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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best laid plans

I keep thinking of Eddie Izzard and his whole bit about the Robert Burns lines, "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agly," and Izzard wondering what the mouse plans might be. All I can say is that the mice probably plan better than I do.

I did get all the proposals marked in time for the various classes today, and I did get some miscellaneous bits of homework that had been floating around marked and returned. I had forgotten that I never marked second papers for the Native American Lit students, as most of them had neglected to attach their sources (a requirement), but the only reason there's any concern about that is that I allow students to revise for a better grade. So I told the students they could take until the last day of the semester to turn in revisions. There are only five students left--and one of those is pretty iffy (if he misses class again, even if he's late, he's out)--so this is an easy offer to make. The last day of their class is the Thursday of the last full week, but I still will be here on the Monday finishing up, so I have time to read any revisions and crunch the numbers with no problem.

In terms of student interactions, the student who had ignored the "absolutely no late proposals" edict did turn in her proposal yesterday and did show up for class today. I told her she could withdraw, but she couldn't finish the class. I felt bad about it, and I'm not entirely persuaded I handled the situation as well as I might have: I keep wondering if there might be some teaching moment I missed. But really, I felt the most important lesson I could teach her is that, in the adult world, "I'm sorry; I was irresponsible" butters no parsnips. I gave her several chances to turn in the work in a way that would have avoided the problem, but she didn't take any of them--and it seemed like it was time for her to learn that eventually the axe truly will fall, no matter how contrite one may be.

Another student plagiarized portions of his proposal--and he'd plagiarized before. I don't think he's trying to pull anything off: I think he's just too dim to understand what he's doing wrong. I told him today that he has failed the class. Period. He didn't even quite understand that, but he did leave.

Another student also didn't seem to believe me when I said "proposals will not be accepted late for any reason whatsoever": he turned his in late with no explanation and no apology. I just sent him an e-mail informing him that he can withdraw or he can fail, period. It will be interesting to see if he checks his e-mail.

Several students didn't show up to class to find out if their proposals passed. (They didn't.) I've sent them e-mails letting them know that they need to revise and that their proposals are on my office door, along with very clear directions about what needs to be done.

On a brighter note, I got a revised proposal already from a student in the M/W 102 class. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet and am on the fence about whether to do that tonight or tomorrow. I'm leaning toward tomorrow, since I have to be here anyway.

And in terms of those agly plans, I was going to try to work tonight after class--write up an observation at least, or start on my year-end evaluation--but no. Even though I only taught two days this week, I'm as tired at the end of a Thursday as I usually am after a full week, and I have to be back here at 9:00 tomorrow morning for a professional development day. Ed asked what the topic was: I had to confess I don't remember. It's just one of those things we're supposed to do on occasion, so I'm doing it. (I am not doing so well with committee meetings: I missed college-wide assessment again on Tuesday, and I haven't even checked my calendar to see if I missed anything today. I don't think so, but I can't be sure.)

And now we're down to two weeks and one day left of this semester. Weird as hell. And Jesus, to I have a lot of work to get done in those two weeks. Fling your hands in the air and scream!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proposal agonistes

I've been evaluating students' proposals for their final papers, and I confess to a certain amount of existential despair. Let me put it this way: 99.9% of them don't get the fucking book. At all.

And it really isn't that difficult a book. Really. William teaches his students Paradise Lost, for god's sake: I wonder what the hell is wrong with me as a teacher.

Yesterday I ran across one--one!--thesis that would sort of fly, and I was so ecstatic I almost threw a party.

So I went to campus today, cranky as hell, frustrated and angry--and felt a miraculous lift in my spirits when I was actually in the classroom, watching the students working madly to come up with theses that would work. It was a "let's all work on a thesis together" day, and they seemed to be making progress. It did make me think that I can structure the assignment differently to help them next time around, but at least today most of them seemed to be getting closer. And a couple of students who had really been struggling with the novel before are beginning to get a glimmer of a clue. Mostly, though, I just liked watching them work: I always love seeing them when their brains are actively engaged.

I recognize that a lot of my cranky mood today had nothing to do with the general weakness of the proposals, too. As spring break drew to a close (and, apart from picking up proposals and marking one batch of them yesterday, I extended my break by canceling two days of classes), I realized that the long, long stretch from Presidents' Week to spring break made it feel like we should be done now: it is always difficult to head back after spring break, but to know I essentially have only two weeks left somehow makes those two weeks even harder to face. I want to be done. I feel like I should be done.

I resent the student who did not believe me when I said that I would not accept proposals late for any reason whatsoever. I sent her a pretty terse e-mail today, when she told me that she'd be handing in her proposal late because she didn't get it done before the second half of Passover. I'm not at all sure if she'll show up for class tomorrow (or if she did drop off her proposal late: I didn't check my mailbox before blasting away from campus this afternoon), but if she does, I have to explain to her exactly what her responsibility was and why she is now going to fail my class.

And generally I resent the hell out of still having to face more work--not just student assignments, either, but write ups of observations and evaluations of applications from potential adjuncts and a year-end report on my professional development (as well as collecting and evaluating reports from other faculty, wearing my P&B hat) and gearing up for summer adjunct scheduling with Bruce and scheduling committee work. If I think about all that, I realize my semester won't be done until the end of May--and then I have to pull together the short version of my paper for the conference in Portugal in June.... It feels endless. And I feel done, cooked, burnt to a crisp, despite just having had a break.

Well, whatever.

The first priority is the proposals for one more section of 102, plus the five proposals for the Native American Lit class, but I'll do all that tomorrow. Shouldn't take long. I finally took a page from Paul's playbook and have typed up comments (as I found myself saying the same thing over and over on the first batch I marked). That way I can just pull out the boilerplate, add or subtract as needed to customize, and the commenting is done. It's saving me a lot of time (and wear on my wrist). So, since I'm already home, all I have to do is feed the cats and myself and begin the evening wind-down in 5, 4, 3...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Last post before spring hiatus

It was a maddening day, one when I kept having to sweep other tasks out from under my feet before I could get rolling on the paper grading. That means I still have a bunch to finish for tomorrow--and that means another early morning tomorrow. But spring break is almost here.

Adding to the agitation of the day, I just finished an observation of one of the evening faculty. A very sweet man, but he's--I'll be delicate about this--past his prime, shall we say? There were many more problems than I'll go into here, but among other things, the students were, for the most part, completely disengaged and confused; the "lecture" was half lecture about critical receptions and articles the students knew nothing about and half questions that were so leading they didn't need to be asked; when students had an opinion different from the professor's, instead of challenging them to present textual evidence in support of their views, he'd say "Do you want to change your mind? Do you want to pass the class?" He was joking, but still, the message was that there is only one "correct" interpretation: it's his, and he doesn't need to defend it or demonstrate where it comes from in any substantive way. (I had a professor like that in grad school, whose response was always "read it again; you'll see I'm right." All he taught me was one of the many ways not to be an effective teacher.) This poor professor also had no idea that there's a spring break: he has an exam scheduled for next week. I have to write this up, and I chickened out of telling him to his face that the class didn't pass muster. I did tell him I'd talk to him after I write up my report but before I officially submit it, but in that moment, I just couldn't figure out a diplomatic way to tell him that the performance review will be unsatisfactory.

Oh dear, oh dear. Well, that's why I'm getting paid the big bucks.

This also means I'll have two observations to write after the break, as it's a lead-pipe cinch that I won't be getting them done tomorrow. I'm supposed to write them up within 10 days. Oh well.

What I need most right now is to stagger home and start my (very protracted) evening wind-down. I didn't sleep well last night (kept waking up as if I'd been kicked), and I'll do a lot better getting the last papers graded tomorrow if I stop now. As per the title above, this will be my last blog post until after the break: tomorrow I get Ed from the airport after my class, and even though I'll be here on Thursday, I certainly won't be taking the time at the end of the day to write. I'm going to shake the dust of this place off my feet as rapidly as possible and pole-vault into "I'm on break" mode.

So, I'll "see" you all at the end of April.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The importance of sleep

I had a hard time letting go of the day yesterday, so wasn't in bed and lights out until well after midnight: it's almost as if knowing that I have to get up early makes it even harder than usual to go to bed. The alarm was set for 5:30, but I woke up at 4:38 and couldn't get back to sleep--so I gave up at 5 and got up. Yet somehow, even with the extra half-hour in which to get ready, I got to work at the usual time. Most of that time I cannot account for--what did I do with the time?--but a few minutes were taken up by my attempt to help a woman who had hit a goose with her car: I gave her the Wildlife Hotline number (which I have programmed into my cell, after seeing another goose get hit), but unfortunately the poor thing died while the woman was waiting for the call to go through. And the woman was very upset, deeply shaken, as I would have been, was when I saw the other goose get bashed. I can't say I much liked the experience either: the bird's death throes were dramatic and awful to watch. I'm haunted by those poor animal lives sacrificed to our need to go fast in huge metal weapons, the deaths I've witnessed, a few I've caused. I fucking hate the carnage we are responsible for....

But I need to set that aside: this is a teaching blog, after all.

I find I'm getting annoyed by the students' refusal to ask for clarifications about the novel in all the sections of 102. I keep reminding them that it's their job to ask questions and to be sure they understand, yet when I ask them to bring up questions or comments, they still sit there, mute. One or two braver souls will raise their hands: the rest seem perfectly content to remain in abject bewilderment. I guess that's a familiar state for them. They're so used to being confused, they seem unable to try to work their way through it to understanding.

I hate that, too.

But I'm chipping along with the revised papers. Of course, I also just collected reading journals and glossaries: we'll see how much I can get marked and returned by Wednesday/Thursday. I came back to the office determined to grade papers before the end of my office hour, at which time I will toddle off to have a beverage with a former student. I got one paper graded, started another, and hit the wall. I had a brief moment of thinking I'd take work home with me to grind through tonight, but I thought better of it. Makes more sense to sleep tonight and face the stack of grading with increased brain energy and stamina on the morrow.

Speaking of the morrow, I'm on the fence about how to handle the papers for Native American Lit. Students were supposed to attach the sources they found on their own (I ask them to do a little research, as a warm-up for the final paper), and only one student did. Should I require that they get the sources to me before I grade the papers? Probably, but then there is a delay in getting those out of my hair. But I need to see what they used to be sure they understood the points. Plus there is the fact that one student used an essay about Mary Oliver's poetry to talk about Native American poetry. (The title had the words "Native American" in it, so I guess he figured that was close enough. Wrong on numerous counts.) I'll have to use that error as a teaching moment for the whole class--but this student has driven me bats repeatedly all semester. He's the one who wanted to come to class and participate in discussion not having done the reading. He also wrote a mini-paper about how Puebloan mythology lies behind poems by Mary TallMountain--who is Athabaskan (different part of the world, completely different culture). Argh. And again, argh. And no, I'm not speaking in Pirate.

But the end of the semester is fast approaching. The more work I get off my desk before spring break, the happier I'll be, but even if I don't get the decks as clear as I hope, this is still the time in semester when I pretty much am able to turn everything over to the students: it's their turn to take all I've tried to help them acquire over the past months and pull it all together in one last hurrah. My function is essentially that of a tugboat, providing a little push here and there to keep the big liner on course as it churns through the last stretch to port. But all the motive power comes from them, and it's their destination we're heading toward, not mine.

Funny how I mentioned speaking Pirate and my final metaphor took such a nautical turn. Perhaps the apparent liquefaction of my brains has something to do with it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weekend update

I've been marking papers and fretting about getting everything done and back before the break, especially since I'm missing bits and pieces from some students. A few students submitted papers late via e-mail, but (as I think I've said) I insist they print their own papers: the e-mail submission just stops the late penalty from accruing. So I'm waiting for those. In addition, a few had to keep their marked first versions because they hadn't done the report on comments that I require. Consequently, I can't evaluate their revisions, since I need to be able to compare the versions. Any student who falls into either of those categories will simply have to wait until after the break to get their papers back. After all, why should I drive myself bonkers to get work back to them when they didn't get it to me on time?

In addition, a few students who said they were going to submit papers late haven't (and tomorrow is the last day they can do that). In most cases, I'm fine with that, but there are two students who are actually very good, and I'm fretting a bit about what to do about the lack of submissions from them.

The most interesting thing to me is how unequal the sections are in terms of number of students and number of papers submitted. In two sections, from each section I got seven papers--one section has twelve students remaining, the other I think is down to eleven. In the third section, I got eighteen papers: one from everyone who is left. I have no way to account for why so many are sticking it out in that one section when so many have gone down in flames in the other two. Odd.

And in the Native American Lit class, the student I offered an incomplete to didn't show up for class on Thursday and didn't submit his paper. What am I going to do? I really should tell him he has to withdraw, but I hate to lose him. My struggling honors student also didn't submit her paper, but since I offered her an incomplete too, I'm not worrying about late penalties: I'm just taking work from her whenever she's got it. Sometimes, the whole late paper penalty thing seems far too juvenile and persnickety for college education. If the work is done and it's good, isn't that what really matters?

Anyway, we'll see how things progress over the next few days. But I like the loophole. Hooray for me for finding ways to decrease the pressure I put myself under.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Running on empty

Since my last class ended at 5:15, I've spent some time on the phone with a student who wanted to lodge a complaint about a faculty member (part of my position as evening supervisor). She'd already dropped the class, but she wanted to go on record with the problems she perceived about the professor. I listened; I was sympathetic; I told her she'd done the right thing in withdrawing, even though that was a difficult decision to make--and I offered to help her choose a section for next semester that would be more congenial to her. In the end, she was so thrilled to get the guidance for her fall registration that I think she almost forgot the complaint. Case closed.

And exactly when I finished with her, one of my own students showed up for an appointment to get help with the paper he was supposed to turn in yesterday. He actually did turn in something yesterday, via e-mail, but he told me he was unhappy with it and asked for time to do a better job. I'm treating the e-mailed version as a place-holder until he can turn in something he's satisfied with. I don't usually do that for 102 students, but as I think I've said, at this point in the semester, I'll give every chance I can to any student who shows promise. And this young man does. I won't get all the papers marked over the weekend in any event--and students who e-mail papers have to print them out for me (the e-mail merely stops the late penalty), so even if he weren't still working on it, I might well have to wait until Monday to get the printed version anyway. Given all those factors, I decided to let him keep working and hand me a printout on Monday. If that printout is different from what he e-mailed, I'll pretend I don't notice. Just now, working with him on the version he'd e-mailed, I could see that he had made some improvements, but after our conversation, I think his paper will markedly better. As for the bending of the rules: what the hell.

I just realized, however, that one of my best students not only wasn't in class today but didn't submit her paper via e-mail, as we arranged. Hmmmm. Not sure how to handle that one.

For the most part, however, I've collected everything I'm going to get. If I keep my resolve to mark minimally, I should be able to get them graded and back relatively quickly. My fond (and perhaps foolish) hope is to get ALL of them marked before Wednesday evening, no matter when I actually return them. Not only do I want them out of my hair, so I can go into spring break with nothing hanging over my head, I have a lot of other stuff I want to get done between now and Wednesday, all in preparation for an enjoyable spring break.

One would think, therefore, that instead of noodling around blogging, I'd be getting some work done. But even though I'm somewhat in Energizer Bunny mode (with no off switch), I'm not sure how productive I'd actually be at anything of substance. I was thinking I'd try to get a few more things done, but perhaps not. One more task (which should be quick and easy), and then I'm outta here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nothing much

It was a day.

Met with a couple of students; two wanted help with revising papers, one wanted to withdraw but couldn't come right out and say so for various reasons. Whatever. The two who wanted help left feeling better; the one who wanted to withdraw left knowing he'll get the W at the end of the semester.

Got some assignments marked. Got some P&B business done. Went to a committee meeting, contributed some useful stuff to the conversation (and language used in framing an e-mail), have a new assignment of work to be done. Shouldn't be too onerous, but it is one more goddamned thing to do.

And I'm not quite sure why all that took so long. I'm home now, but I really thought I'd be home earlier. Well, it's still an early day for me. And tomorrow will be a typically long Thursday--including meeting with a student at 6 p.m. who has already withdrawn from a course but wants to "bring to our attention" the problems she perceives with the professor she wants to complain about. Honestly, in this case, I know what happened, and she's as much in the wrong, if not more so, than the professor. But I'll hear her out anyway.

I didn't get a chance to eat lunch today, so early dinner, something on DVD and--please heaven--early to bed, too.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Good day

I was telling Paul earlier that I like days like today. He said he was unsure whether I was exhibiting perk or snark (which made me laugh), but I genuinely mean it. I started the day uncertain whether I'd make it to the end (headache again--or should I say still?), but since I had a few panic-stricken students coming in to talk about papers, I figured I'd at least come in to meet with them and then see how things went. Once I was here, even with the throbbing temples, I set to work--and since the stack of things to be marked is small and recent, it was easy to get through it. One might think this would be a lesson to me not to let the work build up too much, but sometimes that is just not possible. Still, the days--like today--when I feel right on top of it all, no big scary backlog chasing after me, are lovely indeed. I bailed on the college-wide Assessment Committee meeting (again: I think I've missed more than I've attended), but the rest of the day went like usual: P&B, class, class--with marked assignments returned to both sets of classes: right on top of things. And I hope madly to stay right on top of it all right up to spring break--and I hope through the rest of the semester.

I'm also working to help the potentially good students get as much success out of the semester as possible, which means that I'm not being utterly ferocious about enforcing the rules. I did get a bit testy in a series of e-mails with a student from Native America lit who still has not purchased Ceremony, which we started reading two weeks ago, and told him that if he came to class, he'd need to keep his mouth shut completely: just listen, not question or comment at all, as he has no idea what he's talking about yet (and he's done that a lot this semester, felt very free to chime in to class discussion without having read a syllable of the assignment). He didn't come to class (and I haven't checked e-mail to see if he attempted to continue the conversation after I signed off). But another student in that class has been floundering--lots of missing work--and I gave him the offer of an incomplete. It's not much of a life-raft: more students end up failing than successfully complete the course work, which I told him in no uncertain terms. But he grabbed on to it with gratitude anyway. I hope he makes it: he's certainly got the chops to do it if he can just put in the work. The other student from that class to whom I offered an incomplete is doing a damned good job of making up the territory even as the semester progresses. I hope she can keep it up: she's a potential A+ student, and I'd like her to get that.

Today's 102 seemed on the less-bewildered end of the spectrum when talking about LHoD, which was a relief after yesterday's experience.

And right now, I probably should either be marking more assignments or taking care of miscellaneous bits of P&B business. But instead I'm going to try to figure out if I want to go to dance class. I'm completely betwixt "yep" and "nah" on that decision. If the answer is "yep," then I need to eat my "brown bag" dinner. If the answer is the contrary, then I can reconsider the food options at home. I'm going to noodle around a little, basic organizational stuff, for a little while and see if the winds blow me across the dividing line in either direction. But no more real work tonight: I'll come in tomorrow morning and get another jump on stuff.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Happy Postscript

I was just hitting "publish post" when the phone rang: the dean had gotten my e-mail on his cell phone and called to let me know that the student--what a surprise--had never mentioned the plagiarism issue at all. The dean also told me that the final decision about whether to allow the W--for whatever reason--rests with me, even if it were about attendance. He might try to plead the student's case, if attendance were the reason, but it would still be my decision. And he said that when he talks to the student tomorrow, he'll mention both that the W is mine to give or not and, more important, the plagiarism issue. I said if the student is too angry or feels too burdened to come back to class, then I'd understand--and the dean completed the sentence "and then he'd have to take the grade he deserves." Yep.

Just to note: if attendance had been the problem, and if the dean had explained what had happened, I'd probably have shown some mercy: turns out the young man was a victim of an attack. And I said to the dean that if the student had apologized and taken his lumps about the plagiarism, I might have shown more mercy (witness the other student I talked to today). But trying to weasel out of it, being combative? Nope. No mercy.

So now it will be very interesting to see A) whether the student comes back and if he does, B) how he behaves. I'm not taking bets either way, but I'd be curious to know where you all put your money.

But I'm very happy to know that I didn't need to worry about getting in there with my side of the story before the kid could do an end-run around me and my policies, that the dean wouldn't have overridden my decision in any event. Very good news.

And now, stay tuned for further exciting developments.

Election crapola--again

Paul was just showing me the election results. I'm in a run-off for P&B (again) and a run-off for alternate--not even a full position--for scheduling. And that pisses me off. Once again, I'm sorely tempted to say "OK, fuck you, take my name off the ballot." I work hard on that committee, and I know what I'm doing, and at best I'll be the alternate? Grrrrrrrrrr. The P&B vote I understand better, especially after last year's flap--and the field of candidates was very strong. But it feels like my service to this department is valued pretty fucking low (as in 10 votes out of 79 cast). And since I am, in this regard at least, competitive, it just frosts my ass.

I also just spent a good deal of time reworking the form faculty use to request their courses, trying to make it more user-friendly, so they can have a better chance at getting the classes they want.

Ten votes. I can practically figure out who the ten are, just from my friends.

Well, I can't do anything about it this year. No matter what happens, I will run again next year, for a full slot. I actually enjoy doing scheduling, and I think I do a damned good job of it. It's one of the few committees I want to stay on.

OK, I'll just go have a little temper tantrum now.

I'm also pissed off from an earlier encounter with a plagiarizing student. I found three bona fide instances of cheating: all three students got the same letter. Three different responses. One student waited the 24-hour cooling off period (as I mandated in the letter) and then contacted me with a very contrite e-mail. I'll meet with him tomorrow, but he's forgiven--and since at least a good portion of his paper was his own writing, I'll let him revise. One appeared in my office hour today and admitted his wrong-doing, very contrite. However, his paper was wholesale plagiarism, so he can't revise (he didn't write anything in the first place)--and he'll have to gut it out for the rest of the semester: I won't let him withdraw. However, I told him if he does all the work for the rest of the semester to the best of his ability, I'd consider allowing him to withdraw at the end of the semester rather than receiving a failing grade. He gets that grace because he admitted his wrong-doing and he said he learned that everyone deserves a second chance.

Well, perhaps not everyone. The third case has my knickers in a knot. He told me he's been talking to "the dean" (whose name he couldn't remember) and that the dean said his absences shouldn't count because the student was in the hospital. (OK, you were in the hospital last week, but what about the three absences before you were in the hospital?) And he refused to wait the 24-hours before talking--read "arguing"--with me about the plagiarism, and refused to believe that I won't allow him to withdraw. His reason? He didn't plagiarize: his sister "helped" him with the paper. When I explained that is also plagiarism, he said, "I don't think it is." I said, "It doesn't matter what you think: it is--but we're not talking about this. You can talk to me in 24 hours."

So he's going to try to get the dean to give him the W without my permission--and I'm afraid he may be successful, which makes me wish to hell I'd sent the copy of the plagiarized paper to the dean immediately instead of waiting. Immediately after the class I tried to call the dean: no answer. I sent an e-mail: no reply (yet). If the student tells the dean that his excessive absences are the only reason he's in trouble in the class, the dean may overrule my decision before finding out about the plagiarism--and I'll be furious. I finally reached a secretary in the office a while ago (both deans were gone, as it was after 5): she left messages for both deans, and I just sent another e-mail to each of them individually. I figure I'll see what happens before I get too wound up about it. If the deans back me, then all is well. If for some reason they don't, I'll go to Bruce and see what my options are.

And suddenly, my 12:30 class of 102 students, who've been doing so well with The Left Hand of Darkness, have decided they don't get even the most rudimentary of sentences in the novel. One of them in particular--who is pretty smart--has abruptly turned into one of the "I dunno" types. Ask her any question and the answer is "I dunno." Maddening, makes me want to go squealing right around the bend with my hair turning into hissing serpents.

This is one of those days when I just hate this fucking place. Why do I do this? Why do I continue to slam myself around? For what return, exactly?

OK, I admit: it's been a rough couple of days physically (headache that won't go away, and accompanying stomach pain, and sleep "pattern" utterly chaotic), so I'm cranky. And a lot of little niggly bits are getting stuck in my craw: apparently our computer use has been under scrutiny, and in the process of checking out what we've been doing, whatever process is used messes up our connections to our office printer, so I can't print anything at work. And a senior observer from last semester suddenly asked if she could join the Native American Lit class--at this late juncture. (Um, sorry, but no.) Book vultures were here (the guys who make a living from buying our unwanted desk copies and selling them off: publishers hate them and blame them for the high cost of student copies of books; I don't mind making a few bucks cash off them but jaysus priest they can be annoying).

Oh, growf, rowr, bazz-fazz (as Pogo would say). I'm going to very quickly sort through what's on my desk and get the flock out of here.