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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.


Hi! And you are...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Friday, October 30, 2009

What happened?

I'm not sure what happened to yesterday or today. In fact, by the time I post this, it will be tomorrow (Saturday). No clue where the time went.

I've been working on grading the papers for 229 at long last, and I'm facing the exact same frustrations I face every year, every time. I try to explain, and structure the assignment to head the problems off at the pass--and the same problems, every single year. They write about all the awful things that have happened to Native peoples, or their traditions, or their current lives--with no support from any source and having nothing whatever to do with the literature they're supposed to analyze. They spend the entire essay re-telling the examples used by the critical essayists, instead of focusing on the points the critics are making with those examples, and then say "This idea can be supported by the story...": in other words, no matter how many times I tell them that the critical material supports their analysis of the story, they try to do the exact opposite. They still do not get what the critical material is for: the study questions are making zero difference. The thing they talk about least, and use the least support for, is the actual literature.

I just am at a total loss here. I have tried every way I can think of to explain the difference between primary and secondary material; I have tried to demonstrate in advance of their papers how to use the secondary material (that's how the study questions are designed); I have told them in writing and orally that their primary task is to analyze the STORIES, dammit, and that the secondary material is only there to support their analysis. And still they get it wrong, wrong, wrong.

Part of me wants to give up, to just forget about the whole critical material aspect of the whole thing and just have them analyze the literature, period. I grant you, it's hard enough to do just that, nothing more. And quite honestly, I didn't have to use critical sources when I was an undergrad. (I also didn't learn how to document sources until I was in grad school.) But my understanding is that undergrad programs now do expect juniors and seniors to be able to document sources properly and to engage in at least a little critical research, and I feel it's my job to prepare students for what they'll face next. But apparently I just can't figure out how to actually do that.

The students are going to feel sick when I give them back their papers and they see their grades. I do allow them to revise--only fair, as I know most of them have no clue what they're supposed to do and won't get it until they get their papers back, bloody with my comments. But I still feel awful about the fact that so many of them crash and burn on the first paper: a bunch will probably promptly drop, even some who could make it if they'd work at it. I do not relish this at all.

I'm suddenly thinking I may ditch the research requirement for the next paper. I have required it in the past because I want them to start to get the hang of it before their final research papers, but maybe it's just too much right now. Maybe even a final research paper is too much: maybe I should provide the sources and just help them understand how to use them. In the past I've always felt horrifically frustrated and angry that they don't get it--and I've always been able to tell the ones who had a real 102 and those who had a joke 102 (the ones where they just say "I could relate to 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' because he talks about crabs at the bottom of the sea and I love to go to the beach..."). And I really do feel it doesn't do them any favors to let them out of my class still unprepared for the next step. But more and more I also feel it is cruel to expect them to be able to learn in a few weeks what they should have spent the last two semesters (or more) getting prepared for.

I don't know. Real crisis of faith right now. I can tell I'm going to be mulling this over for the next few days. At the moment, I think I may just talk to them about it, tell them my thinking, tell them my concerns, and see what they think will help them most. Sometimes they're very good at that--and it helps them if they feel they have some say in what is going on. They should. It's their education after all.

Oh, and brief report: in my 101s on Thursday, I did have them focus on search terms and thesis statements and I did have them write them on the board. Worked a little better, but still took too much time. I now think I need to split the tasks into two separate classes: set up a library day for them to do research in one of the library labs with a librarian there to help, and then spend a day myself with them working on thesis statements.

God I wish I had more time! More time with the students at each level, more time to work outside of class on grading, and prep, and just thinking things through. This blog helps with the thinking things through part, but the rest, there is just never, ever enough time.

But it's late (speaking of time) and I have a ton of work to do the next two days, so I need to be able to get up early tomorrow. I'm going to post this without rereading, editing, or even spell checking. I share with students the Hemingway (I think) aphorism: The first draft of anything is shit. Well, so be it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unraveling

There are so many loose ends in my life right now, I feel like nothing is woven up, tied off, finished. That's not true, of course: I do keep tying off loose ends, but new bits keep getting added on. I spent two plus hours after my last class weaving in bits of the promotion folder and making sure I have all the stuff I need for next week's classes. Papers are still in ungraded mountains--I've just moved them from the living room to the top of the radiator here in the office (no, not in hope that they'll combust but only because I've run out of flat surfaces on which to pile things). I blew off the meeting I had yesterday in order to churn through miscellaneous bits (bad girl, bad girl!). I expected to feel somewhat guilty but in all honesty was simply relieved. No meeting tomorrow for a miracle, and I'm trying to keep the weekend open enough that I can both work like a fiend and still have time to let down a trifle. I feel rather like I'm trying to dig through a mountain with a teaspoon, but one way or another, it will all get done. It always does. I keep saying that because it is comforting to remember.

I'm not sure how successful class was today. I had restructured the response to a reading in the style manual because I want to emphasize that research requires a focus--a tighter focus than the open-ended language of an assignment--and that the focus comes from them. I also want to show them the spiral of working thesis to research to revised thesis to more research to another revision of thesis--and on beyond zebra. So I had them work in groups on research questions (I'm going to ditch that tomorrow: formulating the need for information as a question to answer is tough to explain and not all that important to do. Instead I'm going to focus on search terms, which are important--and hard to nail down). I also had them work on constructing a working thesis--raiding from Matt's terrific lesson and his six questions they need to ask to ascertain whether their thesis works.

In case you're wondering, the six questions are: 1) Does it answer the assignment question (or in my case, since the assignment didn't ask a question, does it respond correctly to the assignment); 2) does it take a stand that others might challenge; 3) does it use specific rather than general words; 4) does it pass the "so what?" test (readers should find no reason to ask that question); 5) does it pass the "how?" and "why?" tests; 6) can it be supported by specific evidence from...whatever sources the assignment requries.

The main problem was that I didn't have a good way for students to share their results. First I thought I would have students write them on the board but then felt it would be awkward (and, I blush to admit, I didn't have sufficient chalk with me). I could have written the results on the board myself but felt it would take too much time. I think next time, I'm going to have a computer in class: I can type in their results and the students can see them projected on a screen (I type a hell of a lot faster than I write by hand). That way we can also add, move things around, try different phrases, everyone seeing the evolution/transformation... Yeah, next semester I'll try that and see how it flies. The research component will be very different with 102 classes (they focus on analyzing literature, so 102 students have to find literary criticism, not general information about, say, organic farming), but the thesis problems are essentially the same.

In any event, I'll be running the same assignment (except focusing on search terms not research questions) twice tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see if it's better, worse, the same--and what else I change on the fly (which I tend to do as ideas pop up).

By the way, I didn't blog yesterday because right after class I went into Manhattan to meet with my fiction writers group. We submit our creative writing (some stories, most of us chipping away at novels) and the other members of the group critique it. We had two new potential members: I hope they stick with us. I haven't been in a while, and it was a lovely change of pace--even though it did mean getting home quite late for me. (I had submitted, too, and it's fascinating to get the feedback from very different readers.) But I do want to report that in KC yesterday, the students were maddeningly flat and leaden: I finally gave them a hard time about it--and told them that I'll be observed in that class next Tuesday, so if they act that way on the 3rd, they can make my life hell. They promised they'll be better that day. I hope so, but I am also resurrecting an old approach to the reading (which is dense with information), and I think (hope) it will keep them engaged, no matter how lumpish they feel.

RB was, as usual, a circus. There are a few young men I'm going to have to physically separate at great distance: if they sit anywhere close, they encourage each other to act like doofuses (doofi?). It was a gray, gross, rainy day, and they were saying "It's such a beautiful day outside, we just want to be out...." which I could buy the class before, when it was 62 and sunny, but, I mean, really. So I said, "You don't have to be here. You never have to be here. But as long as you choose to be here, I would appreciate it if you would do the work I ask you to do." They tried to be better, but it's like trying to get puppies to work in unison. I know, too, that at least one of those puppies acts goofy because he's lost: bless his heart, he cannot, cannot understand the readings. Not one of them. I have encouraged him to come to me for help, or to use the Writing Center (which also helps with reading), and he doesn't. Much as I feel for him, much as I want him to get the help he needs and to succeed, he needs to do so on his own initiative. This is not high school: I will not mandate that he come see me. His choice. If he's floundering, he needs to figure out how to get the rescue he needs.

And from that I could get into a rant about the "Early Warning System" that the administration wants to institute (force upon us)--which treats us and the students like this is 13th grade (despite the fact that the administration is always huffy about NCC having that reputation in the community at large). I truly could rant at great length. (I also could rant about the language in the memo regarding the system. Many of my students could present it more clearly.) At the moment, we are merely being requested, not required, to participate, but I sincerely hope that faculty utterly reject the whole idiotic mess and clearly point out how demeaning it is to us and to the students. And don't get me started on the fact that sometimes students need to, deserve to, fail. That sometimes the only way they will learn how to be responsible adults is to metaphorically swan-dive into the pavement a time or two. That at some point they actually will have to be accountable for their own success or failure--including knowing when/whether they are doing what they need to be doing without someone else pointing it out.... And this isn't even a start, yet, on all I could say.

But it's a reasonable place to finish for now. If I'm going to get anything like an early night tonight, I need to toddle off home. And, Scarlett O'Hara says, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Shifting gears

I'm posting now instead of when I'm done with work for the day: Paul is taking me out for a birthday dinner tonight (Happy 53rd to me!), and I wanted to be sure to get a blog entry in--but I also want to work up to the last moment before we take off instead of trying to figure out how much work I can do, stopping to blog, maybe trying to restart again.... Paul teaches late tonight, so I have a good amount of time, and I want to make the most of it.

Now that I've got the flames of the promo folder contained, I'm turning my attention back to all those student assignments that have been silting up. I'm interested to discover that I am looking forward to them; just the few days of doing something completely different with my brain has cleared things out nicely. I feel I can approach reading journals and papers in a better frame of mind. I'm sorry to keep everyone waiting so long to get papers back in particular--and I won't mark as much as I usually would; the quality and extent of marking is a lot less important right now than just getting the blasted things returned, so students know where they stand. I also realized, as I was beginning to shuffle stacks of stuff, that somewhere I have a pile of reading journals for 229--and I have no clue where. I'm hoping they're at home in the huge mound of stuff on the big table in the living room. I also was less than amused to realize that I had left one entire classful of revisions (and freewrite assignments) here last Tuesday: I thought that enormous pile at home was everything, but oops, not. So I am back to a kind of triage, but it feels less harried and tense to me at the moment.

Had a pretty good 101 class today. I started by showing students how to access library databases and how various search terms would work--and oh, god, was that boring for them. I have to find a better way to get that across. I am happy to be able to show them the process on the computer in real time (instead of having to draw it on the board, which was the case up until very recently), but I've got to figure out a way to make it interactive. I wonder if I can reserve time in a computer lab the next time, so students can run it themselves...? I'll have to mull that over. But that part didn't take too long, fortunately, and once I put them in groups to discuss the reading they'd done (originally as homework for last Thursday's class), they did a fine job. We had a pretty good discussion--though I admit I handed them more than I usually do.

The reading was Ray Oldenburg's 1989 "The Problem of Place in America," in which he discusses the need for what he calls "the third place"--not work, not home, but a place that provides a needed balance for those aspects of our lives. I generally try to get them to dig out the qualities of the third place, but they were getting distracted by the idea of ways to relax or relieve stress--and granted, that's one thing the third place is supposed to provide, but they forgot that it is a place, not an activity (and not somewhere else: a cruise or trip to Italy is not a "third place"). It is always a struggle to get them to understand the very specific requirements for a place to "count" as a third place, so finally I just laid it out: the third place has to be 1) community based, 2) available for regular, unscheduled socializing, and 3) available for all members of the community, regardless of age, physical fitness, or economic status. Boom: they got it. I didn't have to struggle to get them to figure out why the mall, or the gym, or church won't work. And they could see that some of their communities have something like a third place--and some don't. We're in the process of discussing the fact that Long Island suburbia is, for the most part, very different from the kind of suburban sprawl more prevalent in the rest of the nation (and that sprawl is the problem being addressed by the essays we're reading at the moment). I can see them perking up: "wow, no more shit about trees and birdies and breezes in my hair!" (That sounds like the trees and birdies are also in my hair. In that case, no wonder they're not interested. Sounds distinctly uncomfortable.)

In any event, we'll see how all this flies tomorrow. And next class (Wednesday/Thursday), they're supposed to come in with working thesis statements--and I'm going to steal from Matt (whom I observed a while back) and have them rework their attempts on the fly, in their groups. I have to remember to dig out his handout so I can steal the questions he uses for them to evaluate whether a thesis statement works or not. He's got the language down in clear and focused fashion, and we know I'm bad at that--plus, not having codified this in writing for myself before, I'm liable to leave out something important. This is yet another benefit of working with smart colleagues. Not only can I have cool conversations with them, I can raid ideas with wild abandon. I'd guess that a good majority of my lessons were raided and adapted from someone else's. I'm a mental magpie: I'll steal any sparkly idea.

And the sparkly idea of the moment is for me to look at the reading journals I just collected from 229 so I can give 'em back on Wednesday for students to use in our class discussion. That went well today, too: a nice combo of group work and work with the whole class. All in all, a gratifying day, a gift from the cosmos for my birthday.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The shoulds

I got as much done on the promo folder as I could stand--including making a list of all the stuff I have to find/track down/ask for. It's printed out and in plastic sleeves in a ring binder with the appropriate labels on front and spine. Lots of the plastic sleeves just have notes in them (need to get X)--and as I went through the stuff I had, questions arose, which I'll ask in P&B on Tuesday. And now the "shoulds" have set in. I should be grading student papers. I should at least go through them and put them in some kind of order and get the fussing around done (the stuff I always feel like I need to do before I can actually start working). I should double check all the stuff I put together yesterday and make sure it makes sense. Sometimes I used to go on like this talking to my father, and he would remind me that one of his favorite things to say to clients in his psychology practice was, "Have you been should on today?" "Should" doesn't do anything; it's completely counter-productive. Either do something and stop "shoulding" about it--or let it go and recognize that sometimes it's OK to take a little time to breathe. To relax. To turn into a veritable sea cucumber.

As I write this, the sun is starting to go down and there is a beautiful amber light on everything outside. It was a beautiful sunny day today, cool but smelling crisply of fall, and that golden tone gracing the trees, the fence posts, the brick of the neighbor's house, is beautiful. There's a small breeze from time to time--and the light fades as I write. When I get wound up like I have been, in that mania of self-imposed pressure, I forget to notice the world. And it's a beautiful world. We live on a simply gorgeous planet; how lucky we are! Many of my students have the ability to talk about "nature" as something pretty, and soothing--the sentimental Hallmark card kind of recognition of trees, birdies, pretty horses running (all the imagery used in commercials as well). It's harder to get them to see/feel beyond the sentimental, beyond the merely pretty--and beyond valuing the natural world for what it gives us. The much harder task is to deeply care for the nonhuman and believe that it has intrinsic value: not as it is useful to us but simply in that it exists--and because it is utterly different from us, whether it is aesthetically pleasing or not.

As I've been struggling through the promo application, I've had to write out some of my thinking along those lines, both in describing my interests as a scholar and in explaining what I do with students and why. I just had a flash of realization (the thought has probably occurred to me before but it's never landed quite so clearly): students complain about what I have them read because they can't "relate"--and yet I only teach material to which I can "relate." Well, not entirely true. There are times when I've had to teach the American modernists, for instance, and purely personally, I am underwhelmed by their style and literary aims. But I understand both style and aims (and the interaction between the two), and I can teach those writers when I must. But I have always believed I teach better when I use material I care about. Now I begin to wonder. Maybe my frustrations would be less if I were to teach topics and readings I didn't care about so much; maybe the lack of interest and/or comprehension from the students wouldn't be so painful.

Nah, probably wouldn't help. Paul and I have talked about this a lot: I think it was two summers ago, we were sitting in a little park here in town, trying to figure out why we both felt so ground down, why we felt such profound frustration--even that word is insufficient to express what we felt. Finally Paul nailed it. We see where our students are, in terms of their intellectual preparedness as well as simply their mechanical skills. And we see where--in our estimation--they ought to be, even as freshmen, never mind as sophomores. The difference isn't merely a gap; for many of them it is an unbridgeable chasm. Never mind the fact that we only have 16 weeks in which to try to help them negotiate that difference. Never mind the fact that many of them do not believe they have any reason even to want to be where we say they ought to be. All too many of them have been so badly served by their preceding 13-plus years of education that even if we had infinte time and they had infinite desire, I'm not sure we could get them there.

The closest analogy I can think of is learning to speak a foreign language after that magic window for language acquisition has closed. No matter how fluent one becomes, one will be unable to speak that language like a native. One will have an accent, will make basic mistakes. Nonnative speakers of English, for instance, routinely misuse pronouns. When the mistake is pointed out, those who are fluent in the language can see the difference--but they can't hold on to it, and the next time will make the mistake again. Which pronoun to use in what situation is apparently one of those factors in English that one must acquire intuitively; it can't be taught.

And not only is academese a foreign language to many students, the entire set of assumptions that go along with life in academia are opaque to them: that it is good to struggle, that superficial isn't as interesting or rewarding as deep, that some things require a great deal of time--and are worth it. That there is such a thing as "the life of the mind," and that it is a wonderful, exciting, rich part of one's life to develop.

I know most students would rather set themselves on fire than consider their professors any kind of role model. I mean, dear God: we're stuffy and picky and don't measure our status through our material possessions (good thing, too, for those of us still on the lower rungs of the salary scale). But I do know that my students are often intrigued by the fact that I care, that I can get passionate about ideas, about words, about the connection between the two. In the past I've had students who would deliberately look for my "launch" button in class discussions, just because they were amazed and amused watching me go ballistic. I wonder if they've ever seen anyone get truly passionate about ideas (beyond the political chest-beating and vituperation that goes on in the media). I hope that for some of them, my passion gives them an idea that there might actually be something in all this that they want to find out more about.

I feel guilty, often, as I write these posts, because I don't tend to give as much "air time" to the students who have it all in hand: who are smart, and understand the value of genuinely becoming educated, and are interested in ideas, and want to develop intellectually, and are willing to do the hard work that is required of them--and indeed, are unhappy when they have teachers who are too easy, who don't challenge them to reach beyond their present limits. Nassau has plenty of them. I see them in my classes every semester. They are a delight--and without them, I doubt I'd have lasted as long as I have in this profession.

And there are those, too, who are less bright, less well prepared, not really sure what this whole college education thing is about but who will absolutely flay themselves to do well. I often feel terrible for them only because they are so grade oriented: they don't understand that the measure of their success is not the grade but their progress. (Oh, how I would love never to have to give another grade as long as I live! I would be so much happier to provide feedback, evaluation, progress reports instead of having to nail students into those labeled boxes.) But even those students who struggle to get C's--or even D's--I love, because they want to know. They care. They'll try. I've got one young man in 101KC who shows up to my office hours regularly for help. The front of his notebook is covered with affirmations for himself. (I've mentioned him before, because he continually tells me how hard he worked to get into college--and I know he's trying to act as a role model for the rest of his family.) Grade-wise he isn't doing very well at the moment, but I think he's genuinely learning. Indeed, one of the lessons I have to teach him is to stop second-guessing and trust himself. He's so worried about doing well that he ties himself--and his writing--into knots. I am desperate for him to pass--and I desperately want him to earn a C. I won't just hand it to him, but I'll pretzel myself to help him legitimately earn it.

Those are the kids who keep me teaching. They're the ones that make me start each new semester looking for that magic elixir, that golden assignment that will suddenly open things up for each and every one of them. And if I can remember to focus on them--the way I need to remember to notice the beautiful world around me--my emotional equilibrium is much steadier. And that helps everything, including dealing with the "shoulds."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm blind...

I churned through a bunch of the organizational stuff I had to do for classes, such as coming up with revised assignment schedules for my 101 classes, updating essay assignments for them and for 229, making sure I have needed homework handouts for 101.... (Oh, yes, and I made my reservations to fly to Montana for Christmas. I started to do that a month ago--and wish I had done it then, as of course the options are limited and prices skyrocketing. That took a lot more time than I expected--of course--but it's done, the ticket is purchased, I'm going. Whew.)

I still have to create study questions for a critical reading in 229, but I don't need to give it to them until Wednesday--and if I don't get it done, I'll just cancel the assignment. They won't mind I'm sure. They were confused when I canceled the last one, but once they understood what I was doing, they seemed relieved. I still need to recheck everything to try to catch any howling blunders (like leaving off a required reading, which I already did with the original syllabus for my T/Th 101s). I'll try to do that tomorrow. If not, I'll get up super early Monday to get it done and get everything copied so I can distribute it all to the students in a timely fashion.

Since I got my feet clear of that stuff, I've been churning through the ass promo (as office mate William has decided to call it)--and as I've periodically gone online to track down something for myself, I keep finding e-mails from one of my mentees, asking very good questions that I'm not sure I can answer. My own folder is filled with questions like "Does this go here?" and "I have a letter for this but is it worth mentioning?" and "How can I use only one document, as required, when I am also required to document each individual year of X?" There is a place in the application that asks us to say something intelligent about our professional development as scholars, and how our work as scholars is beneficial to our teaching. Right at the moment, mine says, "Oh, God, I'll come up with something about this later." Part of why I can't write something at this juncture is simple brain fade: I don't think I could write anything very smart about anything at the moment (witness this blather). But also, there is a quotient of BS that goes into the attempt to connect scholarship with teaching when my work as a scholar is hardly about comma splices and thesis statements--and one needs to be in a certain frame of mind and state of alertness to BS effectively. There is a connection, of course: what I teach and what I study both arise from my interests, my personality, my particular bizarre brain. And the environmentalist motif runs all through all of that. But making the direct connection does require a bit of a stretch.

I will say, one nice thing about doing this idiotic exercise is it puts everything I've done since fall 2006 in one place--and makes it look relatively impressive. I don't want to look at the folder for anyone else who's going up for associate, as I'm sure I would then feel totally inadequate--but I think those of us on P&B who are going up for associate have to recuse ourselves from looking at other folders for the same rank. Conflict of interests and all that.

But I've been staring at the computer screen so long that I really do feel like I can't see very well. (When I get tired I have a harder time literally being able to focus: everything gets blurry.) On the other hand, it's pretty early, so I have a good long time to wind down tonight--and to rest my weary oculars. Not sure what I'm going to do as I collapse into sloth mode (watch something on DVD? Try to read--making sure to wear my glasses? Play mindless puzzle games on the computer? A combination thereof?) but I'm delighted I can collapse and still feel I've done something productive. Papers to grade, did you say? What? I can't hear you: la-la-la, fingers in my ears, la-la-la...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ahhhh, bliss

I don't even remember falling asleep last night: I crashed without even turning off the light. I woke up at 3 something; the light was still on. I turned the light off, turned on my side, and was out again, boom, until 9-ish I think. It was heaven to sleep so hard and so long. Even sleeping a bit later than I'd optimally like, I still got some good work done before my ride. And my lesson was great. It wasn't wildly energetic, but I was more tuned in and effective than I've been in a long while. Lovely. I spent some time after the lesson just hanging out with the horses (giving treats to my favorites and, once the treats were gone, sharing love), then went to my favorite special grocery store, then a restaurant I really like, had a glass of wine and a nice, light dinner, reading utter popcorn (Robert B. Parker mystery; terrific fun, absolutely without profundity of any kind). Now I'm home and happy and relaxed and actually looking forward to getting a lot accomplished tomorrow and Sunday. Even with the work I did (on the promo folder), I feel like today was a genuine day off--no worries, no pressure, all good. Equilibrium restored. Amazing what a simple day can do to recharge the batteries. I'm beyond happy I got the horse time. I'm hard pressed to verbalize why, but even a bad day at the barn is wonderful: horses are simply utterly cool animals. And now, I'm going to noodle around a little before bed, enjoying this relaxation. Truly, bliss.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Another quickie

Most of the day got eaten up dealing with the insane woman downstairs. The whole thing left me feeling sick and shaky and emotionally shredded all day. I did manage to at least go through the files of document I've been collecting for the promotion folder, put them in some kind of order, put them in plastic sleeves and into the appropriate ring binder. I'm hoping I get a decent night's sleep tonight and can get some work in before I head off to ride. We'll see how Saturday and Sunday shape up. I think one of the most important things for me to do tomorrow is to look at all the most crucial tasks that are threatening to drown me and get them at least prioritized, as in "I can work on promo application until X time X day, then I need to do the revised 101 syllabi and paper assignments, then I need to work on marking papers...." See, it's already pretty clear in my head what has to come first; I just have a hard time putting something aside unfinished.

But for now, the only thing I need to finish is something for dinner and getting read for bed.

OK day, BAD night

I woke up without the aid of the alarm at 6:30 this morning (OK, technically yesterday morning now, but I consider it the 21st until I've gone to bed for the night). I slogged away at the promotion application--and I am very glad I decided to cancel classes, as it's going to take a huge amount of time. I have to dig back through minutes of committees since fall 2006 to remember what I did that is worth noting--and that's for five departmental committees (I don't think I'm forgetting any) and three college-wide committees. Then I have to write it up so it A) sounds impressive and B) is not repetitive. Of course the other problem is I wasn't always careful about where or whether I saved the minutes, so sometimes it takes me a while to find what I need--or to realize I truly don't have it and will have to rely on someone else's institutional memory for the information. I realize, too, I get compulsive about the process. I kept thinking, "Let me just do this one more thing..." until suddenly I realized it was 3:30 and I'd been working since about 9:30 and hadn't had lunch and had needed to be in the shower by 3 to get to campus when I had intended to.

I did get there on time for Sara's presentation, which was the key thing--and I even had enough time to take care of copying the rubric sheets I had the "Oh shit" moment about yesterday, as well as tying off a few other little loose ends. Sara's talk was fascinating. We didn't let her present as she will at the conference she's preparing for: we kept interrupting with comments and questions and responses to each other's comments and questions. But since hers is still a work in progress, I hope that was helpful to her rather than keeping her from being able to maintain a train of thought. I had one of those "I'm smart after all!" moments, when I made a connection and one of the other members of the audience said, "That's good, Tonia." It was like getting a gold star in kindergarten. I really was ridiculously gratified by just that little acknowledgment that I still can think.

So, as a reward to myself, I went to take a dance class (social dance) at a studio I stumbled across on Saturday. I took social dance classes two summers ago and adored them until the instructor left (and his replacement was an idiot). It's been one of those things in the back of my mind since that I'd like to do as a treat for myself, so tonight, I went. I thought class started at 8:15, but tonight's lesson started at 9, so I ate dinner (which I needed) at a little Chinese place nearby. When I got back to the studio, I was particularly glad to see that there were (miraculously) sufficient male partners for all the women in the class. Then the lesson began--and that's when things started to go bad.

The other students had been working on a particular combination of steps for the last three weeks, and there was very little acknowledgment of the fact that I was brand new to it all and even less in the way of specific help. I know the instructors had to teach to the majority of the class, not the one clue-free student, but it would have been nice if the woman had taken over partnering some of the male students and the man had given me a little one-on-one assistance to help me get caught up. Lacking that, I kept turning the wrong way and getting tangled up--couldn't keep things straight enough even just to follow my partners' lead. I've tried leading in classes where there weren't enough men, and it's hard, because the guy always has to be thinking about a half a beat ahead so he can give the woman the right signal at the right time. All the woman really needs to do is keep her feet going in the appropriate pattern and go wherever the guys says. But that is all based on the presumption that the woman has the appropriate pattern well enough in her feet not to lose it when suddenly she is being spun around and her hands are getting pulled over her head and crossed in various directions that lead to another spin.... Then the instructors kept pushing us about the elegant thing to do with one's arms and how to tilt one's head, while I didn't know where to put my feet. Screw elegance, I was just trying to end up in the right place standing on the right foot (and not on my partner's). I tried to laugh off the howling blunders I made as we continually exchanged dance partners (and I can tell you right now who the better leaders were among the men, because I got less lost with them), but eventually, the guys were getting frustrated that they couldn't learn their bits because I kept screwing up. And that increased my frustration--and activated some very insecure adolescent part of myself that ended up feeling utterly humiliated. I had to leave before the class was over or I'd have started to cry. I know that was largely an overreaction brought on by the fact that my emotional state is pretty precarious (a consequence of stress, grief, exhaustion), but I just felt miserable.

So I came home--to find an incredibly nasty, vituperous note from my downstairs neighbor, reactivating a feud I thought we'd laid to rest months ago. (This time she was enraged because I'd let the meter reader into her part of the house--I'm sorry, but that's where the meters are--and because I hadn't carried the garbage can back to the side of the house, even though I hadn't had any garbage in today's pick up--along with other accusations that I frankly didn't even understand.) That tore it. I called my friend Szilvia and promptly turned into a blubbering mess. After Szil talked me down off the metaphoric ledge, I composed a reply to the neighbor's message, employing my mother's wonderful tactic of being "relentlessly polite." (It's the word "relentless" that does it. If I continue to be polite and reasonable in the face of this woman's insane accusations, ultimately she will have to start feeling like a little bit of a jerk to continue raging at me.) Having written the reply, I think I'm starting to regain some sort of equilibrium.

And I'm now able to look at the dance class analytically, thinking about the teacher-student dynamic from the other side and how awful it is to feel left behind and unsupported--and stupid--like that. I hope I can turn my experience into some kind of pedagogical shift for myself. Plus, I need to take my own advice to students. I tell them to be proactive in their own education: I'm now working out how I can approach the instructors before my next lesson (whenever that is) to see if there is a way for them to accommodate my needs without dragging the rest of the class down. My first inclination was just to run away, but that's that insecure adolescent ... hmmmm, and exactly whom do I teach? It's good to be viscerally reminded what many of them must feel as they approach the intense demands of my classes.

Anyway, I think I may be starting to wind down and let go of all the emotional upheaval--now that it's way past "bedtime." I do have to be at that norming session tomorrow a.m., and I do have that appointment at 6, but now I think I will come home in between so if I need to nap, I can. And I've already confirmed that I will, by god, have my riding lesson on Friday. I'll work like a galley slave as much as is humanly possible over the next four days, but I also must allow myself some moments that get my head completely somewhere else. Horse time does that. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can't get away

With guilt and conflict, I have determined that I will indeed cancel my classes tomorrow and Thursday--but I just can't seem to stay away from this place. Tomorrow evening the Methods and Materials committee (another M&M) will meet, and friend and colleague Sara will be presenting a paper that she's working on for a forthcoming conference. I want to be there to support her--and to hear what she's working on intellectually, and to feel like I have a brain that works on the scholarly level. Also, very selfishly, I want to be more of a presence at M&M so I can, at some point, ask to present something of my own (what, I don't know, but this is one of the ways I'm trying to take advantage of the avenues for engaging in genuine academic discourse that are open to me here). So I really can't miss that. And Thursday morning, I have to attend a norming session so I can be assigned placement readings (for which I get paid, and god knows I could use the money--plus I actually enjoy doing the readings; they help me keep in mind the huge range of abilities and skills we deal with--and give me added insight into the concerns I encounter in my classes). Since I have an appointment in the neighborhood at 6 Thursday evening, it seems silly to drive here, go home, and come back again. I'm still going to cancel classes--I really do need the time (I've been having a hard time breathing today, and I mean that literally; I've been tending to feel I can't catch my breath, and I know it's "just" stress). But weird as it seems, I think on Thursday I'm going to bring my laptop with me and sit here in the office to work on my promo folder while I wait for my evening appointment.

Part of my inability to breathe is the guilt factor over canceling the classes. I know, truly, that the revised syllabus for my 101 classes will probably work better, as it gives us more time to go over the next reading and gives the students a little more time before their next paper is due. But I feel I'm abandoning my babies. I do get attached my students (even when I want to slap them silly with a mackerel), and I take my responsibilities to them seriously--perhaps too seriously. Intellectually I know they will be fine; they won't fall apart or suddenly be unable to succeed because I cancel a class. (And quite honestly, as gorgeous as the weather is supposed to be, I expect they will do a happy dance and run away to frolic--or just to sit somewhere outdoors and stare blissfully off into space.) But my puritanical work ethic tells me I'm a bad, bad girl for making this decision.

I got some P&B stuff out from under my feet this evening (reported feedback from today's meeting to my mentees, for instance). I'm still behind on that work, but I can get caught up once my own stuff as a mentee gets done. I really have no sense how long it will take to put together the application, but I do know what I turn in on the 26th will contain many pages that say "documentation to come"--because honestly, the level of proof we are required to produce is idiotic. It's quite clear that we are not trusted to be professional adults. For instance, we have to provide receipts or canceled checks to prove that we belong to the professional organizations we say we belong to. I ask you: would anyone lie about being a member of MLA? And even if one did lie, it's not like falsely saying one is president of the organization. One is just claiming membership (which for me, in the case of MLA, pretty much means I get their scholarly publication and put it, unopened, on a shelf here in the office. And I have to produce a receipt that says I do that. Madness, seriously, it's just nuts). But as I learned in grad school, with this kind of thing, one just jumps through the hoops. It does no good to question the value of the hoop, or where it is placed, or why it has to be lit on fire: one just jumps through--in whatever position and from whatever direction and wearing whatever circus costume is required.

So I'm lugging home all the revised student papers I have to mark (and just had an "Oh, shit" moment: I forgot to photocopy the rubric I use for marking revisions, and I need that. I guess it's a good thing I'm coming in tomorrow after all.) I'm going to take a moment when I'm done with this post to sit at my desk and look around to see what other pearls might have fallen through the floor boards. And then I'm going to go home and try not to think about a damned thing until tomorrow morning. I'm on the fence about whether to set the alarm (probably not), and am worried about how to tackle the particular monster that is this application. I compared writing my dissertation to wrestling an anaconda in a phone booth. The promo application isn't anywhere near that bad, but it does have Gordion Knot qualities: I'm not sure what to pull on first to try to sort it into something manageable. But I think the advice given to Alice in one of the Lewis Carroll books is probably good to follow: "Start at the beginning, go on to the ending, then stop."

Speaking of "then stop" ....

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Wall, again

It's not a matter of not getting enough sleep. It's not that kind of tired. It's the fact that after the 63rd iteration of "the definition of quotation is..." or "an important idea in this essay is...," I just can't stand it. It's not even like hitting a wall (though I did, in the sense that I simply cannot look at another review sheet or reading journal tonight). It's more complicated than a dripping faucet, perhaps a little like an ear worm (a wonderful term for one of those horrible song fragments--usually a commercial jingle or some revolting bit of pop nonsense--that gets stuck in one's head and won't go away). Mental activity is involved (mine, attempting to evaluate theirs) but after a while I can't tell good from dreck. It all turns into an annoying loop of the same damned thing over and over and over.

And the brutal truth is, it's incredibly subjective anyway. What makes one reading journal better than another? Of course I tend to give higher marks when it's clear the student understands the reading (and the more insightful and intelligent the reading, the higher the mark), but it's also true that a student can read insightfully and intelligently and write a crappy journal by gesturing toward answers instead of engaging in them. And it's equally true that someone who doesn't get the reading can do a spectacular journal by digging into the questioning process.

I realize questioning one's way into something is a practice that, as an intellectual, I take so much for granted it's hard to teach. I do it automatically. "I didn't get that sentence: let me take it apart in smaller chunks. Let me see what is said before it, and after. Let me ask what the connections might be, what makes sense in the context of the piece as I understand it so far, what particular connotation of a word makes most sense here, could there be something figurative in the language..." I could go on. And if I had more time with students--and could see them in smaller groups--I could do that with them: take a reading, break it down, question our way into it. In their journals I ask them to come up with questions for class discussion, and I continually have to say, "But that's a question about us, not about the reading. Ask questions that help us understand the reading better." "...Huh?"

I don't know where the problem lies. I don't know if it's that they have never been introduced to that kind of thinking, or if it's a product of that resistance to anything that takes time. One of the authors they could have read for extra credit says, "Anything interesting is complicated." (Kathleen Dean Moore, "Winter Creek." I'll give the correct MLA format citation if anyone wants it.) (Oh, and yes, I'll have to blog some time about my general disdain for extra credit--and why I decided to assign it this semester. But back to my original thought:) Students struggle with the idea that in order for something to be interesting, it has to be complicated--or that something complicated can be interesting. Another essay that I originally assigned (and am going to scrap) argues with the pervasive notion in our society that easy is good. They wrestle with that one, too. They'll pay lip-service to the whole "we don't want to be lazy" idea--the very same students who say they don't like to read because it takes too long.

So maybe the problem is that, since they don't buy the premise that the complicated is interesting, when they encounter a complicated reading, it just seems hard, with no payoff. Maybe they haven't had the experience of finally mastering something one has struggled with, that moment of sudden clarity when all the lights come on and the pieces fall into place and the scales of ignorance drop from one's eyes and all is beauty and grace. OK, well, maybe it isn't that transcendent an experience most of the time, but still, it feels damned good to get there. I vividly remember reading the first pages of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom when I started grad school and thinking, "I'm not smart enough for this; they should never have accepted me into the program!" I literally had to use a pencil to connect the subordinate clauses in his incredibly prolix sentences in order to make sense of the first pages. But once I did, suddenly I could read the book--and felt not only triumph but an enormous relief ("I guess I might make it through this whole Ph.D. thing after all!"). I grant you, it is not one of my favorite books, nor would I recommend it to a living soul--but I had the experience of triumph after heavy intellectual sweat. I wish I could give it to my students.

And what makes me most sad is that they are struggling like that over readings that I find lucid, logical, and thought-provoking (or I wouldn't have assigned them). One poor idiot in conference last week said that he thought the authors' intention was to confuse us. Of course: that's what writing is for, to inhibit communication, not to facilitate it. And in my world (obviously a fantasy world), although I grant students might not find the readings as easy as I do, they shouldn't be at such an utter, total loss--not at the college level. They might have to work at it, but they really, truly ought to be able to read this stuff and get it. Really. Truly.

Heavy sigh.

So, I have to get away from the assignemtns and come at them fresh tomorrow. In the morning I'll finish up the last of the backlog of student assignments, and if I don't get to the sabbatical folders before P&B, well, they can drum me off the committee. I'll get to them. Promise, I really will. But not tonight. And not until the student stuff is done.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend update

I am delighted to report that I had everything marked for my Monday classes by the middle of this afternoon. I know I would feel even better if I'd been able to push through about 10 more students' worth of assignments for the T/Th classes, but instead I decided to do laundry and then make soup. I'll finish it up tomorrow, but the time-consuming bit is done--and it felt lovely to do something literally and figuratively nourishing instead of engaging only in output. But I have to be very careful: I see the light at the end of the tunnel (and am sanguine it is not, in fact, the headlight of an oncoming train), and I'm very likely to let up the self-imposed pressure just a mite too early--and then find myself in a jam again. Of course the pressure won't really let up until I'm on my way to Montana for Christmas (and oh, hell, I need to book my flight soon or I'll have to put my life in hock to get there). But I can feel the time approaching when I can turn more and more over to the students: I've been cranking away at getting all the mechanisms in place and wound up, and pretty soon they'll just be able to toddle off on their own, putting it all to use.

My brain is in ten million places tonight, so I can't focus well enough to say much. This post breaks all records for brevity--let us all heave heavy sighs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life gets in the way

I felt good this morning, like I was getting a good start on the day and could finally take time to do a bunch of life-maintenance errands that I've been postponing all week. I got them all done, but by the time I was home and had lunch, I was exhausted and it was much later than I had dreamed it would be. If I hadn't taken care of it, none of it would have gotten done (what I wouldn't give for an old-fashioned kind of wife!), but the time all that took meant I didn't get anywhere near as much student work done as I hoped.

OK, and I confess, after I had lunch, I was so exhausted I had to lie down--which turned into a monster nap. (I am a championship napper, in the endurance events.) And I don't want to keep working tonight because I want to try to keep my weekend schedule closer to the weekday one: I think it's hard on my body to go from getting up at 5 to getting up at 8 (or later), with the corresponding shift in bedtimes. And since it's cold/flu season, I need to be careful not to get run down; I already feel a potential cold lurking (which I'm working to stave off in every way I can).

Anyway, I checked my work e-mail to see if I had any panic messages from students about their revisions. I didn't, but I did get a message from a colleague who is on a committee I retired from a few years ago; he's taken over chairship of the subcommittee that tries to address any/all kinds of environmental issues on campus, from the physical (like getting bottle/can recycling bins around campus) to the intellectual (an annual "Greening of the Campus" colloquium, which grew out of my pressure: the committee wanted to host an event, and I pushed for the focus on environmental issues--and for it to be an annual event). Anyway, he said everyone on that subcommittee is new, so he asked me for ideas. Here's part of what I said.

... Last year I did a report to find out which departments included environmental issues in their curricula (the report was sent from CWCC to the academic senate). In the process, several colleagues in the science departments mentioned the fact that students are still being misinformed about causes of issues (many students still think hairspray is a problem, for instance; someone has to be teaching them that--and many students think the hole in the ozone layer is letting in too much sun which is the cause of global warming). We thought it might be interesting and helpful to do a colloquium about incorporating environmental issues into curricula across the disciplines--and making sure that the information passed along is correct and current.

Just informationally, Sierra magazine annually does a round-up of the 10 "greenest" campuses in the U.S. (and a little bit of a hall of shame). Might be interesting to look at that to get ideas for things NCC could do.

One final note, across the board, the biggest problem I encounter is the enormous mass of students who do not think that they have any reason to care. They dismiss people who are concerned about the environment as "hippies" and view the entire issue with disdain. How do we counter that attitude???

And that is a concern that chews away at me all the time. I believe colleges and universities should be in the forefront of raising awareness about how our choices affect our planet and of producing citizens of all political persuasions who understand that a radical paradigm shift is required in our society if we are to leave any kind of livable world for our grandchildren. And still, the vast majority of my students have the "I don't care, I want my SUV" attitude. Or, perhaps even more discouraging, "It doesn't matter what I do. No one else is going to change, so anything I do is useless." Even when I point out the self-fulfilling prophecy aspects of that attitude, I can't seem to get past it.

I start thinking about this and I feel frustrated and discouraged. There is no magic bullet for any of these problems. I just have to keep renewing my faith that the students who are affected by what I try to teach will contribute to what Rick Bass calls the "glacier effect." Glaciers are, after all, made up of individual snowflakes, and they move very slowly, but they do literally move mountains....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chipping away

First, thanks to those of you who identified the song and singer I talked about yesterday: "Breathe (2 a.m.)," by Anna Nalick. See if you can find it online: great song.

Now, about today: I overslept (but it was nice to start making up for the week-long deficit), so got in later than I intended, then spent too long noodling around getting my feet clear. Consequently, as I was plowing through sabbatical applications, adding my dime's worth, I got a call from the main office: they were going home, and the application folders needed to be locked up. Damn and damn and damn. I'll have to try to blast through the rest on Monday, since we're supposed to be ready to talk about them in P&B on Tuesday. I'm interested in how different the tone is among the various applicants, from the elegantly scholarly to the jovially informal. One of them was barely more than a page or two, and I was all set to scoff--but caught myself, as the first draft of my promotion folder may not be much more. It was helpful (though a bit daunting) to go through the promotion folder for the one of my mentees who submitted hers to me early. (Reminds me: I need to bug my other mentee, reminding him of the draft deadline.) Her application is truly impressive--and she didn't even explain all she's done as fully as she should. I'd be utterly disheartened, but she's going up for full, and I'm only going up for associate, so....

Anyway, because I had to stop work on the sabbatical folders, I had to turn my attention to writing up the observations: done and done. I observe one more colleague on Monday. If I can get his written up by Wednesday, I will; otherwise he'll have to wait until after the 26th.

Once that was finished, I suddenly realized I hadn't set up an alternative date for my own observation (a member of P&B has to observe me, in addition to the observation by the chair). (That suddenly sounds funny, as if I am referring to an inanimate object rather than the nongendered title for someone who heads a department. I've heard that in the past, before Bruce was elected our fearless leader, people might have felt they were being observed by an inanimate object.) Also, I got the written form of Bruce's observation of 229, and I thought, "Wow, did we really do that??" I don't think the class was operating quite on the rarified level Bruce's reportage suggests, but one student's question ignited the linguist in him, so he let that rip in the write-up. OK by me: it makes me sound fearsomely smart. I just hope to hell no one asks me about the various constructions of "ka" in Pawnee....

In any event, realizing I needed to set up that alternative date to be observed, I realized that before I could do that, I needed to work on adjusting the syllabi to compensate for the classes I'll probably cancel next week. (The student who is following this blog is probably monitoring that decision very closely: Yes, Laura, it's a pretty good bet you won't have your English class on Thursday--but don't count on it just yet. There's still a minuscule chance I'll be working so efficiently I won't have to cancel anything.) I hashed out an adjustment that I think will work (actually is better than I thought it would be, doesn't create as much of a crunch as I was afraid we'd run into--that is, if I didn't screw something up; I have to reread what I did when I'm more alert). I e-mailed Allen to suggest two possible dates. I wish he was coming to observe RB, but the KC section will be fine. Whichever date he selects, we'll be going over a relatively complex reading, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

But then, getting back to reworking the syllabus, I realized I have assigned a review sheet that I don't seem to have created (I'd swear I did in some previous semester, but I didn't have the patience to go hunting for it, so I just made up a new one). And since the next paper assignment requires that students do a little research--specifically on databases, dammit, so they understand there are sources of information other than Google and Wikipedia--I had to test-drive the search terms to be sure the kids can turn up something they can understand. Paul was going on about that last semester, not only about research but also the material they often choose to plagiarize: as he said, they either find the Proceedings of the Annual Conference for the Croation Lapidopterist Society or Billy Bucktooth's "I Love Butterflies" web page. They can't comprehend the one and the other is some idiot's random bilge. I actually have had students use articles from Ranger Rick as support for their essays. For those of you who are not familiar with Ranger Rick, I had outgrown it by the time I was in 4th grade. Even if I was a bit precocious, it still is hardly appropriate for college-level research.

And keeping them out of Wikipedia is really hard. We all try the "it's a place to start, but you need to track down the sources that are used by the people who post" approach, but most students just can't stand to take more than one step when it comes to research. The first thing they light upon is what they use, whether they understand it, whether it's useful--and if they can't immediately get to the full text of it, they say they can't find anything at all. (Sweetie, did you scroll down?)

Anyway, so here I am, at the office at 8 p.m. again. I don't know yet whether I'll come in tomorrow; I do tend to focus better here, but I'm starting to get some horrible kind of cabin fever. I've just been going from office to home to office to home (with only the inside of my car as a change of scenery) for so long I'm not sure I remember the concept of "outdoors." The fact that it is suddenly winter doesn't negate the fact that I miss actual air. (However, that plunge in temperature, in addition to clouds, rain, and wind, did make it easier to feel OK about canceling my ride again.)

I've got an entire thermos of tea that I didn't drink (kept forgetting about it), half my lunch is uneaten (got distracted), and I've been sitting so long my knees hurt. I can't remember the last time I got on my exercise bike, but ye gods do I know I need it. Maybe tomorrow. Depends on energy and how much work I get done. Story of the semester.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Breathe

There's a song refrain, a woman's voice singing "and breathe, just breathe." I tried to find out who it is, the name of the song, whatever, and couldn't, but that's what I keep telling myself. Breathe. Just breathe.

I got all the papers done, conferences accomplished--and as the day went on, was able to grab a few pages of Dickens in between students. Heavenly. Breathe.

Interesting, though: of course students were struggling with the thesis (always hard--even for accomplished writers), and many of them had taken an approach that was leading them into blather (I call it "unsupported commentary": when they go on about people in general, with nothing to ground their arguments) or into territory that the readings barely touch, as if it were the main point. So I kept reframing the assignment as three questions (plus the "how can I prove it" question that is always part of any academic writing). Finally, sometime either late yesterday or today, it dawned on me that perhaps my need to reframe in every conference means I need to rewrite the prompts for the assignment itself. Duh.

The thing is, I work so hard to keep them away from the "My sacred space is Disney World" or "No one needs nature because the city gives us everything we need" arguments (which they may believe but which are certainly not expressed in the essays they are meant to analyze), that I've neglected to clearly tell them where they should go instead. Part of the prompt is something about identifying what natural/wild places give us that cities can't--consequently many of them go on and on about what's wrong with cities (which they know from experience) instead of identifying what we get when we are immersed in the nonhuman world (which is the point of the readings).

Oh, and before I forget: blooper of the week: "Nature has been on Earth longer than humans have." (Yes: nature arrived on an alien vessel to spread over, well, whatever the planet is without "nature...." I grant you, "nature" is a pretty fuzzy term--a problem we wrestle with in Nature in Literature--but I think this is the first time I've seen a student separate nature and the planet.)

Getting back to the wording of the assignment, after my experience earlier with student confusion over the study questions in 229, I realize that the process of clarifying and simplifying my instructions will have to continue ad infinitum, as my natural tendency is to complicate and over-explain (it's hereditary: Mom is an information junkie; I got it from her). But everything about the readings, how to write, the whole content of the course, is so new for them--and so radically different from anything they've encountered before--that I have to break things down and use short, simple sentence, and not a lot of them.

You understand why this is difficult for me.

This is also why I will NEVER voluntarily teach remedial English of any variety.

But the other problem is that students always, always, find new and unique ways to interpret what I say as meaning something I would never have dreamed it could. I keep trying to find a balance between keeping them at least in the ballpark and overwhelming them into immobility.

Side note: got our schedules for spring. Despite all the juggling that the chair and assistant chair had to do to fix the problems we on the scheduling committee created, I think I got essentially what I originally gave myself: three 102 sections (comp 2, which essentially functions as an introduction to literary genres and how to write about them) and, hallelujah, the aforementioned Nature in Lit. There are other faculty who want to teach it, but I'm senior to most of them (hah! take that!) or--since P&B has decided to get strict about making sure people actually are qualified to teach the classes they're assigned--I can make a case that I have the better credentials. (It is my field, after all. Some others in the department are making forays into ecocrit, but I still think I'm the one specialist.) Now I just have to hope it runs--and that it gets the necessary critical mass of bright and interested students to make it work. Last semester's section was a dream--one of those miraculous confluences of personalities that produces brilliant class chemistry--and I know I can't expect that again, but something close would be nice. One prays to whatever gods (or dogs) there may be.

Tomorrow, into the office to attend to P&B business (writing up observations, reviewing sabbatical applications, finally attending to my mentee's promo file). But tonight? Breathe. Just breathe.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

M&Ms required

As the week goes on and I'm grinding through all this work, I find I am searching for all sorts of things that I hope will give my brains a boost. Tonight, it was peanut M&Ms (I see little use in any form of chocolate without nuts). The only real help was psychological: I could tell myself I was having a treat while I worked (read a paragraph, eat an M&M, read a paragraph, ditto, repeat until paper is graded). I have four more to do for tomorrow (papers, not M&Ms), and I'll do them in the morning. I'll still have to get up in the dark hours to do that; yesterday and today I at least had breaks between conferences (and I barely held 229 at all today; we went over one poem, I lectured a little, I let them go after about half an hour. They didn't mind). Tomorrow, once the conferences start at 10, I see students back to back, no break, until 5:30. (I didn't even think to put an X through a few appointment times so I could eat lunch....)

But oh, how wonderful it feels tonight to know that I only have four more to do. I didn't even contemplate trying to squeeze any in tonight. Despite the fact that I've decidedly hit the wall (a problem even M&Ms can't cure), the four I have left are all in that problematic range between "good, good, nice, little thing to fix, good," and "Too many problems; I'll mark nothing and just write an overall comment." The really good ones and the really bad ones are easy to grade: the ones in the middle are a hairball. Consequently, I need to come at them as fresh as possible and having let the silt clear out for a while.

And tomorrow, after I finish with students, I will go home and keel over--I hope. I need a night when I just don't think about any of what I still have to do and go into sea-cucumber mode. It's always possible I'll be manic (happened last night), but even if I am, I hope I'll be able to employ my decompression tactics and won't have to resort to hitting myself in the head with a frying pan. Cast iron.

Just as a side note, I find that if I can get myself to bed early enough to get a certain number of hours of uninterrupted sleep, I'm actually rather enjoying being up before dawn. There is something very peaceful and cozy about it, knowing all around me people are still in their slumbers, but I am one of those with a light on, quietly beginning my day before the sun begins to make its presence felt. Native people say we should always be up in time to greet the sunrise--and I'd love to make a habit of it, except I really like being up at night too....

I keep telling myself not to think too far ahead, just to focus on what's immediately in front of me. (Twelve Step programs say "Trust in God and do the dishes.") I know what I intend to do on Friday, and I have the weekend priorities in mind, but if I think about it too much, the anxiety builds. One moment at a time is enough. Also, I've started having a problem I used to have with frightening regularity years ago: I'll be walking (or even scarier, driving) somewhere and suddenly will realize I have no clue where I am or where I'm going. I could be on Pluto--or in LA--for all I know. It takes a few seconds for the world to make sense again and I recognize what is around me. I know this happens when I get too far ahead of myself--almost literally, it seems, as if my mind has left my body entirely and when it snaps back into place, it's disoriented. At least, after my previous experiences, I know that I'm not having a stroke or a brain tumor: it's just a sign that I need to be here now (in the words of the Ray Lamontagne song).

Anyway, I'm going to take a few minutes to reorganize the chaos on my desk so I know what is in which pile, and then go home and attend to life maintenance. Looking forward to being in slobby clothes and full sloth mode. Not sure my eyeballs work well enough to read, so maybe something from Netflix, crossword puzzle, and lights out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Good news

So, both my raving students--Monkey Skulls and AYM--were civil, respectful, and listened carefully to what I had to say in conference. I don't think AYM quite gets what I said (hard to wrap one's brain around the need to be able to articulate clearly and objectively a point of view one does not agree with--or that because of one's preconceptions, one may see something in a work that is not there). But he said he thinks he can do what he needs to in his paper. Fair enough. I did encourage him to bring his resistance and his counter-arguments into class discussion: after our meeting I started thinking about the cowardice involved in spewing on the page but being unwilling to say so much as a syllable in discussion with peers, never mind with the class and me. Either he's afraid he'll encounter the "I'm the teacher so I'm right" response (I am right, of course, but it's not because I'm the teacher--and I am happy for students to bring their arguments into class discussion, as long as they do so in a civil and intellectual way). Or, perhaps more frightening, he has a sense that he doesn't have a strong enough argument to support his beliefs and that the students who agree with the readings will outmaneuver him. (Not to mention that he'd also have to face my counter-argument, and I think he knows damned well he won't win in that situation.)

But I'm relieved things with both went well. And when I was talking yesterday about the evil star that put both those fountains of bile in the same class, I neglected to mention that that section also includes two young men who are extremely smart, very open to learning, quite capable of improving their already good writing and thinking--and (bonus) who are open to the ideas in the readings and the enviro-topic of the course. They are both quiet (even in groups, though at least there they will share their ideas--and I hope knock the socks off the rest of the group). Even so, they bring balance to the class. Same class also has a couple of women who are intelligent, articulate, and also philosophically and politically in line with what we're reading (plus one I often have to cut off because she gets so excited she won't stop. A little like me.) So, really, no evil stars involved, rather a few little irritants but generally a great bunch.

Oh, and the student I thought would give me the "you didn't get my e-mail?" thing contacted me prior to her conference: she has cocksakie virus and wanted to know if she should still come to her conference since she cannot speak: her mouth and throat are filled with huge blisters and probably will be for another 2-3 weeks. I worked out a deal with her so a) I didn't have to mark her paper, b) she can still engage in revision with a guidance from our conference and c) she can still get credit for at least part of the assignment. I have a high level of suspicion about the "my grandmother died" excuse (which I did get from two students, both of whom also said they had to leave the country for the funeral and had no access to computers/internet), but this poor young woman is genuinely in agony--and willing to turn up for conference and class anyway. She gets a break.

I'm actually doing OK energy-wise at the moment, so I don't want to do this blog thing for very long: I think I actually have one or two more papers in me tonight. I'm half tempted to take them home, but better to do them now before the energy starts to fade (and before I get interrupted by the life-maintenance stuff).

The triage continues. At this point, the one place where I can force open some space is in stuff for the students. I hate giving them the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but without boasting, I can say that I do give them way more response on their work than most of my colleagues--and by now the backlogged homework is so far out of their awareness that response is meaningless. So once I can get to that (this weekend??), I intend to whip through it as quickly as possible. That will be hard for me (along the lines of "I don't know when to shut up, or how to make things simple"), but it's a good exercise for me and it won't hurt the kids. And I am desperate to carve out some time for all the other stuff that's catching fire all around me.

But the heavens keep giving me tiny unexpected respites: I didn't have the committee meeting I thought I had today (an hour plus of time, whew!). P&B let out early (again, whew!). The last two student appointments tonight didn't show up (quelle surprise, as neither had turned in a paper). So back I go to crank out just a few more....

Monday, October 12, 2009

triage

I am in the position of having to make draconian decisions about what I have to not do, or do marginally, or do differently, or later. I've posted a notice to students that their marked papers will be on my door later than I originally said--and I'm still not sure how I can get them done in time. I HAVE to respond to my mentee's promotion folder by the end of the week. I HAVE to write up the observations (contractual obligation). I HAVE to look at the sabbatical folders that arrived today. (Friday I'll be in the office for sure; no ride for the forseeable future.) The huge steaming piles of old homework are going to get a cursory glance, just enough to give the kids some kind of credit for doing the work. Classes next week Wednesday and Thursday, cancelled so I can work on my promo folder (and it's going to be about quarter-assed as a first draft, not even half-assed). Reconfigured syllabus to come.

The skin of my teeth is peeling back, as are my fingernails, as I'm trying to hang on just long enough to get the worst/most of it done. I've been having panic attacks all day, and now am so tired I can hardly see (woke up, stressed, at 4:20, tried to go back to sleep but was on the hamster wheel of stuff I'm fretting myself sick over, and at 5 figured I might as well just get up). I have five more essays to have graded by 10 tomorrow morning; I really should try to squeeze at least one more out, but I just don't know if I can.

One positive note: I had the conference with Monkey Skulls today, and he was great. If he hates me and the class, he's doing a good job of covering it. I think he may understand that I'm not trying to make him miserable--but that he really does have to do what I am telling him he has to do. The only difficult conference was a student who said "I don't know," or "It doesn't matter to me," or "no" to every question. I finally told him that in college, he actually will have to learn to think, even if it is uncomfortable for him to do. And my job with him is done: I'm putting no more effort into any of his work unless I see something that indicates effort and some inkling that he gives a shit. If he doesn't, I sure don't. No time for that.

I can't even re-read this to see if it makes sense. I'm going to go home--take a few papers with me, just in case I get a fourteenth wind. If I don't manage anything tonight, I'll just have to hustle through tomorrow. Christ, I'm having another panic attack just thinking about it. My adrenal glands are sure getting a hell of a workout.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Serves me right

I woke up at 6:20 this morning and thought, "I should probably get up, as long as I'm awake, but I'll just close my eyes for another minute." I woke up again at 8:20, and thought, "I'm really awake now, but I'll just lie here for one more minute." At 9:38 I woke up having just had a new version of the teacher's nightmare. The teacher's nightmare is very much like the actor's nightmare: it's all about being lost, bewildered, utterly unprepared--and in the spotlight. But this one was about a snotty student response to my comments on a paper. The strange thing is that the young woman who was the snot in my dream is actually one of the sweetest, most agreeable students I have this semester. (I wonder what deep Freudian significance that has.) But in the dream, she had "revised" her paper so it was even more of exactly what I had told her not to do, and in addition she had written vituperative comments about me as a teacher and as a person (e.g., she assumed I am a homophobe, which is pretty funny in retrospect).... Um, maybe I'm a little stressed about all this; what do you think? But see, if I'd gotten up the first, or even second, time I woke up, I could have saved myself the clinging ick of that dream.

And indeed, as I was grading, I encountered a student paper (albeit not a revision) that was very much like the dream: the student clearly has been waiting for his chance to tell me that he thinks everything about the enviro-themed topic of the course and especially the readings we have done is complete bullshit. In his anger and resistance to the material, he is seeing logical inconsistencies in the essays that are not, in fact, there (he is reading his assumptions into the texts, and his assumptions lead to faulty extrapolations). Again, I wanted to blow up and tell him to get the fuck out of my face and my class--but instead I think I was pretty reasonable in tone as I wrote comments informing him (much as I did for Monkey Skulls) that the emotional approach is not appropriate for college work (not to mention the fact that he cannot put together a grammatically coherent sentence, which is another requirement of college-level writing, strangely enough). (OK, I'll admit to one snarky moment that I just couldn't resist. After slamming the authors for being "insane" he wrote, "but who am I to judge?" I circled the phrase and wrote "Indeed." I know, I know, but I just couldn't let that one go by.) I also asked him to think about why he is so enraged by the ideas in these essays: if he doesn't agree, that's fine, no one is forcing him to, but why is he unable to even consider their arguments and work to understand why they say what they do? Why the intensity of the emotional rejection? I told him that as an adult, he will often encounter ideas he does not agree with, and that his job will be to find rational reasons why he does not agree, rather than relying on purely emotional reactions.

I must here freely confess that there are political views that call up a similar emotional response in me, and I find it extremely difficult to encounter those views without simply going ballistic. So I understand that at his age, he probably has not learned any reason to curb that emotional response. And many politicians (not to mention most of the media) rely on emotional reactions rather than actual reasons to sway our behaviors and opinions--and most of the public don't know one from the other. But the idea of being in college is that one learns to recognize the difference--and to understand why one holds the opinion one does. That's the difference between me and Angry Young Man at this point: I recognize that my rage is not the best persuasive tool, and I can formulate a reasoned argument to counter the view that pisses me off so profoundly. (I can also, of course, do that best in writing, when I can rework an idea until the reasoning is precise--and that's part of why writing well matters, another idea I should probably introduce him to.)

I do wonder what confluence of evil stars it was that put Angry Young Man (henceforth AYM) in the same class with Monkey Skulls.... So far, they haven't toxified each other, but the potential certainly is there. I'm hoping madly that one--or both--will withdraw, and soon. Like the instant they see their graded papers. Or do some kind of astonishing turn-around and start writing from their intellects instead of their, um, bilges (unlikely, but it would accomplish the same end, which is I wouldn't have to tap-dance around their shit). I am curious to see how their conferences go--but I know I will have to do some kind of mantra before, during, and after, so I can keep my professional cool.

But no matter what, I'd lay any odds you like that these guys will go to RateMyProfessor.com and spew some of their bile there. If they haven't already. They are the kind of student who generally is compelled--anonymously, of course--to engage in character assassination of a professor who has displeased them. I used to check my ratings from time to time and found it amusing. (My favorite comment was "Hates people, only loves trees." In fact, some of my best friends are people--and appearances to the contrary, I am a person myself.) But I finally got sick of the cowardice of it. It's easy to snipe at someone when you don't have to reveal yourself. I'd actually pay attention and listen carefully if students were required to give their real names (not an alias) and the grade they received. In any event, guys like these are the reasons my rating usually has a grey frowny-face next to it (worst teacher ratings). Occasionally some of my fans will get on there and I'll move up to the green neutral face (she's not really a monster). I'll never get the yellow happy face--and proud of it. I'm not in this for popularity. Weird as students may find it, I actually care about whether they learn something that matters. Go figure.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Teacher's Headache and the Grief Drain

I was utterly incapacitated yesterday by the teacher's headache. Apparently it is very common for teachers (at all levels, including the professorial) to get headaches on the weekend: once all the neck and shoulder tension from the week starts to let go and the blood vessels in the head dilate again--pow. Good thing I'd already canceled my ride, but I didn't even manage to get to the drug store to pick up a prescription that had been sitting there all week--never mind get any work done. In addition to that, I think the headache was occasioned by the fact that all week I've been fighting the powerful pull of the grief drain: it feels like my father's death in July created an enormous open drain somewhere in my psyche, and my mental and physical energy, my focus, my organizational abilities (always minimal at best) run down into that hole and disappear. I am not generally aware of grieving; it just goes on at that subterranean level, draining away, but this past week there were several mornings when--if I hadn't been on my way to work--I would have just sat down in the hall and cried. I did cry a while in the car on the drive to campus one morning, and I suspect that at some point I will get sucked down that drain entirely (if momentarily) and will have to give in to it.

But not yet. I am still able to distract myself with work. So, the pack full of papers that I lugged home on Thursday I lugged back to the office today (got that prescription first, in case I leave here too tired to do anything other than head home). I have gotten a fair number of papers graded--and again, I'm trying not to think about what remains but just to focus on what I've accomplished. Tonight I'm going to be sane about what I take home. Why schlep the reading journals and style guide review sheets back and forth when I know full well I won't get to them until next weekend at the earliest?

Going through paper submissions, I realize that five students (of the 11 no-shows) in my KC class still have not turned up: no paper, not in class on Thursday so didn't sign up for a conference time, no e-mail, no phone calls, nada. I got a notice that one of those five went to the Writing Center, but I still haven't heard boo from him. (I'm betting he comes by to sign up for a conference and is surprised when I won't accept his paper a week late.) Four of the 11 turned in papers on Thursday or via e-mail yesterday (for a few, "papers" is using the term loosely, but at least they waved vaguely in that direction). One young woman was in class on Thursday and signed up for a conference, but I have no paper from her: I'm taking bets with myself that she'll come by thinking she's going to pick up her graded paper and she'll ask me in a panic where it is: "Didn't you get my e-mail?" No matter how many times I tell them that A) they have to ask for permission before e-mailing a paper and B) once they have, it's their responsibility to check to be sure I got it and can open it, I always get a handful who simply (metaphorically) toss the paper into cyberspace and figure they've done their job. Of course, the up-side to the unsubmitted papers is that I have six fewer to grade: that's almost 3 hours of my time The down side is, dammit, I hate losing students over the first paper. I wish they'd at least take a stab at it. But I guess it's better for them (and for me) if they bail now rather than later. Still, it bugs me.

Some of the students are also getting a pretty violent wake-up call: they are suddenly getting slapped with the awareness that the practices they got used to in high school aren't going to fly any more. A number of them are getting papers back with the dreaded F. (Slap!) A number more are getting papers with grades much lower than I know they expect. (Slap!) A small handful essentially ignored the essay instructions and everything I said in class and simply wrote the same kind of personal response they're used to. (Slap!) Mr. Monkey Skulls was at least respectful enough to make some sort of attempt to treat the readings like they have merit, but what he considers an essay is what colleague Duane would call "playing with his own poop." It's just stream of consciousness, off the top of his head, completely unstructured and unconsidered bilge: the stuff that's washing around in what passes for his mind that he's siphoned off onto the page. (OK, I'm mixing metaphors and imagery: bilge would come from below decks, not off the top of his head or out of his ass. Come to think of it, he does seem to be talking out of his ass....)

Being the professional that I am (or try to be), I was set to comment on his paper the way I would normally, explaining what he needs to fix, think about, and why... and then I realized I couldn't do it. I can't respond academically to a paper that does not have a single requirement of academic writing. So in the margin of the first page I said that I'd respond in depth when I got an academic paper from him, and then I wrote a rather lengthy comment on the grade check sheet, explaining that the way he likes to write is one style; he does that well, but he needs to learn the style I can teach him so he has two to draw upon. He doesn't have to give up the style he prefers; he just has to learn when it is (or, more to the point, is not) appropriate. If he learns academic writing, he'll have added to his arsenal of approaches instead of having no choice but always to write one way. If he doesn't, in situations in which that way is incorrect, he'll have no choice but to fail. Which his paper did. (Slap slap slap, albeit couched in diplomatic language.) I don't know how this is going to play out, but I'm over being pissed off with him (for now: he may hit the launch button again in our conference). His arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand with his immaturity and lack of experience. He'll learn. Even if not from me this semester, he will learn.

I embarked on this post hoping it would provide a brain break and I'd be able to grade one or two more papers, but I'm cooked (and the headache has been lurking all day. Thank God for Excedrin: better living through pharmaceuticals.) If I get a burst of energy (or anxiety), I may write up an observation later at home, but no more grading tonight. I'll have to get in a pretty good whack tomorrow and probably burn the midnight (and 5 a.m.) oil through yet another week to do what I said I'd do (i.e., have the papers for Thursday on my door by Wednesday at 10 a.m.). After that, if I can't get caught up on other homework (still in a steaming pile here) by the 19th/20th, I'm going to stop assigning anything for a while. Homework has its uses, but only if I can evaluate it or at least go over it with them; otherwise it's merely busy work, not pedagogically productive.

Oh, promotion folder did you say? Yes, well, I think I have figured out how to reconfigure the 101 syllabi so that I can cancel classes a day or two (probably two) so I can hash that out--and fortunately, I don't have to have it absolutely complete on the 26th, just a first draft. But of course, the more complete the draft, the better for me across the next month(s). Happy freaking birthday--though as P&B members pointed out, if I have to turn the draft in on my birthday, it will at least temporarily be out of my hair and I'll be able to go out that night and tie one on. I'm not that kind of drinker (or much of a drinker at all, despite the talk), but I suspect I will, in fact, do something wildly indulgent as a double celebration. Paul, me, and one of the real-deal, top-notch steak houses on Cholesterol Alley, I reckon.

I think there was something else, but it's gone now. (No, not that I'm radioactive; something else.) Ah well, it's not as if my posts aren't long enough.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

TGIT

Ostensibly the end of my work-week today, as I have no classes again until Monday. Those who are in the educational trenches--or who are following this blog--know that a common and profound misconception is the idea that classes are the sum total of what we do--or even the biggest consumer of our time. Hah! In order to bring home all the assignments I have to mark, plus the two observations that I have to write up, plus the draft promo folder that I need to review, I had to load up my big wheeled backpack. (When I first mentioned to my friend Szilvia that I wanted such a pack, I inadvertently said I wanted one with wings. Wouldn't that be great? The visual image alone is worth conjuring up.) I generally only use the big pack around campus, when I have to schlep assignments and textbooks (plus my water bottles), but the canvas bag I usually carry stuff home in simply couldn't hold it all. I rather wish I had a scale: I'd be curious to find out how much all that paper weighs. Maybe, just for amusement's sake, I'll take a ruler to it and find out how high the stack is... if it doesn't spontaneously combust first.

But since it is Thursday, and since I don't have to get up early tomorrow (monumental sigh of relief), I decided to spoil myself. Despite the less than optimal effects on my finances (not to mention my waistline), I took myself out to one of my favorite restaurants. It's a little place here in Port, and they've known me by name since my third visit (and after my first, remembered that I have to avoid wheat, though they are a still a little confused about why: not allergies, dear ones, celiac--not that it really matters). When I treat myself to Bistro Toulouse, I sit at the teeny bar, have a drink and a spectacular dinner, read my book, chat with them if something occurs to any of us--and feel blissfully spoiled, pampered to the hilt. Now that I'm home and life maintenance stuff is attended to, I'm somewhere between madly wound up and idiotically exhausted. It will probably take a while before the exhausted part takes over (but when it does, people in China may feel the reverberations from the crash).

Despite the 8:30 a.m. meeting (ungodly early for me), I feel pretty good about the day as a whole. I got the papers marked that I needed to; I even squeezed in a little time to spend with a few friends, first venting about how it seems the same people (i.e., us) always seem to do all the work no matter what committees we're on, then telling amusing anecdotes about our lives in general. As I suspected yesterday, I was disappointed with how I handled the revision/works-cited lesson with the first of my 101s today; I did better with the second, but still not as well as I feel like I did yesterday. Even so, I think both sections got what they needed, even if not with the same clarity and impact as yesterday' class.

The RB section is still my favorite. The student who had to leave on Tuesday showed up today with paper in hand--he was late (not to mention the late penalty on the paper), but still, he was there, so maybe the turn around is still happening, albeit slowly. As I was lecturing, I did have to ask them to zip it several times: two young men in particular were chatting, not intending to be rude or not to listen, but unaware that their chat was distracting. That sort of thing slowed the lesson down, but I still just have fun with these guys.

The other two sections also had previously seen an in-progress draft of a chapter from my dissertation, which I show them to demonstrate that writers of any level struggle to get ideas clear and have to revise, rethink, edit, and I finally got a chance to show the same pages to RB. Students are always fascinated. (I usually pass it around, but I didn't have time with RB. It is fun when I can let them look at it up close, interesting to see what they notice and are curious about.) But RB is the first of the sections to actually see the finished diss in its small-format, paperbound form. (It's more impressive in the full-size hard-cover version, but that's too heavy to lug around.) I'll share it with the other sections later: they think it's cool and it's another way to let them get a glimpse under the hood. But the RB students are the first I have ever told about the emotional aspects of the dissertation process. Students always ask how long it took (answer: because I got a grant--from the National Bank of Dad, though I don't tell them that part--and leave from my job, first draft took 3 months; revising took the next year). No one has ever asked before if I had any help or feedback, but one of my students today did (answer, I had to do the work and research, but I did have an advisor who kept saying, in essence, "You've built a very nice house here. Now just park this 747 in the middle of it and make a seamless transition from one to the other").

And because I told them that part of it, and how frustrating and difficult it was to keep having to stretch and add and rethink and do more research and figure out how to make it fit, I also told them the story of my final meeting with my advisor. I had given her one more version that I thought was final (which I'd done about 15 times before), and she started to say, "OK, good, now all you have to do is..." Tears puddled up in my eyes, and I said, "Joan, I will do whatever you tell me I have to do, but you will have to tell me exactly what to say, because nothing else is coming out of my brain." To which she replied, quite cheerfully, "Oh! Well, in that case, you're done." The students laughed--and on that note, class ended. Nice end to the class, and to the teaching part of the week as well. So I'm letting that glow linger a bit. I'm not thinking about what I want/need to do over the next three days. Tonight, I will act as if I have zero responsibilities and nothing looming. And Friday through Sunday, each day, each hour, I will prioritize as it happens. And somehow it will all get done. (The refrain: How will it? It just will. It's a mystery.)

Don't think my eyes are functioning well enough to do any reading at this point (though Barnaby Rudge is coming along nicely), so I'll probably watch something on DVD... and then to bed.