task ahead--and it's not accidental that they call it labor--and yet she's sewing curtains and baking cookies. Just thinking about how hard she's working makes me want to go lie down someplace dark and quiet.

Sadly, the fidgets will find me no matter where I hide, and there's only one cure: the arrival of the new grandbaby. Any time now. The nest is ready--let's start some labor! (And I'm not talking about sewing curtains.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Beauty and the beast(ly stink)

For a week or so I've been visiting the konjac (or voodoo lily or devil's tongue or, according to Wikipedia, elephant yam, so named because of its massive edible corm) down in the science complex, watching each day as the blossom spreads its beauty and its concomitant stink, until one of my colleagues in the sciences suggested that if I like the lily so much, maybe I'd like to move it to my office and live with that stink all day long.

The stink is not as strong as I'd expected, although it does tend to hit you in the face when you walk into that end of the building, especially after the building's been shut tight all night long. I may not be the best person to pronounce judgment on the odor since my nose is pretty stuffed up right now, but it's a mild rotten-meat smell, no worse than what you sometimes smell on a bad day in the grocery store. It's a nice stink to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

I have learned that that big curvy outer sheath is called a spathe and the long spikey center is called a spadix, but I don't know what to call the color of the spathe, which ranges from deep purple to magenta to greenish-black depending on how you look at it. And it turns out that the spathe provides cover for the tiny stamens and pistils located at the base of the spadix, in an area the color and texture of an ear of corn. (I kept trying to get up high enough to take a photo looking down into the blossom, but the chairs down there are pretty rickety and I didn't think it was worth breaking my neck over a flower.)

My colleague who serves as Keeper of the Konjac says the blossom has reached its peak and will soon start to wither, so I suppose I'll soon start parking back on my end of campus instead of walking through the science buildings twice a day. It was nice while it lasted--more than nice, in fact: it was beautiful. It is beautiful. It remains beautiful even as it reeks of mortality, and that, I think, is a goal I can get behind.



Saturday, March 24, 2018

If these rocks could talk

At flood stage our creek roars like Niagara and at midsummer it makes no sound at all, but at just the right depth the water flows over the rocks with the sound of muffled voices, one high-pitched and chatty and the other deep and rumbly, the voices running over and under one another and sounding as if someone has left a radio on in the next room. I keep thinking that if I pay attention I'll be able to make out the words, but of course there are no words, just water burbling over rocks.

The weathered stone face peering down from the cliff above our driveway looks as if it wants to open its mouth and speak solemn wisdom, but if rock ever gains the power to speak, the face will probably want to ask me how I've walked past it for 14 years without ever noticing its presence. Every time I think I know this place pretty well, nature shows me something new.

Today, despite the cold, buds are swelling and tiny blossoms bursting forth, and down along the creekbank green shoots are poking up through the flood-washed silt. I saw a woodpecker tree with near-rectangular holes and another rotting tree looking like some massive boar's snout, but I'm more curious about how one tree revealed its heartwood through a heart-shaped hole. I may never know the answer because the trees won't tell, and neither will the rocks or the buds or the water. 

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop listening. If I keep paying close attention, maybe one day I'll make out the meaning.

Can you hear the voices babbling?

I heart trees!

Now that I've seen the face, I can't un-see it.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Dancing into the weekend

Let's do the Friday happy-dance! My students refused to do the happy-dance in class this morning, possibly because I subjected both morning classes to a pop quiz on their reading. (Yes, I am a horrible human being.) When my afternoon class asked me to demonstrate my Friday happy-dance, I told them I was dancing internally and they said that was a cop-out, which is true, but if you value your appendages, you don't ask a klutz to dance. Internally, though, I'm be dancing like Snoopy on top of Schroeder's piano.

Friday! Piles of papers to grade and poems to read and beans to cook and floors to sweep, but the alarm clock won't wake me up at 5 a.m. tomorrow and I can grade those papers while wearing pajamas and drinking hot tea in front of my favorite bird-watching window. I can go to the choir concert and not worry about being out too late, and I may even find time for that elusive haircut. Plus there's Palm Sunday and the possibility of sunshine and turkeys gobbling in the woods and daffodils lifting yellow faces to the sky--and hours and hours of unstructured time stretching ahead of me until I have to be back in class at 9:00 Monday.

Better get a head start on the festivities or I'll never achieve my weekend goals. On my mark--get set--loaf! 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I really ought to be grading papers right now

Thirty-eight papers to grade so naturally I'm sitting in my office thinking about going off campus for lunch and a haircut. Just spent a good ten minutes chatting with my colleague's one-year-old daughter, and before that I was trimming dead leaves off my office plants, activities unlikely to assist in the paper-grading task.
I read two papers--one per class--so that I can truthfully tell my students that I've started grading their papers but I'm not quite done yet. I've got all afternoon to grade the rest but here I sit blogging instead, and I may suddenly discover an urgent need to walk down to the science buildings to see whether the konjac blossom has opened up yet. I've been parking down on that end of campus all week so I can walk past the voodoo lily every day; when it finally opens and fills the building with the scent of rotting meat, I don't want to miss the show. (And it's kind of hard to miss already since it's close to seven feet tall.)

But that voodoo lily isn't going to grade my papers and neither will my haircutterperson, provided that I go out for lunch and a haircut and maybe even buy some birdseed instead of staying in my office reading thirty-eight papers that will, no doubt, present at least thirty-eight different ways to misuse the apostrophe, if they use it at all. I've read the drafts so I'm certain that I'll find some wonderful papers in the mix along with some relatively okay papers and perhaps a few truly horrific specimens, but frankly, I just don't feel like reading them right now. They're analyzing literature we read weeks ago. I've moved on! And besides, how can I attend to student writing when I can't keep my hair out of my eyes?

Someday some brilliant person will invent the self-grading essay. Until then, I think I'd better just buckle down and read 'em, hair or no hair.

Voodoo lily blossom, ready to unfurl. (Definitely not a student paper.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Can't complain (much)

At lunch I ended a long rant with the admission that I really can't complain, but my colleague pointed out that I had just been doing so at some length. So okay, I can complain, but right now the things I can complain about pale in comparison to all the reasons I can't complain. To wit:

I can complain about the weather--snow in the forecast on the first day of spring!--but the past few days have been gorgeous and my daffodils are blooming and our neighbor is getting ready to till up our garden, all signs that spring will inexorably arrive, and I can't complain about that.

I can't complain about the more than 200 students who have submitted abstracts to present their research or creative projects at All Scholars Day, even if it means I have my hands full double-checking schedules, reserving rooms, and getting their names in the right places in the program. They're doing their job and I'm doing mine, for which I received a course release this semester, so all those hard-working students are saving me from a section of first-year composition. I could certainly complain about a few colleagues who have been slow to respond to my queries or who haven't effectively motivated their students to submit abstracts on time, but what's a handful of intransigent people compared to 200 abstracts and a course release?

Lots of people like to complain about the need to submit book orders for fall classes this week instead of spending the summer dithering over reading lists, but the tight deadline motivated me to search for a play to put on the Honors Literature syllabus in the fall and led to my discovering what may well be the perfect choice: Father Comes Home from the Wars by Suzan-Lori Parks. Just reading the description and reviews made my scalp tingle--it looks like it was custom-written to fill that gap in my syllabus. What's to complain about?

And it's true that all my students are submitting papers this week so I'll be grading until my eyeballs fall out of my head, but on the other hand, I'm teaching Maus in one class and The Madwoman in the Attic in the other, so I'm getting a massive dose of perspective: I have the freedom to pursue a career I love without being locked up as a lunatic or oppressed for my beliefs. 

Nobody's perfect. There's always room for improvement. Sometimes I really feel like kicking someone. But you know what? I can't complain. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Conservation, consternation, and a really bad cold

No posts all week! I must be having a wild and crazy Spring Break!

Except no, I'm not. It's true that I had a great lunch with an old grad-school friend on Monday and went on a snowy hike with the grandson on Tuesday morning, but since Tuesday afternoon I've been tethered to a box of tissues and bumbling around through a haze of antihistamines. Why do I have to get sick just when things start getting interesting?

Wednesday was a total loss. On Thursday I felt energetic enough to go to my office (where the heat was working, unlike at home, where the temperature hovered just over 60 degrees all day) and worked very hard for a few hours and then came home and collapsed.

Today I needed to restock my supply of tissues but I didn't want to go all the way to Marietta, so I headed a few miles up the Muskingum to my namesake town of Beverly and tried not to sneeze all over the grocery store. But the weather was gorgeous and I was determined to stay outside and enjoy the crisp sunshine, so I drove a little further upriver, past the defunct coal-fired power plant that's slowly being disassembled, and turned left on the pot-holiest highway in the county to visit the Luke Chute Conservation Area, which I've driven past many times without ever stopping to see what's there.

What's there is a 60-acre plot criss-crossed with trails that run down a ravine, through woods and grassland, down to the river and alongside a creek. I heard song sparrows and flickers accompanied by the constant roar of water crashing over the low-head dam, and I saw water swirling past an island and puffy white clouds marching across the sky, accompanied by steam from the natural-gas-fired power plant on the hill across the river.

It was impossible to walk far, though, without being aware that around here conservation is necessarily linked with reclamation. Around the edges of the conservation area are ruins of abandoned buildings, and even the deep woods provide ample evidence that the area was long inhabited by residents who suffered no qualms about tossing their beer cans and old appliances over the edge of a ravine.

Luke Chute Conservation Area is managed by the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, a group I recently joined because I've been an unofficial friend of the Muskingum for nearly 20 years and I thought it was high time to make our friendship official. It's clear that they have a big job on their hands "protecting and restoring land in the lower Muskingum watershed," and when they gear up again this spring, I'm looking forward to lending a hand.

But first I've got to get over this cold. Excuse me while I sneeze a few dozen times. (Good thing germs don't travel over the Internet.)

Trees bring beauty even in gray winter.

The path down the ravine.

Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea?

Power plant just visible in the upper right corner.

My river!

Luke Chute dam

Who does this? Why?

Pipe sticking up in the middle of woods. No idea.

The ruins of....something. Again, no idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Waxwing invasion

Proof positive that you don't have to live in the woods to see interesting birds: this afternoon on a walk through my daughter's suburban neighborhood in northern Ohio, we saw a whole flock of cedar waxwings feeding on berries in a tree. Beautiful! 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is whirling

Yesterday I constructed a class discussion that built toward comprehension of immanence, transcendence, and performativity; today I constructed a Lego house with rooms for all kinds of little creatures and built a helipad on top.

Yesterday I responded to student drafts with such diligence that my rapid reading pace made my head spin; today I watched the whole world whirl around a little girl discovering the joys of a twirly skirt.

Yesterday I collected enough midterm exams and reading assignments to carry me clear through Spring Break; today I carried a step-stool and screwdriver to help my daughter prepare the nursery for the arrival of the new grandbaby.

Yesterday I steered my car through snow and wind and semi-trucks while turkey vultures circled overhead; today I steered my grandson through a maze of games and Lego blocks while bouncy balls erupted out of nowhere.

Yesterday I did my job well and earned my keep; today I keep laughing so hard that I don't even notice how hard I'm working--and I don't intend to stop as long as Spring Break lasts.

I made that dress for my daughter, decades ago.


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Because babies run on their own special schedules

Lately I've been issuing a caveat with every commitment I make: Sure, I'll come to the meeting, provided that my daughter doesn't go into labor on that day. Or sure, I'll observe your class, provided that my daughter doesn't go into labor on that day. I'm constantly looking ahead on my syllabi and trying to figure out which classes could be cancelled or moved online temporarily or which colleague could cover for me if I get called away. 

The other day a colleague objected--"But isn't this your third grandchild?" As if to say, "What's the big deal? You've done this before." But this is the first time I've had a third grandchild, which is enough to make me pretty excited. I want to be there, just as I was there when the first two arrived on the scene. (And no, I don't need to be in the room where it happens, but nearby would be nice.)

Of course the first two had the foresight to be born during summer break, when I could drop everything and drive two hours north without much thought and then stay around as long as I could be helpful. Two years ago my husband and I enjoyed taking our granddaughter out kite-flying while her brother was easing his way into the world, and then we got to take her in to meet her new sibling, a priceless moment I wouldn't trade for anything.

This time, though, the baby is due in the middle of the semester, so I can't just leave at the drop of a hat. I have promised my students that I won't leave town for Spring Break until I've sent them comments on all their drafts, but mentally I added provided that my daughter isn't in labor. How can I pay attention to comma splices while my offspring is experiencing the joys and pains of childbirth?

I have done my part: I've encouraged my daughter to give birth this weekend so I'll be able to spend all of Spring Break helping out, and she said she'll do her best, but ultimately, we don't hold the reins in this situation. Babies arrive when they arrive, and if I happen to be in the middle of a class discussion on Allen Ginsberg when it happens, I'll just have to carry on and try not to howl.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Because nobody reads on weekends, or weekdays, or weeknights, or, apparently, ever

Today I collected a reading quiz that offered a very refreshing answer: "I didn't do the reading." I wish I could give him an A for honesty, especially after wading through long rambling paragraphs of vague nothingness on other quizzes. 

Where did all that empty blather come from? It was pretty easy to track it down. I'd posted just the introductory chapters of a certain work on our course management system, and the quiz asked students to answer a question and support their position with two specific examples from those chapters. 

It was easy to tell who had done the reading because their examples were specific, relevant, and clearly drawn from today's reading. But that was just a handful of students. The rest rambled on at length without saying much; some offered no examples at all or examples so vague as to be meaningless ("she learns a lot from the trials of growing up"), while others offered specific examples of events that happen later in the book.

But wait: I gave them only the first couple of chapters; where did they come up with examples from later in the book? I doubt that all these students got so interested in the topic that they went and dug up the complete text of a fairly obscure book in order to read it over the weekend. No, I'm pretty sure they're relying on online summaries.

This makes me crazy. I mean, it's not even a long or difficult text, just a few short chapters of lively, engaging writing, and it looks as if more than half of the class didn't even bother trying. A student in another class told me it's unreasonable to expect students to read over the weekend because they have so many other things to do, but in that case maybe they could download the text early and read it before the weekend hits--a fluid time period since many students start the festivities on Thursday night.

So today in class the few of us who had done the reading enjoyed a free-wheeling discussion of a terrific text, but I'm not sure what the rest of the students thought they were doing there. And now that I've read their reading quizzes, I have to wonder what I'm doing there. This is a literature class! If I can't motivate my students to perform the most basic task essential to understanding literature--reading the text--then what do I think I'm accomplishing?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Nothing weird about Brittany Wagner

I heard an ad on the radio this morning for nitrogen-infused coffee, which is only about the third-weirdest thing I've experienced this week. The weirdest thing I've heard all week is Weird Al Yankovic's "Hamilton Polka" (listen here), which made me smile until I thought my face would break in half. 

And the second-weirdest thing? Having lunch with a reality TV star.

That's right: yesterday I had lunch with Brittany Wagner, star of the first two seasons of Last Chance U (on Netflix). I told the lunch organizer that I'd never seen the show, and she said, "That's okay--neither have I." I did a little online noodling to get a grasp of what Ms. Wagner does, but I still felt like the imposter in the room. 

Ms. Wagner was on campus to meet with various groups about engaging athletes in academics, so about a dozen of us--students, faculty, staff--chatted with her at lunch. She mostly focused on the students present, all of whom got hugs and selfies, but after the students left for class, she talked with the rest of us for quite some time about our advising system and offered some suggestions on how to fix it.

I'm not gonna lie: the label "reality TV star" led me to believe I'd be listening to a lightweight, but I was pleasantly surprised. Brittany Wagner knows her stuff, and she's a terrific listener and an enthusiastic speaker brimming with great ideas. Have I become a fangirl? Maybe so, but there are worse things to be. I mean, I could be the kind of person who drinks nitrogen-infused coffee while dancing to the Hamilton polka, right?

Nah. There's such a thing as too weird.