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Thursday, March 27, 2014


Well, the Viking showed up to my office hour today, somewhat brisk but civil, reeking of cigarette smoke, mousey girlfriend in tow and two withdrawal slips in hand. First he handed me his--and handed one to her. Then she handed me hers. I looked at her rather sharply and said, "I'm losing you, too?" She nodded, tight lipped. For a fraction of a second I thought about sending him out and trying to talk her into staying, but I could all too clearly see the "I stand by my man against the forces of the Evil Empire as represented by you, you wicked witch" look on her face, so I simply said, "I'm disappointed by that. Very disappointed," and signed the form. She said something about devoting more of her time to her artwork, but all of us knew that was a face-saving sop, and that really, she's simply allowing him to bully her because she loves him. I  hope she gets that syndrome out of her system young--but I also recognize that she may not. Ever. And simply staying in my class will not strike the shackles from her wrists and free her to blossom into a woman of power and authority. Ah well.

But Paul was ever so right. The class was helped by the presence of two of the brighter lights, who'd been absent last week, but almost everyone was more willing to speak up and get into the conversation in the Viking's absence. I think the students who were in class today will pretty much be it until the end of term. It was a good dynamic, and if this is how it ends up settling out, I'll be fine with that.

But if today's student population is all I've got left, there will be one sadness: my beautiful Calyx has been conspicuously absent, and I think I may have mentioned that I received an e-mail from her mother telling me that Calyx is suffering from an eating disorder--and lots of shame, and so she won't come to me for help. I'm afraid it's getting to the point that there is little I can do. I wrote her an e-mail suggesting that she come meet with me--but I'm not sure she's even able to do that much right now. I can't help but compare what I'm seeing from Calyx and the ongoing drama from Judy Blue-Eyes last semester, and what I see in Calyx is genuine anguish--and pride, and, as I said, shame. I hope she comes to me. There's no way she can salvage the semester in the time remaining, but I have an idea about what she might do instead. I won't mention it here, yet--too many possible barriers to it--but I don't want her to vanish: I want to at least do what I can to alleviate a little of the shame.

Nature in Lit is getting fun, after the teeth-pulling of the first half of the semester--and I think when we embark on the Le Guin novella with which we finish, it will be even more fun. I'm frantically trying to keep to the tattered remains of the schedule, but that's different from the class dynamic, which is pretty nifty.

And today's 102 went surprisingly well. The period started with two students showing up to withdraw, and another reappearing in class after registering late, turning in two assignments (no papers), and then being absent for more than half the classes. I was surprised to see her back, but she's an adult, and it turns out A) her life went to hell (husband lost his job, home may be foreclosed on) and if she withdraws, she may have to return the loan money she got for the semester--as in return, not repay. Right now: $1200. I suggested she go to the Center for Educational and Retention Counseling, find out what her options are, and let me know what works best for her.

But once all that was cleared out, the students who remained (well, most of them) were doing a reasonable job of talking about the book, understanding what's going on, asking good questions, picking up on important points. They're not as scintillating as the other 102: the other one has several very bright students and they're all willing to talk; today's has two bright students, one who almost never speaks, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, and one who is utterly silent--but in her case I know why: shy, non-native speaker, and wears braces: a veritable trifecta of reasons why she won't talk in class). The rest are OK. Some will talk, some won't, but there simply isn't the same wattage in terms of intellects or personalities. But still, they're doing their best.

After class, a student came in to withdraw--and that was a hard one to see go. She started out the semester being late to virtually every class because of her job; then just as it seemed like she was going to be able to be there regularly and get on top of everything, she disappeared. But she was not only very bright, she also was good at participating in the class discussions, and I really had wanted her to make it. Turns out, she was offered a full-time job that she really couldn't say no to, but the job makes it impossible for her to get to class on time. She really wanted to take 102 with me again--she even said that she's reading the novel on her own, knowing she wouldn't be able to make it to class--and I felt a real pang that this is the first time in ages that I haven't been able to say "sure, take it from me again in the fall." I couldn't even say, "well, you can't take it from me in the fall, but you will be able to in the spring." But she may well sign up for Fiction Writing--assuming she can schedule it (which, actually, I rather doubt, given her job)--simply because she likes the way I teach and wants to work with me. (I was rather gratified to hear that my Rate My Professor ratings are now largely positive: students acknowledge that I'm very challenging but they say I'm a "real" college professor, which is nice.) I said that if she ever wants to come see me at an evening office hour or set up a time to meet with me, just to talk about the book, I'd be delighted. I hope she takes me up on it. Even if she's never my student again, she's one I want to keep an eye on, because she's set to do extremely well indeed.

And as a very sweet coda, as I was packing up to leave, the next class was filing in--and one noticed that on the board was a discussion of sex versus gender. She asked what the class was, and when I said it was 102, she clearly wondered why, then, all the stuff about sex/gender--so I told her that it's from the book we're reading. She immediately wanted to know about the book and took down the title and author, said she'd read it. I hope she does. It really is simply a terrific read.

And I really am simply terrifically tired. Stick-a-fork-in-me done. There's more I could say (there always is: it's sort of endless, if in some ways very repetitive), but I'm fresh out of the desire to say any of it. Mum's the word, until Monday.

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