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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

displacement activity

Full confession: I'm avoiding the themes thing. Today, I decided instead to work through each section, in order, to get an approximate word count (helpful for potential publishers) and to reassure myself that each of those sections is, in fact, about as done as I can get it. I got through the first three ("Welcome to Students," "Socio-Historical Context" and "The Hainish Matrix"). Next up is "Science and Science Fiction." Then--if I really do take things in order--is the themes chapter.

I'm not quite sure why I'm resisting that part of the project so fiercely. It may be that I feel some insecurity as a scholar: all the rest of this has been very much written from my strengths as a teacher, but even though the themes stuff is also for students, and thus also draws on the teacher side of my brain, there is a kind of analysis of the actual textual material that I both love and feel oddly daunted by.

It is also possible that I'm simply suffering from spring fever. I know it hits students when the weather suddenly turns gorgeous (and I have to say, I'm glad I'm not trying to keep students' attention on class material on a day like today: usually, the absentee rate soars when temperatures get above 70 and everyone suddenly starts thinking "BEACH!"); when I have to be in the classroom, I suffer a little of the frustration that the students feel (no fair to be cooped up indoors) but I also am engaged in the drive to final versions of final papers, so I don't feel quite as easily distracted. But since I don't have to be answerable to anyone but myself, it's very easy to let my responsibilities slide and think, "Nah, I'm going to walk home, drop off my insanely heavy pack, and noodle around outside."

I know pretty soon I'm going to be writing blog posts about panic, of the "I only have X more days and I still haven't whatever" variety: I know the sabbatical isn't really over on May 11, when I have to set an alarm and get to campus to help Bruce with summer schedules, but I also know that as soon as I'm back on campus semi-regularly, it will be hard to focus on the sabbatical project, as I'll want to turn my attention to class stuff: clearing out my files, cleaning off my desk, sending things to the copy center, working on syllabi and schedules....

I had a great dinner with Paul last night, celebrating his birthday (which is Friday) and my promotion--but one of the things that came up was the fact that I'm still holding on to a desire to metaphorically smack the snotty student from last fall, the one who asked for comments on her final paper, never picked them up, and in her self-evaluation essentially said, "I learned a lot except that I didn't really learn anything because I already know everything I need to know." Two or three other students also asked for comments and never picked up their work, but it's pretty clear that I'm not bothered in those cases as I can't even remember how many there are, never mind who they are. But that one female student: I had hoped that as I spent all this time away from campus, I'd stop caring at all about whether I got the last word in the largely unspoken argument with her. Clearly not. And since it's still bugging me, I've pretty much decided that, when I'm back on campus, I will pull out her paper, her self-evaluation, and my response to her self-evaluation; I'll add a little note saying something like, "You never picked this up, and your experience since I saw you last may make what I have to say here moot--and you probably don't care anyway--but I thought I'd send it to you, because you did ask for my comments...." I hope, if I do that, I will then be able to let go at least a little more than I have managed so far.

It's interesting the students who stick in our minds. There are the ones I've kept in touch with, the shining stars and beautiful souls I've been privileged to work with. There are a few others who stand out in my mind as extraordinary and wonderful: I remember most of their names, but a few I just remember the face and the experience of having the student in my classroom. There are the ones who stand out because they were particularly annoying for one reason or another (angry, dense, stoopid). I tend not to remember their names at all: I remember why they bugged me, and again, I can see faces and recall the class--but I'm not entirely sure that I'd recognize the name if I encountered it again. And then there are the rest. Only once in all the years I've been teaching have I run into a former student whom I did not recognize at all: not the name, not the face, nothing. She did OK in my class, too, so it's very odd to me that absolutely nothing about her rang a bell in the least. More often, I'll see someone on campus--and occasionally elsewhere (a former student is a checker at a grocery store that I frequent)--and think "That was one of mine." I may not be able to come up with more than that--which class, when, name, anything. I just remember that the face was for a time in one of my classes.

And come fall, I get a whole new crop of them. But not yet. However, writing all that, I think that--in addition to running the stuff I've written on this project past some of my colleagues at 4-year schools--it might be good to ask some of my former students to take a look, let me know what they think. Hm. Worth thinking about.

But not now. Now, early as it is, the siren call of a gorgeous day can be resisted no longer: I have to pack up and get out there. It's odd to actively be looking forward to slightly crappy weather--but it is easier to work when I don't have any particular reason to want to stay outside.

And eventually, I will get to the theme stuff. Eventually.

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