Friday, March 30, 2007

More Post Promises

Since my last (almost) post, I've:
  • Seen three shows, including the most exciting theatrical experience I've had as an academic, Martin Crimp's Attempts on her Life at the National. Also the meretricious and homophobic History Boys, and a gorgeous, if overacted, production of Coriolanus.
  • Seen Westminster Abbey, site of some conflicted spiritual searching, alongside the accumulation of some cultural capital.
  • Been to Stratford on Avon, home of more cultural capital and less spiritual conflict,
  • Toured both the reconstructed Globe and the National Theatre.
  • Guided students through the magnificent Tate Modern.
  • Gotten to exercise an almost constant but casual pedagogy that has been, in some cases, the most effective teaching I've been able to do at this university.
  • Not slept enough ior eaten particularly well, the latter of which I must go do now.
I promise to post about several of these when I return along with posts about Harry bum, Willow's story (accepted in a small journal which has also published Jo(e)--her first acceptance since returning to writing full-time), and the intriguing animal of traveling with students, which I believe I am doing in some ways extraordinarily well and also extraordinarily badly. more on all that later.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Promise of Posts

I only have 15 minutes of internet time left, so I can only offer a very short post, to promise future posts, some of which may or may not ever get written, so tell me which ones you want to see for sure.

  • The Tower of London and the Portrait Gallery, primarily with Nick, my burgeoning radical
  • Equus and Harry Potter's bum
  • The Theatre Museum and the walking tour of Bloomsbury
  • Willow's story
  • The sick kids (notmuch to post, except that they are home sick with Willow, and I miss them all)
  • My shoes and my poor, poor feet
  • On traveling with 11 people a decade younger
That'll have to do for now, but I promise pics and posts galore when I return!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


In all of the talk of the capacity of college students to do high level work in the classroom, I sometimes forget about college students being, well, everything that college students are. Like, for example, the sorts who like to play small practical jokes on their professor, like taking photos of him asleep while on a very uncomfortable transatlantic flight. To my knowledge the shot was never taken, but there was some debate as to whether it should be.

At any rate, after lots of time in zero time and zero space, we've landed in London, and out little townhouse hotel now houses 11 giddy American students and their exhausted professor. I may stop by this here internet cafe to post occasionally as things happen, but if not, you know where I am. Tonight fish and chips, and an early bedtime. Tomorrow, the Tower, some free time, and Equus. The excitement is palpable. Some of it is even mine.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanted: Your Advice

On three completely different issues:

  1. I need a resource for basic historical info on the period I am teaching: Does anyone know of a good, fairly concise 20th century history of England? or a good history of England that substantially covers the 19th/ 20th centuries? I have a good history on England and Empire during this period: I need England/ the UK proper. Suggestions welcome.
  2. I've just (I know, I know) discovered the joy of podcasts, and have been getting them on iTunes, but don't know how to get them from iTunes to my non-Apple mp3 player (a Creative Zen 40 GB). Any ideas?
  3. Any good recommendations on where to eat next week in London? I'll be staying near Paddington Station, and like vegetables (though not exclusively). A range of international cuisines is desireable.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cat Herding

I've been fretting publicly about the upcoming trip to London with my students for weeks now, and it is full of all of the attendant anxieties--10 young ladies, and one young man; a tardy passport, did I mention I've never been to London?

But as the trip itself comes up, I'm actually reaching a sort of'll be a good trip, the students are all generally pretty responsible yadda yadda yadda.

The problem is no longer the trip, it's the class. See the thing is, the class had objectives, goals, material, that is just completely lost in the excitement of the trip. Try as I might, I've had a really hard time making this a class and not just a club.

Part of the problem is that the class is scheduled for only fifty minutes a week: the other classroom hours are supposedly being spent in London on tours, in theatres, etc.

Part of the problem, though, is that many of these students I've had before, and so even on the first day, there was a familiarity that made for an eroded teacher student boundary. And I think I've not helped this. For the most part, the courses I've taught (many of them first year writing, non-major gen ed courses, or required surveys) have been populated by students who didn't necessarily want to be there. My evaluations often say something like "Made a boring subject interesting" so a lot of my pedagogical bag of tricks are focused around eliciting talk, getting the wheels going, etc.

In this class, things have been much less formal, and the talking has been incessant--often devolving multiple times into off-topic chatter. We have been able to stay on topic in maybe half of the classes: two or three of the play discussions, the day we talked about some of the prominent theatres in London history, the day I gave them the Adorno-Horkheimer-Bourdieu smackdown. So it hasn't been completely futile.

but these students have to come back and write papers, potentially sophisticated ones, and I'm worried that they're going to come back from their trip, refreshed, exuberant, and find that the funfunfun of the London trip has just morphed into a nightmare about wresting their experience into a cultural studies framework that they don't get or don't want to get, and they'll feel completely cheated.

But anyway, on to London. We leave Saturday.


There is a reason why, in Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the birth of a child and the dawn of the 20th century are announced on the same page. That it is dated March the 20th is no coincidence either.

One senses something newish in the air, even if it is a newness we hope for again and again every year. In the vernal equinox, we find a heady mixture of constancy and change--the reliable expectation of new growth, new life, that which connects us to past springs and to future summers.

After a long, cold winter (although, technically, today is the last day of winter: the equinox is tonight), the sun is shining and spring is decidedly on its way . I couldn't be happier.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Catching Up, Falling Behind

For any number of straws-that-broke-the-camel's-back reasons, I have been behind most of the semester, so much so that I was actually a week late in meeting one writing deadline, something that is quite unlike me. Bu at this point, I'm caught up on my teaching until into April, I am on track in prepping the London tour, I have no imminent writing deadlines, and most of the committees I'm on (most) have finished their work for the year. What I have to do is a lot of reading, much of it with deadlines:
  • two essays to read for Monday for our faculty research group, one on disability studies and composition (10 pages), one on women in the Irish Independence movement (30 pages).
  • a book chapter that my dissertation partner from grad school has asked me to read--theoretically we're exchenging work, though I've had little on the book project to show him lately. The chapter is on Rushdie and is almost 60 pages long.
  • five essays submitted for our annual department prize for research excellence on topics from early American lit to classical rhetoric to, you, know, other stuff.
  • a book I'm reviewing that I'd like to get a head start on since I'm seeing the work of the playwright in question while I'm in London.
  • several submissions to read from the collection I'm editing.
  • Plus, several back issues of The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the most recent The American Scholar to catch up on.
Good thing I like to read.

But seriously, while all of this reading will take time, but needs to be done quickly, what I really love about it is how wide ranging it is. Some of it is right smack dab in my field, other stuff is material I'd never happen across on my own. This is really one of the great joys of academic community: that my colleagues and friends keep having these great ideas about books, and writing them down, and sharing them. Oftentimes, because of time pressure, this will really feel like work, but truth be told, it's the closest thing to the life of the mind that many of us dreamed about when we sent in our first graduate school applications those many years ago.


Yay! it arrived! And the database I finally found yesterday said it wouldn't be here until Monday. Now I can go in peace to London. Except for the fact that I'm going with 11 undergrads all atwitter about Harry Potter's arse. And the fact that my passport picture makes me look like a serial killer.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Another Book Review

This one, for a lesser journal outside my field, but the book is not only in my field, but in an area I need to know more about. It's only the summer right? When I'm supposed to be polishing up the book manuscript for shopping around? And editing another collection? No problem.

Sigh. I'm just a girl who cain't say no...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How Worried Should I Be?

So, you know how I'm taking 11 undergrads to London? In 10 days?

Should I be worried that my passport hasn't arrived?

Even though I did the forms, like, 9 weeks ago?

Uggh. Just what I need.

[ETA: The student who submitted hers on the same day just got hers yesterday. I suspect this should make me relieved, that mine is coming any day, but for some reason it makes me more nervous--that homeland security has flagged me for, you know, being a liberal or something].

Happy, Very Happy, then Tired

I've never been actually diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but even in elementary and middle school, my grades took a predictable slump in the third quarter. And I am usually a pretty high energy guy, but in February, which was brutal, here as everywhere, I was not high energy. I was high anxiety.

One day, when it became clear that I was going to have to cancel class because of the snow day, I just cried. On the fantastic weekend a couple of weeks ago, during which i got to see theatre, and many of my very favorite people in the world, and eat a good meal, the whole thing was almost completely ruined by an anxiety attack brought on by a freak snowstorm.

The point is, after its first two weeks, winter is my arch-enemy (it used to be this guy Tom from high school, but I haven't seen him in 12 years).

Today though, the forecast was 70 degrees and sunny. I saw the forecast, and immediately went to the closet to break out the spring wardrobe: my khaki silk suit and a lovely swimming-pool colored oxford. Even though I overslept, I was happy walking out the door, first cup of coffee in hand. I swear to god every person I saw commented on my clothes. For every easter-egg remark, there were two compliments. Frankly, I am simply trying to will spring into existence.

I then got to teach two good sections where I introduced one of my favorite novels, and then tried to keep a very excited group of students going to London from busting out of their skins.

And then, all the caffeine wore off, and the thrill of a beautiful, sunny, warm spring day finally hit. I am tired, but soon, very soon, it will be Spring. For real.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Note to our Daycare

Dear [Otherwise Great Pre-School],
I (Horace) was reading through the March newsletter this morning, and first, we both want to thank you all for producing such a thing--it's so great to know what our children are doing with you all, and to be able to work with them on concepts as they are learning them with you.

That said, something caught our eyes in this issue that troubled us some. We noticed that [Awesome Reading Teacher] is developing a unit on logos, we assume to begin to teach the rudimentaries of symbolic logic. As an English professor and a writer, respectively, we appreciate deeply this lesson and the developmental steps being fostered.

But we have to wonder whether using logos are the best way to teach symbols. We just think that our children are already bombarded enough by messages that turn them into consumers well before they are able to process the decisions that go into becoming part of the marketplace.

We, and many other parents, try to limit our children's access to commercials on tv, and when possible, limit the degree to which their clothes and toys make them walking advertisements. Certainly, their school should be among the last places to expose them to rampant consumerism.

Now, we wouldn't dream of asking [Awesome Reading Teacher] to scrap this unit at this late hour--hard work has surely gone into creating it, and making it useful to our children. But we might ask that repeating the unit in the future be reconsidered very carefully.

Finally, we did notice that one of the examples of logos mentioned in the newsletter was for McDonald's. This is the one place we'd really like to object on an immediate basis. We have a hard enough time convincing our kids that McDonald's and other fast food places are NOT where we want them to eat. [Great Pre-School] does such a great job at offering healthy nutrition in both practice and concept that we'd really hate to see it undermined when there are so many other ways to teach the very valuable lesson that is your objective.

Horace and Willow

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


French philosopher Jean Baudrillard dies

The Associated Press

March 6, 2007 [] PARIS: Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher and
social theorist known for his provocative commentaries on
consumerism, excess and what he said was the disappearance of
reality, died Tuesday, his publishing house said. He was 77.

Baudrillard died at his home in Paris after a long illness, said
Michel Delorme, of the Galilee publishing house.

The two men had worked together since 1977, when "Oublier Foucault"
(Forget Foucault) was published, one of about 30 books by
Baudrillard, Delorme said by telephone.

Among his last published books was "Cool Memories V," in 2005.

Baudrillard, a sociologist by training, is perhaps best known for his
concepts of "hyperreality" and "simulation."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

On Reader's Reports, Book Reviews and Other Low Yield Tasks

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a Big Journal in my field to review an essay on a very contemporary, very interesting playwright on whom virtually nothing has yet been written. I happened to be teaching a play by this playwright the next week, the first time I'd ever taught the playwright. I had been recommended to the journal by my advisor, who was too busy.

The essay was for a special issue, and so it needed to be turned around quickly, with very specific and direct feedback for revision, if applicable. I did it, and the editor seemed very happy with my response. In fact, he asked me to review a forthcoming book on the playwright, which I also agreed to do.

Here's the thing. I know the profession relies on this sort of work from academics, and quite frankly, I'm at a stage in my career where I feel flattered to even be asked.

But I am unclear on precisely how to value this work, and when I might want to say no: book reviews count for very little on my annual reviews, and reviewing essays for even less. There's no remuneration, and the value in getting my name out there seems minimal. So, internets, how do you feel about this sort of work? How do you value it? How do you make decisions about when to accept these tasks, and when it's time to take a pass?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where I've Been

In a word, around...

Actually, it's pretty obvious that cursory glance over my archives reveal that I'mn a pretty streaky blogger, and a pretty streaky blog reader, too. I'll go three or four days in a row, and then nothing for a week. So in the meantime, I'll tell you some of the things I've been doing:
  • Willow set up a great weekend with some grad school friends, complete with hotel room in DC, gift certificate for a fancy dinner, and tickets to see Crave by Sarah Kane, a play that might be deeply depressing, but I'm not always sure how to make heads or tails of. Still, we were able to get our old dinner group back together again, all 7 of us, now with one new spouse (absent, sadly), four new kids, and another on the way. Strangely, it wasn't all that much louder than before...
  • We were due to drive back on Sunday, but DC got some snow, and I developed an ulcer from the prospect of driving the highways out of DC and over Appalachians in that weather. Sooooo, extra night in the metro area, including a soul satifying trip to Trader Joe's!
  • When we got back, I was waaay behind with work to do (quizzes to grade, midterms to design, an essay to revise (still to be done), another to review for a big journal in my field, and a bunch of small stuff (rec letters, etc.) to complete. As of this moment, I am almost caught up.
  • Tonight was the inaugural gathering of a group I am now organizing of newish faculty with kids--we had 7 faculty members, a couple of spouses, and a bunch of kids from not yet walking to school age, clamoring around a local cafe which had devoted the etire time slot to us. Seems like a success, and a nice new social opportunity for some of us who have felt isolated in the past.
  • Tomorrow, the new chair unveils his vision for the department. Should be very interesting.
  • Then, visitors, midterm grading, essay revisions, and more visitors. March sure is coming in like a lion!