Friday, February 29, 2008

More Good News

While I have been quiet on the issue of my Mom's health, at this point I feel comfortable divulging a bit without giving too many specifics. For a range of variously mysterious reasons, she's been in hospital for most of February. A few things were starting to make sense, but nothing remotely comprehensive.

Last August, when her health issues ramped up some, my father had asked the GI specialist about the possibility of exploratory surgery, to which the response was "We don't do that anymore." Well, today, working on a hunch that frankly my mother wasn't particularly optimistic about, the local surgeon did a laproscopy that revealed three different major anomalies, at least two of which were almost certainly major sources of her symptoms.

While I guess we'll need to see how recovery goes, the odds seem good that not only were a few major issues identified, but that they were remedied during surgery. I'm just beginning to process what that may mean even as I post this, but the short answer is that it's positive news, maybe transformatively positive news.

Narrative Conference

Anyone going to the Narrative Conference in May? Let me know by gmailing me at delightandinstruct. Maybe we can meet up and get some barbecue.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Bit of Good News

Those currently or recently on the job market almost certainly know that however common it was or wasn't in some mythical golden age, the pre-tenure sabbatical is an uncommon beast indeed. On every on-campus interview I went on, questions about pre-tenure leave was met with a rueful, but dismissive, "no." BRU was no different. Sabbatical came at 7-year intervals and no sooner.

So imagine my surprise when our department announced today that starting next year (when I become eligible) pre-tenure faculty are eligible for a two-course release, which on a 3/2 effectively translates to a one-semester leave. Now, because I owe the deparment a course because of London Tour's cancellation this year, I will have to teach it next spring, but that's it: a spring with a once-a-week course and a trip to London in the middle. Score!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Essay Writing for Jesus

I often assign a paper during the Romanticism segment of the survey course that has students thinking about notions of the sublime. They read excerpts of Kant and Burke, and in class we look at these notions in Shelley, Blake, and Wordsworth. This is hardly an innovative concept in the pedagogy of Romanticism, but I find it works pretty well for a period in which I've done very little advanced reading.

For this assignment specifically, I get a lot of students who reference both the language of, and often the fact of, their personal relationship with their lord and savior Jesus Christ.

I can't help but roll my eyes when Blake and his visionary cosmology, or Wordsworth and his "semi-atheism," or heaven forfend, the outspoken atheist Shelley, are revealed to be Christians along the line Joel Osteen and Jerry Falwell.

Now I know that my own personal history with Christianity (my folks are evangelicals, and until about 18, I was too) conditions this response, but I am hardly closed off to the possibility of my students' faith. I just hate it when their papers become a venue for their personal witness.

Three papers in a row this evening found references to poets' beliefs that were both counter to all evidence in their biographies, to what was discussed in class, and which are completely ahistorical: the kind of personal teddy-bear god that has inf(l)ected a lot of popular American religious discourse--especially for teens. I learned that when Wordsworth speaks about nature in Tintern Abbey, he really means "Jesus," that the Tyger solves the problem of evil because it shows us that all of creation is part of God's Work, God's Plan and God's Love. The third paper references the author's desire to find "the presence of God in Blake's writing," but then finally acknowledges that this isn't an appropriate strategy. I'm not entirely sure why the author felt the need to signpost a rejected interpretive strategy, but I wish more students understood this.

I understand that many students with an evangelical upbringing will naturally transpose the ineffable and infinite of the sublime into the vocabulary of "my god is an awesome god," and I tend to understand this issue a bit more, often with a simple comment like "take care not to transpose your 21st century beliefs onto 200-year-old texts." But the papers where students spend the whole essay arguing that a poem about nature is really about Jesus? They unnerve me.

Are they witnessing to me? Do they believe that they are taking a stand? Are they so deeply immersed in a kind of totalizing theology that they can imagine no other way through which to view experience?

So I've got to write end comments on these papers, and since all three invoke a literalist Christian God, but take different tacks in doing so, I can't even cop-and-paste a response for their end comments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bringing Speakers to Campus

Some years ago, when I was interviewing at a small state school (SSS) in a college-rich area, I asked how much contact these faculty (on a 4/4, naturally, and often looking to "publish up") had with more established scholars at bigger, more prestigious schools in some cases less than 15 miles away. The answer? None. This was disheartening, and one of the many reasons I turned down that tenure track job in a year when no other TT job presented itself.

After the ASTR conference last November, I started talking to one of the other seminar participants, who is located within reasonable driving distance from BRU, about us somehow taking advantage of that proximity of both intellectual interests and physical campuses. After two+years here, I've made few of those connections I had hoped to find at SSS, despite being in an area where such connections are at least a possibility.

I had noticed that at both my grad institution, and a BRU, some of those things were happening, but always at the senior faculty level, and often only with endowed chairs who had a pool of money to bring in.

Well, with the new courses I'm teaching in the fall, my new ASTR friend would be a phenomenal supplement to my pedagogy, and could bring in a richer sense of particular discourses on particular texts than I could. So I'm looking for ways to bring him to campus, a process that is just beginning, and I'd be really interested to hear other people's ideas on.

But more generally, I think this is an idea that we need to be considering more persistently. I am always concerned when I hear "ivory tower" epithets, and their implications that universities are not connected to the real world. These epithets feel truer when I realize that universities and departments aren't often very good at making connections with each other, let alone with the real world.

And yet the guest lecture format seems to be a low-risk, low-cost win-win for everyone involved. When speakers are comparatively local, costs can be kept very low, especially if faculty are willing to swap talks or think more creatively about logistics. Both parties benefit: the speaker, especially younger scholars, benefit with lines for annual reports, with chances to work out new scholarship with somewhat lower stakes, with networking connections forged and reinforced. And of course the hosts benefit, too, with an influx of new ideas, the opportunities for publicity that an incoming speaker brings, and of course the same networking possibilities.

But often these kinds of connections are reserved for established scholars whose work is well-known, even famous. But what if we work toward establishing these exchanges, these networks for recently-tenured, untenured, and off-the-tenure-track faculty, and even advanced graduate students? Establishing these connections with each other can only enrich the profession, the campus, and the individuals involved.

So how do we do it?

Well, it starts with talking about it at all. Although I know that Flavia, Dr. Crazy, Dr. Virago, Nels, Chuck Tryon, or JBJ are very strong contributors in their fields, and that grad students like Sisyphus or Acephalous are becoming, I haven't, until now, thought about trying to bring them to my campus. But why not? Dr. V completely changed the way I taught medieval drama, and I'm using an essay by Nels in my grad class this semester. We can meet-up at conferences. Let's meet-up at each other's campuses. Let's talk in each other's classes. Let's make turn some of the potential offered by the connections of the academic blogosophere into on-site connections on our campuses and in our classrooms.

Who are you going to tag first?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Slim Pickins at D&I

I've been posting lightly here lately, and reading fairly lightly too. Even after culling a few spaces that I rarely read from my bloglines subscriptions, I'm often 150-200 posts behind at any given time. This is not because I don't love you, because I do, really I do.

But it's been hard lately:
  • hard because I want to post about my mom, but can't post about my mom out of respect for her privacy and my desire to keep this space primarily professional. For the record, things aren't dire, but they sure ain't great on that line of conversation.
  • hard because the two committees I've been on lately have been very consuming, and not always productive of useful things to say at any given time.
  • hard because I've been trying to edit and write and revise with all of this supposed free time I imagined myself having and which I do not have. Which means that said editing and writing and revising is way behind schedule. At minimum, I have to have 15 pages written for a plenary in three weeks. I have not yet begun to draft.
  • hard because instead of maintaining my weight as I had hoped, I'm slowly gaining a bit back. And May is still far away.
  • hard because even when the teaching is good, as it is now, it's time consuming. And I just collected a batch of papers today. yippee!
So, y'know, someday, I'll be back to posting 2, 3 times a week, with thoughtful posts like a response to JBJ's important and useful thoughts about assessment. In the meantime, if anyone has A) ideas about how to teach Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work, or b) specific ideas for organizing a 200-level contemporary literature class or c) time to write my plenary talk, or d) a cure for undiagnosable auto-immune connective tissue diseases and the gastrointestinal side effects....I'm all ears.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fall Schedule

Just got my fall schedule, the first semester of my 3/3 year--the heaviest teaching load of my thus-far cushy career. The bad news: three preps, all new. The good news: all awesome classes!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. Val's Quiz

Since I want to be like Dr. Crazy in every way:

A Valentine's Quiz:

Your Candy Heart Says "Hug Me"

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you're hot: you're fearless about falling in love

I love that these things are designed so perfectly to be completely flattering while seeming to be revelatory!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anyone else excited...

About Project Runway tonight? We find out (as far as I can tell) the Bryant Park finalists tonight...Though this hasn't been the strongest season, the show remains one of my primary guilty pleasures, especially now that we're over Rock of Love II at Chez Horace.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Settin' 'em up, Knockin' 'em down

The comparative lightness of this teaching semester--the familiar survey, and the intimately familiar grad class--has meant that I've pretty consistently been able to carve out time for writing, editing and revising. In the last week, I've finished edits on one essay and sent it out, made revisions to my own essay for the collection, and completed edits on two other contributions to the collection. The collection still has a few more substantive tasks involved (2 more essays to edit, the introduction to finish, and another co-authored essay to revise), and I've got this plenary talk to draft up (did I mention that I'd been asked to do a plenary?), but the light is at the end of the tunnel for the book project, which is a) related to the plenary, and b) already open in various documents on my desktop.

Next week, I hope to get a jump on the remaining pieces to edit, and start outlining the plenary, so there's definitely more to do, but I feel on a bit of a roll right now, to be sure.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Voting, and why we vote...

I saw a George Will column around somewhere (Online? in print? I can't remember) that basically suggested that the Dems would squander the opportunity to win the White House by not nominating Obama, but rather Hillary, who is to him, a supremely divisive candidate. The argument he made was that by nominating McCain, The Republicans had staked their claim to the center, and that Hillary would not pick up any usual Republican voters, and probably not many independents, either.

In doing so, Will mentioned casually the squandering of primary votes on Tuesday for candidates like Edwards, who was already out of the race, or even, on the Republican side, for Huckabee, who was essentially only a regional candidate.

I am no political scientist, but I seem to think that what Will implicitly raises is the purpose of a vote. So much rhetoric about voting suggests that our vote = our political voice, and that this equivalency means that we get to exercise our place in a democracy primarily through our vote.

This is, of course, bullshit, particularly in such a solidly bi-partisan political system. Neither Obama nor Hillary really speaks for me, even if they speak more like I do than any other viable presidential candidates. Edwards spoke more like I do, and I probably would've cast a vote for him were he still in the race.

But with my primary still in the future (we're late to that ballgame, and for once, potentially consequential), I am asking myself what I'll be doing when I'm voting.

In 2000, I voted for Gore, even though I agreed with more things that Nader was saying at the time. In retrospect, I feel even Better about that vote, since I've become disenchanted with Nader, and frankly somewhat more enchanted with Gore. But then, I was voting for one of two likely choices, Bush or Gore, where my preference was clear, even if my voice in that vote was obscured.

In my upcoming primary, I suspect I'll have the option of casting a vote for Edwards, a bit of a protest against the too-moderate-for-my-tastes available candidates. This vote is essentially inconsequential.

I could vote for Hillary, who I suspect actually supports more of the policies that I support, but whom I suspect might not win a general election. Or I could vote for Obama, whom I believe to be most electable, but the furthest from representing my actual specific concerns. Instead, Obama simply seems to be the most likely candidate to bring some less-conservative framework to the White House.

So what is my vote, anyway, because if my vote=equals my political voice, then my political voice is terribly indistinct, and pretty far from anything I might call my political convictions. This is not simply a lesser of two evils thing, either. Instead I believe it says a lot about the rhetoric of democracy. For if our vote is our primary way of participating in a democracy, then it's a poor way of participating, indeed.

Instead, this rhetoric seems to at once encorage political assimilation into one of two dominant paradigms, and simulataneously and implicitly de-fuse other kids of participation. I know that some people get angry when others don't vote, as if it is the single most important thing that a citizen can do. And while, yes, it's important, and more votes adds up to something like political will (except in years ending with the digits 2-0-0-0). But there are so many other substantive ways to enact citizenship that actually equal voice. I've been sending more and more emails to representatives, which is only a little more efficacious., but there it is. But activism, volunteerism, general political discussion is all important, on-the-ground, and voiced. And while power might be most visibly exercised in big grandiose chambers inside the beltway, it is also exercised in many micro-scale ways in every interaction.

So I'll figure out how I'm voting when the time comes. Perhaps by then it'll be a done deal. But what I'm not going to do is delude myself into believing that those few little onscreen buttons are all that is left of my political voice.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


  • After a good class of the survey, I came back to office hours and got a visit from a former student who just wanted to say Hi. That's always nice, when students seem to remember that you're a person, and one they kinda like to be around.
  • After the student left, I finished making final edits to the long article that's sort of about Harry Potter, and sent that puppy out. We'll see how it fares, since it is on a single text that isn't in and of itself supremely important. But that makes two articles out right now, so keep your fingers crossed.
  • My annual evaluation scores are back, with highest marks in all categories from both the chair and the evaluation committee. Some nice comments in there too.
  • One of my contributors for the collection contacted me after going over her most recent edits and said, "You're a really good editor," which is nice since a) she teaches editing, and b) I've never edited before.
  • We're discussing revisions to the major here, which has been an interesting process. I put a proposal on the table, and after having seen the other proposals (which were in many ways similar to mine), I like mine a lot, but see that it might be a bit too big a change at this point for this department. We'll see.
  • We've got another candidate in town today, which makes for a busy busy day.
  • The elephant in the room is that my mom is back in the hospital. You may or may not remember the episode in the late summer where there was the hope of a diagnosis for the chronic illness that has escalated over the last 15 years. No diagnosis came, and her always-roller-coaster health has generally deteriorated. I am worried on the one hand, but on the other, she is very adamant about my sister and I not getting deeply involved in her health care (She hated how her own mother's health sucked in all of the people around her, and swore that she never wanted that for us). She remains fairly casual about things, even though my dad is torn up over this latest round. There's not much to do right now, and I hesitate to offer too much detail, but amidst all this other good stuff, there's this black cloud...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Long Days and the Things that Help Us Sustain Them

Willow is away at AWP this week, milling about book tables, hanging around sessions on contemporary fairy tales, short story collections, slipstream fiction, etc, and generally taking in the things that NYC has that BRU doesn't.

Since I'm typically the one who leaves town for conferences, I was eager to send Willow off on such an adventure while I kept the home fires, well, from having huge temper tantrums or wasting away from hunger. I didn't have a sense, when we scheduled all of this though, what yesterday would look like. Not only did I have to work around a grad class, but we had a candidate from the search committee I'm on come to campus, while some extended family crises linger in the background. Not to mention that little last minute VHS conversion issue that cropped up. so yesterday looked like this.

5:30--Imperia crawls into bed with me, saying that since Mommy is gone, she could come in and snuggle. Cute. But early.
5:35--Imperia decides she's not really interested in sleeping, but continues to lie quietly, if not still, for another 45 minutes. Daddy is not sleeping.
6:30--Imperia wants to watch some TV, so Winnie-the-Pooh goes on for about 20 minutes while Daddy showers and dresses.
7:00-8:20--Packing for the day, getting Rambunctious up, getting the kids fed and out the door. I am so glad I am not a single parent of twins. Those people are saints, and if you happen to know one, call her up and offer to help.
8:45--drop kids off at day care. hugs and kisses
9:00--Arrive at school, call Classroom Technology, and three local stores to locate a blank VHS tape for sale. Run around from bookstore to coffeeshop (sweet elixir!) to ClassTech back to office.
10-11:30--Read Course evluations from last semester. Prep for Survey class and grad class. Also write some blog posts (who had time for that?). Photocopy some stuff.
11:30-12:40--Candidate interviews with committee.
12:40-12:50--heat and eat lunch. Burn tongue.
1-2:15--Teach kick ass survey class on the sublime and the picturesque, featuring powerpoint involving 18th and early 19th c paintings by Constable, Gainsborough and Friedrich to illustrate the sense of the concepts, while helping them parse out Gilpin, Burke and Kant. Students agree that Immanuel Kant was a real piss-ant, while also getting that the mind that Kant's sublime works in is the rational mind, while simultaneously understanding that Blake and (eventually) Shelley think of it as the imaginative mind. Happy with class, though we didn't get to Shelley.
2:20-2:40: Return to office, drop stuff, gather stuff , reread Judith Butler article in 15 minutes (which tells you either how familiar I am with it, or how shoddily I was prepping).
2:40: Run to ClassTech to pick up converted VHS (Thanks guys!), run to car across campus
3-3-45: Pick up kids, take them to friends house who are sitting for them. Feed kids carrots. Hug and kiss kids. return to campus.
4-7: Grad class. Goes well, though since the class of 12 has 4 Lit track, 4 creative track, and 4 professional writing track, they are chafing against the heavy dose of theory early on. Some of those specializing in creative non-fiction wonder (usefully, I think) about what the performativity of autobiography means to their craft. I swear it'll get better soon.
7:25 Pick up kids from friends' house. Apparently, they've been good. sigh of relief. Sure do love them kids. Drive them home. Imperia dozes off in the car (no wonder!)
7:50-8:53--Snack, bath, bedtime
8:56--Dad calls to talk about Mom's health and his business dilemmas. I eat dinner while on the phone with him.
10:00--Willow beeps in (on schedule, thank god), and I tell her I'll call her back as soon as I'm done with my Dad.
10:08--Call willow back, talk until midnight.
12:36--juice cups prepped for morning, cats fed, rest of house a disaster, I crash.

What helped me sustain that? A little sunshine, a job I love, great students, great kids, great friends, and Willow. I'm lucky.