Monday, January 29, 2007

Poetry Monday, which I never do

OK, so I've never been a poetry Friday kinda blogger, and it's not Friday, but Ianqui has a post about our obligations to catch up ansent students, and I was reminded of this poem, which I've seen a few times, and which I'm sure others have blogged, but which I love (apologies to the poet for the weird formatting):

Tom Wayman

Originally from: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead.
Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Did I Miss Anything

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Quiet/ Noise

I haven't blogged in a week, but not 'cause I've had nothing to say, just that I've had no time to write: The two big committees I'm on--a search committee and the T&P committee--have both reached fever pitch, and I'm still not entirely on the ball with all my teaching tasks. Though I will be soon. At the same time, I've been doing a lot of I might sentimentally call soul-searching, some of which I may blog about eventually, we'll see.

For the time being, all I've got is this lovely little post about the quiet on the blog and the noise in my head, unless you'd like a little history about patent theatres in London during the long 18th century, a topic about which, until very recently, I knew shamefully little. Otherwise, to bed, and onward into this daunting week of candidate visits, new lectures, exams to administer, and evaluation files to sign.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Snowy Day

When we arrived home at 10:30, half an inch of snow had fallen in the last twenty minutes. It was a good sign.

Now, this place is capable of producing a great deal of snow, but last winter and this fall were both mild on that front, so my winter weather cred is somewhere between stay-in-under-the-covers and causes-competent-drivers-to-have-accidents (which I've never done to my knowledge).

But the fourish inches we got in our backyard today was the optimum opportunity to introduce the munchkins to the joys of playing the snow. They've seen the snow before, but the stars have never aligned that they really got to go out and play in it. Highlights of the day

Lunchtime was preceded by snowy day milk, an old treat of my childhood: warm milk with a tsp. of sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. Pictures were taken in front of the (gas) fireplace.

Good naps were taken. by everybody. This is a key detail, because of recent sleep problems that are starting to resolve...

Snacktime involved homemade chocolate cheesecake. yummy.

Afterwards, though, I bundled the kids up, bundled up myself, and out we went. We slid down the sliding board (fast). We made snow angels. I taught them how to make snowballs. I got to take them on their first ride down the hill in the backyard (on a jelly-roll pan, natch). They tackled me in the snow more than once.

These are the days that the fatherhood recruitment posters and videos (you know the ones...every ad that plays on the pathos of parenthood serves as one) show to lure in the non-committal parents. The ones that suggest that parenthood (yes, even of toddlers) is a great deal of fun, and not also punctuated by long stretches of terrible boredom, battles of will, and more bodily fluids than we care to name. I got to teach my kids how to play in the snow. How great is that?

At bedtime, while reviewing the day with me, Rambunctious cited tackling me in the snow as the best part of his day. Mine too, kiddo.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Minivan 2.0

So Willow's car accident just before Christmas totaled the car, our not-all-that-old minivan, which, despite being a big, ugly minivan, was really practical for us, and honestly not as ugly as all that.

In the interim we had an itty bitty rental that, because it was a rental, meant we didn't want to put carseats and the concomitant toddlers in it. which made it pretty much useless.

Well, the insurance check cleared on Wednesday, which meant it was time for that great American ritual--kick the tires. We knew we couldn't afford a new vehicle that was going to do what we wanted, so we went to a few dealerships with used cars, and settles on two at two different places that we thought would do the trick.

Now every single time I had gone car shopping before, I/we had gone with my dad, who, as a businessman, has a good sense of how to negotiate. Besides the "never let them see you excited" trick, I also learned the "always walk off the lot, even if you want to buy the car right now" trick, because the deal almost always gets sweeter overnight. Other tricks include the silent treatment for any numbers they put in front of you--sometimes, the salesperson will get nervous about the silence and start talking more, which often leads to a better deal. Finally, the trick that really did it for us was to play two sales people off of each other. When you have two cars you do actually want, a bidding war will help matter immensely.

By the time I walked in to sign the paperwork yesterday afternoon, we had gotten our deal at a 5.99% interest rate (better than our credit union), with the actual price of the vehicle about $300 over the NADA average trade-in price, and a full $2K under the NADA average retail price. So thanks, Dad.

The vehicle we ended up getting is almost exactly what we lost--we had a 2001 Grand Caravan, and now have a 2005 Chrysler Town and Country, which, I'm not kidding, looks exactly the same. Here are the all of ways that this new car is different (and better):
  • Traction control (important for our hilly neighborhood on snowy days like today)
  • Seats that fold under instead of lifting out when we need the room
  • The driver's side back door is automatic (the other ones are too, but we already had that)
  • The rearview mirror has some sort of automatic light sensing thing...I haven't paid much attention yet.
  • CD player and DVD player(which the munchkins love) in addition to the cassette player
  • Cool volume and radio preset buttons on the back of the steering wheel
  •'s blue.
So this must have been how Michael Knight felt after KITT was wrecked and rebuilt with a few new features (like super aerodynamic fins and a convertible option: I LOVED Knight Rider)--The thrill of a new car with all of the cosy familiarity of the old one. 'cept this one's a minivan. So it's a lot less cool than KITT.

My next car will be cooler. I swear.

Sleep deprived

Bel Imperia has, off and on, had some sleeping 18 months, she still wasn't sleeping through the night, and right after we moved at 20 months , she went through a brief phase where she would sleep unless she was in our arms, and any time we tried to leave her in her crib, she was actually crawling out. We had to get a crib tent, zip her in and wait for her to cry herself to sleep. It was heartbreaking.

For a while though (the last year and a half, really), her sleep had stabilized, and we had been able to make the transition to a big girl's bed. Things have gone smoothly, until we noticed recently that she had been getting out of her bed and sleeping in the big comfy chair in her room, and then more recently, she's been getting out of bed at night and coming into our room.

The number of guests we had in and out during the holidays didn't help, and then I was away at MLA, and this past weekend, Willow was out of town visiting friends, and soon, poof! the sleep routine was out the window.

The last few nights, we've had to take the lightbulb out of her lamp, we've set up a rewards and penalties system, which, during the day, she assents to happily, but as soon as it's time for us to leave the room, she flips out. Crying disconsolately at the door, she wants us to stay and talk to her.

Last night we had to put her back in her room 5 times, holding the door shut several of those times, before she eventually gave up and went to sleep--in her chair (suddenly, that's a battle we no longer are fighting). To get Bel Imperia to nap, Willow had to go in and read while the child fell asleep--on her lap.

Everyone's sleep is affected right now (except Rambunctious's, which has almost always been deep and sound, bless his heart). Willow and I were supposed to go out to celebrate our recent anniversary tonight (seven years and counting), but we can't leave a babysitter with this scenario, so we're staying in, and having the couple who had offered to sit for us stay for dinner instead.

The research on sleep and children has always been helpful in the past, though somewhat painful implement. But most of that is geared toward infants and to a lesser degree toddlers. By the time we get to the "Ages 3-6" chapter, the advice is less specific. It's going to be a long couple of weeks around this house until we get everyone sleeping right again...sigh. I'm going to take a nap

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's Nice to Hear

The big committee I'm on this year deals with annual review and tenure and promotion cases, and in today's meeting (I'm not divulging anything here, by the way), an issue came up about whether and how to document the kind of good citizenship things we do around the department, like informal mentoring and collegial activities.

I mentioned that I'm not sure I would even want to list that stuff, since I simply consider it part of the fabric of academic life rather than a duty, and the committee chair (a former department head and now a named chair) remarks off-handedly, "Well, when you're up, you certainly won't need to."

I think there are a lot of ways to read this, but I actually think he was saying that based on what he'd already seen of me, I didn't really need to sweat the tenure thing. Of course, I'll sweat the tenure thing, but it's nice to know that some folks think I'm not at risk of falling short.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


One of the limitations of pseudonymous blogging is that you can't brag about things like publications (and at this stage of my career, I still feel the need to brag about even the most minor of publications). But I can say something about that paper? the one that I was moaning about less than two months ago? The one that got ripped apart in the workshop? The one that I revised and presented at MLA? Yeah, that one.

Well, serendipity as it is, while no one attending my panel was really actually interested in the issue (they were all personal friends and colleagues), the other panel on the same topic had a panelist who just happened to be editing an online journal that just happened putting out a special topics issue on the very topic of my paper, and just happened to be soliciting short articles.

Well, a few email exchanges later, some mutual flattery and viola! a publication. Online, of course, and short, but publicly consumable, and more than I had expected for this piece. Fate smiles once in a whle.

Medicine Head

When you describe your pedagogical style as "kinetic," the last thing you want is a lingering cold (well, I suppose you might want a lingering cold before, say, the bubonic plague, but you get my point). I have had sinus issues for the last week, and have contended with the following dilemma: Teach (and function generally) while clawing through the haze of decongestant and cough medicine? Or contend with the pounding sinus pressure of not medicating?

Today, I seem to have chosen the worst of both, having foregone decongestant in favor of just some cough suppressant. And so now my sinuses feel like they're going to burst out the front of my face, but I won't really notice all that much, because the cough suppressant has me so foggy that I don't notice anything until ten seconds later.

Fortunately, the 8:30 class may have written this off to the fact that it's early and yucky outside, but who knows?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The other class

The other class I'm teaching this semester, not the survey, is essentially a spring break trip attached nominally to a course so it can be called study abroad. That is, I meet once a week for 50 minutes with 11 English majors for the first ten weeks of the semester to prepare for a trip to London, where we'll do some touristy stuff and see four plays. Then we'll come back and write papers on them.

"Fifty minutes a week?" you ask? "How does that add up to three credits?" Well, apparently, the time spent in London counts as the other thirty classroom hours. I am as unhappy about this as you might imagine. It's not that I want more work to do--the class meets in the late afternoon, so my preferred 150 minute format would take us well into the evening. But what the hell am I supposed to teach in ten 50-minute classes?

So here's what I am teaching.

Week 1: syllabus, policies, tour prep, and questions

Week 2: present briefly on a site in London that you know about from a work of literature. Craft and hand out brochure detailing it's literary appearance and information about its current situation--still around? open for business? tourist details?

Week 3: Read play #1: Equus (starring Daniel Radcliffe--aka Harry Potter--did I mention that 91% of the students are female? and that the main character is called for to do a nude scene?)

Week 4: Readings on West End and its place in London culture.

Week 5: Play #2: The History Boys, One of the problems of this course is that I am limited to what's playing, what I can find out is playing, and what is not already sold out. I could not, for example, get tickets to the National's production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Week 6: Historical London: Read an assigned chapter from A.N. Wilson's London: A History, and create a handout that summarizes important events while highlighting 3-5 potential sites that we might visit while in London.

Week 7: Play #3: Attempts on her Life: by Martin Crimp. Edgy and kind of avant garde...will likely baffle many of my students, at least as far as I can tell. it's out of print, and I've never read it, only about it. So I'm getting a copy and reading it post haste. Thank god for e-reserves.

Week 8: Cultural Capital. I'm having them read Horkheimer and Adorno on the culture industry...the first paper assignment after they return is to take a stab at a cultural studies approach to a tourist site and it's use of cultural capital. The assignment may bomb, but dammit, I can't run this class if I don't have a little room to get them to think critically about the whole idea of tourism.

Week 9: Maybe Merchant of Venice. I'm stoked that Flavia just posted this great item on Theatre for a New Audience's production of the same play, 'cause I think this one's be a pretty straight up one for the tourists who come to Stratford on holiday. You us.

Week 10: The rest of London: Prepare a quick presentation on one other site in London you hope to visit and what its "educational value" will likely be. I've got at least one Princess Di buff in the class, so I'm kinda psyched to see what she'll bring in. I'll be presenting on the Tate Gallery, which I am so stoked to visit. Oh wait...I haven't mentioned that I've never been to London? or off this continent? or that I'm really just a provincial lad who lucked into this whole cosmopolitan/academic role by virtue of, well, who knows? Well, no one asked me that when they asked if I'd teach this course, so hey...we're all learning here!

Week 11: Itinerary review and Travel Etiquette: Suggestions from my readers here warmly, desperately welcomed.

The trip (Spring Break is late this year, so London in late March will be cold and rainy, I
m guessing...just a shot in the dark).

After that? a few weeks wherein we meet briefly to talk about the trip, pass out assignments, workshop the papers, etc. They turn stuff in at the end of the semester, and we're done.

I'm really resisting the fact that this course is going to be so light...yes, it's true that many of my students are from rural areas and have never had the opportunity to travel outside of this and bordering states, let alone to another country (like, ahem, myself). So maybe all that's good. but one short class day on any text longer than Ode on a Grecian Urn seems like it borders on irresponsible pedagogy. We'll see what happens, indeed. Ultimately, I'm kind of excited...I mean who wouldn't be by the prospect of taking 11 college students to see Equus (and naked Harry Potter )?

Serenity Now!

Last night I went to my first actual Festivus party. For those of you who don't know of Festivus, it is the alternative holiday imagined by Seinfeld characters the Costanzas, where family members gather around the festivus pole, air grievances, and perform feats of strength. Som eone always ends up in tears.

But not so last night. Sadly, the pole was outdoors, and because of icky weather, there was no gathering around it, but there was an (anonymous) airing of grievances (against other drivers, 8 am classes, Geroge Bush, and--playfully--each other), and feats of strength from "Dance,Dance Revolution" and "Guitar Hero" tournaments, yo mama jokes, a staring contest, thumb wars, and the popular "holding stuff," which involved holding a can of food between thumb and pinky while holding your arm parallel to the ground. I was the first out of the holding stuff extravaganza (I am morally opposed to inflicting voluntary pain on myself), but was a semifinalist in the dozens, and won the thumb war tournament (having double jointed thumbs is helpful there).

Anyway, having spent the entire previous 14 hours with toddlers (more on that later, an evening out with grown-up (albeit ones acting often like kids) was a nice change.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Classes

I've been posting comparatively infrequently lately, partially because my energies have been elsewhere, like the first week of classes. Among other things, I am teaching two sections of the survey course that is clearly my bread-and-butter here, one at 8:30 with ten students, and the other at 11:30 with forty.

I might as well be prepping two different classes. Because of the time of day, the size of the group, and just the various personalities, the early section is much, much more subdued, and so am I, though this means that I am actually pressing students more, asking them to participate more, and, I suspect, giving them more individual attention. We have an attrition problem here at BRU, and I hope that I'll be able to keep as many of this group of ten as possible, especially, since two have taken this class from me before, without success. Ultimately, I think this will be the more rewarding course for the students.

For me, though, the second course is compelling. It's offered at a time of day that I'm hitting my stride, and, based on the first two classes, it's a group that really responds well as an audience. It was like there was a laugh track to my lectures there, and accordingly, I stepped up the performance level. I was funnier, I was livelier, I totally held the stage. The first two days reminded me why teaching at this level scratches the itch left by my long absence from the theatrical stage. Of course, the sage-on-the-stage model is one I generally try to avoid, since it tends to dampen the possibility for active student engagement. Therefore I'll really need to resist the narcotic pull of students laughing at my jokes. Plus I'm not sure, and feel weird even mentioning it, but there actually seemed to be some girlish twittering going on, which is odd, since I'm no chili-pepper prof.

Here, I almost hope for a bit of that fabled attrition, for the good of the class dynamic as a whole. But mostly, I just want these students to get a meaningful learning experience, and not just a professor who infotains them twice a week. Because I can infotain with the best of them, and that's not in their best interest.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Grad Student Havoc

In the last 24 hours, two different grad students have made my life more difficult. To be more precise, in one case, it wasn't the student's fault at all, but still was the result of university structures not really being amenable to faculty doing nice things for grad students when money is actually on the line. I needn't say too much more about this because it's all handled now, and everyone should get their money, but it was a pain to deal with on the first day of classes.

The second instance involves my evaluations for the grad course, which arrived yesterday. By the end of the semester, there were seven students, and generally the feedback ranges from "the course and the professor are superlative," (thanks!) to more even-handed commentary that offers praise where I do think praise is actually deserved, and makes legitimate suggestions for improvement (more theory as opposed to secondary criticism, a bit more lecture for cultural context).

One student, though wrote, "there were occasions when the professor was not very well prepared for class," and then goes on to narrate, "One particular instance was when he tried to discuss postmodern theories and said he had forgotten the differences in approach between the different postmodernists."

This is no light claim, and infuriates me all the more for being the only comment of its kind, and for its mistaken recall of the events. Of course I know which student this was (handwriting betrays anonymity pretty badly), and I have been unnecessarily generous to this student with time, advice, and informal mentoring in the past, which makes this sting all the more. But the lesson in question actually involved the student (incorrectly) challenging me on a difference between Jameson and Hutcheon, and then interrupting me to make a point that I merely hadn't gotten to yet. I knew at that moment that my evals from this student were going to be contentious. But to actually say I said I had forgotten the differences between theorists is outright malicious. The comment doesn't just implicate my teaching choices, it implicates my professionalism, something I cultivate very consciously.

Here's the thing...I am required to submit my grad evals in my annual review, and they are read very closely. I know by precedent that one damning review can actually have a major impact on my rating for the year. I disagree vigorously with the statement, but I worry that trying to contextualize the comment will validate it by acknowledging it, and will look defensive to boot. But ignoring it may look like a tacit agreement. So I'm a bit stuck on how to proceed.

The other issue for me though is that while informal mentoring and generally helping out grad students, the most vulnerable members of the institution, is very important to me, and quite rewarding generally, these incidents (one innocent and the other malicious) have me rethinking that commitment. It's a shame really. I'd like to think that these two isolated incidents won't cloud my interactions with grad students in the future, but I am also more wary of the power dynamic: Perhaps because grad students are generally so disenfranchised, some feel that their actions have no impact, and therefore are reckless with them. Or not. Either way, I've been growling over that one eval all day long, and it's killing me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Just asking...

Why is there not a biopic of Edgar Allen Poe?

Directed by Tim Burton?

Starring Johnny Depp?

In claymation?

I just wanna know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


After days, nay weeks, of MLA-related navel gazing, four items about, yes, football.

  1. I am pleased to report that not only did my current institution's football team win its bowl game, so did my alma mater's. Significantly (or not), my current institution beat my alma mater earlier in the season. (That there may be enough to pinpoint both institutions).
  2. I am also vaguely pleased to report that, after a terrible start, my favorite NFL team finished 8-8. Still not what anyone had expected from the defending champs.
  3. My father-in-law runs a football pool in which no money is ever at stake, but pride always is. We pick almost every game of the season (except Thursday, Friday, and Saturday games) against the spreads and simply keep a tally of who has done the best. We have a separate pool for the playoffs. It's a lot of hassle, I guess, with no tangible payoff, but right now, it pretty much constitutes the entirety of my relationship with my father-in-law, so it is what it is. Anyway, after finishing the regular season in 2nd place for 3 years running, I finally won this season--by a mere pick over my nearest competitor, but by 10 over my father-in-law.
  4. Rambunctious likes to play his version of football, where there is some throwing and catching of the football, some kicking of extra points (which is completely unrelated to other scoring), and a lot of tackling, often when he has the ball. My favorite thing he does, though, is when he scores a touchdown (again, unrelated to anything else we're actually doing, he runs around the back hallway, dashes into the room, and touches the football to the ground, and triumphally announces "Touchdown!" for that literal feat he has just accomplished. Somehow, this is the glory of sport more than any of my other three items.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Meeting the Bloggers at MLA

So, like many many academic bloggers, I found myself sitting in the audience today for the packed “Meet the Bloggers” panel at MLA. (I won’t grumble too much about how that panel filled the room while my 8:30 panel drew only five of my own friends and colleagues). Organized by Scott Eric Kaufman of Acephalous, John Holbo, most prominently of The Valve, Michael Berube of Michael Berube fame, the blogger known as Bitch Ph.D., whose identity was outed by this panel, the talks brought up, cogently though not uncntroversally, issues surrounding academic discourse, academic publishing, academic community, bloggy in-fighting, the historical antecendents of the manifestations of blogs, gendered implications of blogging, you name it.

But what was far more compelling for me was the actual meeting of bloggers whom I knew, until only recently, as electronic personae. I knew a few names, and in the case of Nels, had seen a few pics, but the actual meeting was something. Despite having read their words for months or even years in some cases, the actuality of them as people is already changing (or perhaps temporarily changing) the way I read their blogs.

I wanted to take a little time to speculate about why this is, and how this effect might be working, because a lot of the discussion about community in the blogosphere I think might be implicated in the phenomenon, if not hinge on it.

First, I want to add all of my critical caveats about privileging the ontological status of liveness (with a nod to Phillip Auslander), and to the role of the body is reifying or naturalizing some kind of identity construct. I know the name of the person who goes by Dr. Crazy, but I cannot say with any certainty that those two personae are a) the same, b) congruent, or even if neither, which persona is more authentic. I hate the notion of authenticity anyway.

That said, bodies matter here. and voices, too. They have gendered implications, to be sure, and I have to acknowledge that as a straight white man, the male gaze is a component of my impressions that I might account for, if not resist. But having Flavia's voice to attach to her posts is in some way difficult to explain, deeply rewarding.

There's stuff to be said about all of this from the discourses of autobiography and theatre. Life Writing scholars all know that an autobiography can hardly be said to be a reliable document of any kind of essential self. Sidonie Smith goes so far as to argue that the act of writing autobiography is a performative utterance of identity constitution (Foucault's sense of confession as an entrance into subjectivity is also relevant here). And given that Butler has given us plenty to think about with the notion of the body as constructed by discourse, we can extend this to live self-narration, or even live "performances" of real life (because we all know how "on-stage" we are at MLA or most any conference, really.

But theatre theorist Susan Bennett reminds us that the live body seems to offer any representation of self a "special purchase on the real," and whether this is a statement about the ontological status of live performance, or merely about the rhetorical effects of it, it seems to apply to the f2f meetings I've just had. Of course, how am I to know that the person I just met is the same person as the blogger whom I read? There may be ways of verifying generally, but I will never be certain that I actually met real bloggers--who's to say that Mel wasn't really GF? or that Dr. Crazy wasn't really Medusa?

And yet, I cannot underestimate that purchase on the real of the bodies and voices I can now attach to the narratives. And this has implications for how I read them:

First is the fact that I will continue to read them. It is certain that I tended to read blogs more when a pseudonymous identity was revealed to me, and this seems even deeper--my blog-circle, my blogging house, to borrow from Oso Raro--is now centered around these writers.

So what of the purported community of bloggers, if a simple meet-up deepens it immeasurably? Is the blogosphere a "real" community, or just the breeding grounds for some pre-conditions for community? Can a community exist without place? without bodies?

Of course it can, and I'd be a fool to say that a live meeting suggested the falsity of the community that brought us together in the first place, but the questions this whole meet-up raised for me implicated the very nature of what we're doing here (see? space!) and why. And the fact that these already existing electronic communications were bolstered (and decidedly not undermined) by the aspect of liveness of the past week tells me something about the value of this endeavor for me personally, and even professionally.

Of course there are far fewer conclusions drawn here than questions raised, but at any rate, let me pull back and simply mention how, well, nice, it was to meet you all. My reading in the future, my sense of community in this space-without-a-place, is utterly changed, and I suspect for the richer.