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Friday, May 29, 2015

Whoof

I spent some time today working on the Betrayal and Fidelity chapter: I realized I needed to do what I recommend to students, which is to simply get ideas on the "page"--well, actually, page without the scare quotes, as I did print the bugger out: I very quickly get to the point where I can't see what I have unless I see it on paper, and even just a random bunch of jottings won't go anywhere until I wrestle with it in physical form.

But I'm still struggling with focus, concentration, so I turned my attention for a while to getting some stuff pulled together for my fall classes--mostly the 101s, which I am, as I have mentioned, revamping yet again. I find I'm having a hard time letting go of the idea of three papers, despite the fact that I want to spend a lot more time working with their papers in class--and do not want to ask them to read about one topic while writing about another: I think it's important that they can put all their time and attention into taking the information they already have and continually refining how they write about it.

To that end, I've already changed the focus of their first writing assignment. I've always been frustrated that I see their initial self-evaluation as a little, simple homework exercise, but they see it as an ESSAY--but it occurred to me that the students have actually presented me with a great opportunity: I can use that initial "essay" as the springboard into their first real essay (in my terms). So the first thing they write is going to be a personal response to an article I'll have them read, how it relates to their own experiences. It's an article about education, and expectations--and we can use those responses to gradually shift into actual academic writing.

But reconfiguring all that is going to be more complex than I realized before I started working on it. Similarly, my brilliant idea about having them track their grades numerically--subtracting from a total as the semester goes along--is going to take not only some careful thinking through of assignments and how I've weighted those assignments in the past but also the simple math of the thing. I still think it's a good idea ("brilliant" may be an overstatement), but making the shift is going to be more challenging than I anticipated.

I hope I can get some work done tomorrow, too, and Monday (Sunday is "life maintenance" day), and that I can make myself stay at the office and work after my meeting and tutorial sessions, learning the online platform. It's important to me to have some of the class stuff worked out before I head out of town at the end of June, so I'm not utterly frantic in August.

Now, however, I have to go be a student of equitation. It's a gorgeous day to be on horseback, beats hell out of sitting at a computer, so off I go.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Been a while...

It's remarkable to me how easy it is to lose momentum on anything work related, and how hard it is to get the momentum going again. I promised myself that I would get some work done today, and I came very close to breaking that promise, but I did work ... a little. I finally read that last critical essay that I had uncovered to my dismay some time back and wrote up the annotation for it--and I read through the rest of that particular chapter, fixing embarrassing typos and clearing up awkward language (though I know that if Paul were to go over it, he'd be able to tighten up my prose significantly: next to "verbose" in the dictionary is a picture of me). I did not, however, look at the chapter in which I analyze one of the themes in the novel--and that's the part I most want to finish and yet have the hardest time getting myself to do.

I'd give myself a harder time about slacking off if it weren't for the fact that I've gone two nights in a row now with nowhere near enough sleep; given how groggy I've felt, it's actually quite an accomplishment that I managed to get anything done at all. So, I'll give myself a little pat on the head for doing more than nothing.

And after all, tomorrow is another day. Maybe I'll be able to get a solid stint of work in before I head off to my riding lesson.

Maybe. Don't hold your breath.

Next week I have to be on campus three days: once for a meeting of the seminar hours committee (ugh), and then two days to try to learn--again--how to use our online course platform so I can do more work electronically with students. If I can get things set up, I may ask for them to respond to readings on an online discussion board, rather than handing in stuff on paper. I can actually ask for a little more from them that way--including that they respond to what classmates have posted (and more than just "I agree" kind of responses). We'll see. I'm not sure how much ambition I have for further reconfigurations of the classes, but it's worth thinking about.

I just went on Banner, however, and checked the number of students registered in my courses. One of my 101 sections has gone from having two students to having zero; the other section has three; the MDC course still sits at zero, and there are still eighteen in Mystery and Detective. I know that incoming freshmen are still taking placement tests and trying to figure out where they want to go, but from what I just saw--looking at 001, 100, and 101--enrollment is frighteningly low across the board. I hope like hell that there is a surge of enrollment in June and July, or my August, finalizing adjunct schedules with Bruce, is going to be a cluster fuck of epic proportions: we'll be canceling sections left, right, and center, and even highly senior adjuncts may have to go without work.

Of course, this is why the Board wants to essentially completely do away with placement testing: you have a pulse, you can take a credit-bearing course. They think students will be encouraged to come to NCC if we make it ridiculously easy for them to get what they think they want--just like going to the mall. I don't know what accounts for the drop in enrollment (which, by the way, may well mean I get paid significantly less for my evening supervisor position, as my pay is based on the number of "full-time equivalent" students enrolled), but I am pretty damned sure that the problem isn't that it's difficult to get into NCC....

Time will tell. (Oooo, another cliched expression: maybe I should start using that instead of "we'll see.") Meanwhile, nothing intelligent is coming out of my brain for the remainder of today, and it's gloriously sunny with a lovely breeze outside, so I'm going for a good walk. I'll post again whenever I have anything remotely post-worthy to say....

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Surprising

I was so sure that today was going to be a cluster fuck of epic proportions that I tried to reschedule this afternoon's doctor's appointment. We finished before 1:00. Amazing. As we realized we were nearing the bottom of the stack and weren't losing our minds, we started to try to figure out why it was so much easier this time than last. Factor 1: we were able to give people 3-day schedules, which actually we could have done last time, but somehow a rumor that 3-day schedules were a thing of the past had become fact in our minds (or in my mind anyway). Now that we know 3-day schedules are OK--even for people only teaching one online course (or two hybrids)--that made life infinitely simpler.

The other reason is great for scheduling but more problematic for the department as a whole: six people retired--and word has already come down that even Bruce won't be able to get more lines. In the past he's worked miracles and gotten the administration to agree to more full-time lines even when they've been saying "no way, no how," but them days is past. In fact, some time back I got access to a huge online bank of applications from potential adjuncts; turns out (as I may have mentioned) that, since I was on sabbatical, I wasn't responsible for reviewing any of them--but the other members of P&B are, and I think they're having (or already had) at least one meeting after the end of term to talk about new hires.

On the other hand, we had way more adjuncts than there were classes this summer, and enrollment was so pitifully low that a lot of the classes have been canceled and people who were originally given a class now get nothing. Fall may be more of the same. I anticipate that Bruce and I will be pretty frantic in August--but I don't have to worry my pretty little head about that this red-hot moment.

Tomorrow, Sabrina and I will come back in to check through everything carefully, make sure we didn't make any huge mistakes or forget any steps. One thing that will be interesting is that we gave a schedule to a full professor, grousing about the fact that she didn't submit a preference form--but it turns out that she didn't submit the form because she'll be on sabbatical in the spring, so now we have some very nice courses to distribute to people who may have less than lovely schedules.

Oh, and the problematic professor called Bruce today; they had a long and apparently somewhat difficult conversation (hard for her to realize that the rotation of courses trumps seniority--in fact, that's why we have the rotation rule, is so senior faculty can't "own" a course that people lower down the ranks would like to teach)--but the upshot was that she has provisional approval for one of the electives she wanted; she just has to provide the documentation of her qualifications to Bruce--and the scheduling committee is now out of the picture.

I don't recall if I mentioned that another professor also wanted a course for which we didn't have evidence of qualifications. I wrote to him about it, and we got a beautiful response from him today, demonstrating that he is qualified--and the course in question is Nature in Lit. He got it.

Part of why he got it is that the time when P&B traditionally has met had to change because of a conflict in Bruce's meeting schedule. If P&B had met at its traditional time, I'd have been able to go to P&B and then teach Nature in Lit--but now P&B meets when the class is scheduled. Bruce would have moved the class for me, which is sweet, but I'll be teaching another elective that I like--right at the moment I can't remember if it's Modern Poetry or American Short Story--and I'm delighted that Nature in Lit will go to someone who genuinely is qualified to teach it and who has wanted to teach it since he was hired. Wins all around.

I notice that I'm still avoiding work on my own classes for fall, or cleaning out my files (writing e-mails and blog posts instead), but eventually, I'll get to that, and get back to the last piece of the sabbatical project. Mostly, I'm just delighted that I have this little bit of "down" time before I head out to the doctor's appointment and then into the City for dinner with Paul. Today is turning out to be much less frantic and flurried than I was anticipating--and that is a truly pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ye gods and little fishes

I had absolutely no notion that I would still be here at this hour--and I'm still completely wired; it's going to take a while to let my hair down, metaphorically speaking.

Scheduling was remarkably bumpy, despite the running start I took at it yesterday. Part of the turbulence was caused by the usual issues: senior faculty making requests that we had to check with Bruce about, whether we could do X or Y contractually, whether Prof. Z or Q was qualified to teach the course he or she had requested--and the usual groaning and tearing of hair over the people who can't figure out the grid, or say that their first priority is Friday off and then request classes that meet on Fridays....

We ended up working until 4:30, which is later than usual, but since I have to leave early tomorrow, and since one of us can't be there at all on Thursday, I figured we should wrestle through as much as possible--even though I realize we may end up spending an inordinate amount of time tomorrow backing up and knocking down another long chain of dominoes. We haven't even gotten to the tough part, where we have to start making two- and even three-way swaps in order to give people low on the seniority lists any kind of schedule at all; we get to start having that fun tomorrow, as we're already completely out of some sections of comp. Well, fun and frolic.

After we wrestled our way through as far as I thought our brains could hold up for today, I ended up spending at least an hour, probably more, combing through an e-mail I'd drafted to one colleague, a full professor who has already treated me to a pretty snotty complaint about a previous schedule and who made requests that we cannot grant--because of regulations in the bylaws or union rules. I wrote an initial draft, which I ran past one of the members of the scheduling committee (while the other, bless her, was in yet another committee meeting in the room next door), and he pointed out that what I'd written suggested the possibility of an outcome that was not, in fact, possible. After we wrapped up the collaborative work, I returned to the office to revise the e-mail--and the endless revisions were my attempts to cover every single possible contingency that she could use to complain about what's going on and at the same time to be absolutely clear that no matter what she does, we can't guarantee she's going to get anything remotely resembling what she wanted. (What she wanted, for the record, included two English electives--which we can't give anyway, to anyone, under any circumstances.)

It will be very interesting to see what response we get--and when. (I copied Bruce, Cathy, and the other members of scheduling on the e-mail: I've got as much ass coverage as I can possibly manufacture.)

I also spent a fair amount of time--both during "lunch break" and since finishing up the scheduling for today--grinding out an e-mail to an ASLE colleague who agreed to look at the sabbatical project and give me some feedback from his perspective. I got a message from him about it this morning, in which he asked some very good questions, and it was rather a challenge to answer them, explain my thinking--and I hope I have, in fact, addressed his concerns, though I may have misunderstood what his concerns actually are. His questions did get me thinking about the challenge I face getting the damned thing published: it does not slot neatly into any textbook publishers' already existing format for "critical" editions. In fact, it doesn't really slot into any of those formats at all. I'm hoping I can "sell" a publisher on my particular approach--maybe create a new format (and, sure, do the same kind of edition for other Le Guin novels or other SF or fantasy: wouldn't that be heavenly?)--but reading my colleague's e-mail I did feel a slightly sick, sinking sensation: "Oh, fuck, I've done all this work and no one will want it." I keep saying that even if I end up just getting packets made for my own students here on campus, it will be worth it--but I still hold on to that dream of having my edition actually published, a real book, produced by a real publisher, purchased by real professors....

And while I'm speaking of publishing things: in scheduling, we got into a conversation about the new and more stringent requirements for teaching creative writing courses, as the discrete AA in Creative Writing has been approved by every necessary body on this campus and just needs the final stamp of approval from SUNY before it's a real deal. I mentioned that I now am no longer considered qualified to teach Fiction Writing--and Sabrina, who is not only on scheduling but is also one of the co-chairs of Creative Writing, said, "But Tonia, get some of your stuff published! We need you!" One of the qualifications, you see, is--in lieu of an MFA that focuses on the workshop process--a "proven track record of publication." I have at least three, possibly four, stories that I think are worthy of being considered for publication--but I told Sabrina that it's been so long since I last collected rejections letters I have no idea where to even start submitting things. She said she'd try to remember to send me a link to a list of online publications to which I might submit; I'd sure be grateful if she does. I would love to have more of my creative work published (apart from my one lonely poem, published several millennia ago), but I really simply haven't felt like I had the time, energy--or impetus--to go through the necessary steps that could lead to publication. However, with that boost of enthusiasm from Sabrina to generate some impetus, perhaps I'll find the time and energy.

It's been that kind of day. And there's some stuff going on in my family that needs some careful thought and attention, some e-mails that need some time and attention on that front as well; I started to work on them this morning and then realized I couldn't take the time, as I had to get my butt here, to campus, and now I'm thinking, "Oh, fuck, I can't spend more time writing blog posts: I need to get my butt home to work on those e-mails about the family thing."

Ye gods and little fishes. Oh, my giddy aunt. Yikes and likewise zoiks. Whatever exclamation is appropriate to the feeling of having suddenly been sucked up into a whirlwind. And more to come tomorrow--though, thank heaven, at the end of the day I get to look forward to a dinner in Manhattan with Paul. I might even decide to postpone a good night's sleep and go dancing for a while after, despite the need to be back here on campus the next day for the final throes (throws) of scheduling. Wired for sound, man, I'm telling you.

(Cue sound effect: microphone vibration and feedback....)

Probably won't have time to write tomorrow, but more soon....


Monday, May 18, 2015

Hah.

Well, I feel oddly triumphant about today. I'm in the office--leaving soon, but I ended up spending a lot more time than I anticipated prepping for scheduling tomorrow and then, instead of trying to put in a few minutes here and there on fall class prep or the sabbatical project, I thought I'd take the time to write the "remarks" I'll present at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 9.

Yes, I'm going to the Board of Trustees meeting.

Yes, I'm going to speak. Try not to fall over, or hurt your jaw when it hits the floor.

When I came in on Thursday, I had cheerfully forgotten that--it being the last Thursday of the term--there would be a department meeting. I avoided the meeting for a while, but since I really needed to talk to people who were in the meeting in order to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, I hung around in the back of the room--and heard, once again, the impassioned plea for us to at least show up and scowl, even if we don't do more than that.

Paul and I were just talking about it (of course I ran my remarks past him), and he mentioned that it's not only important for there to be a large number of us at this June meeting--and one of our colleagues is beating up bodies for that--but that we need to sustain the large presence as much as possible come fall.

Still thinking about that. I know it's important; I'm not sure my stress levels can take it (not to mention that the meetings often go very very late and I am very jealous in guarding my sleep).

And I just got distracted by talking to Paul about personal stuff, not the political (though god knows there's a lot of that we can now talk about, since he's on the Academic Senate Executive Committee)--and suddenly I'm out of time. I have to race off for some evening life maintenance, and I'll be back here tomorrow morning before 10:30, when we start scheduling.

Hasta manana.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Question du jour

I'm here in the office, looking over at my desk (my computer is on a table on the other side of the room), and what I see is lots of exploding file-folders and leaning stacks of god-knows-what, and I know that sooner or later I am going to have to dig through it all--and, in fact, dig through the file drawers that I have claimed as my own in the office's shared file cabinets, clean out all kinds of stuff in order to make room for more stuff. (I'm reminded of the George Carlin riff on stuff, which was forwarded to me in an e-mail not too long ago.) I suppose, now that I'm full professor, I could simply have a bonfire on the quad and start all over from scratch--but I grow very attached to handouts and photocopies of essays, stories, poems, which (you never know) I may someday maybe consider possibly using again, so at some point the purge truly does have to take place.

So, the question du jour is: sooner or later?

It's a lead-pipe cinch that I'm not going to tackle it with what's left of today. So the question begins to multiply: I've finished as much of the summer scheduling as I can do; that's now over to Bruce at least until next week. But I'd planned to be on campus this whole week, so do I come in tomorrow? Thursday? I will be on campus next week for more scheduling shenanigans, but I also have a cluster of doctors' appointments in the afternoons (don't remember exactly when, just the image of things written on my calendar): how likely is it that I'll get any organizational work done around all that? (I can answer that question, as it happens: not very.) So, if I shouldn't count on getting any of that done next week, does that put more weight into the idea that coming in this week makes sense? Or do I continue to kick the can down the road a bit further, knowing that there are two days in early June when I'll be here to once again go through training for our online course platform: should I assume that I'll do those workshops and then come back to this roost and try to clean it out a bit?

As for the retraining on Blackboard, I don't intend to teach anything fully online--at least not any time soon. But I would like to be able to use Blackboard for my regular classes--especially the comp classes. It's odd what students can and cannot do using electronic technology: they know about all kinds of apps and social platforms that are utterly opaque to me, but they can't use a word-processing program to properly format a paper, which I could probably do upside down and under water. Still, "technological literacy" is one of the skill sets we're supposed to help them acquire (which, of course, means we need to acquire some skill in that area our own damned selves), and there are some things that they're more comfortable doing online than they are in person. (Like, say, talking.) So I'd like to have a lot of that set up: discussion boards, perhaps, and things available for download so I don't have to carry around as much paper.

But I need to be retrained because the training is not designed to stick with the way my brain works. "Information Technology" people have brains that work in ways that are utterly foreign to me, so they assume things are absolutely intuitive that in fact seem either unduly complex or bizarre in organization or in any other conceivable way incomprehensible to me. What I know, however, from having been to this particular fire before, is that I need to immediately put what I learn in each workshop into practice with real classes and real material: no bullshit "pretend this is your course" stuff, especially as they always want me to pretend I'll be doing things I absolutely will not do and don't spend enough time on the things I really want to do.

As I'm writing all of this, I'm thinking that yes, it does make sense to come to the office after the workshops--but not to clean out and organize files and so on, rather to start getting the "web enhanced" portions of my classes ready, so--as I said--I can practice doing what I want to do with the information I've just gotten from the training session.

If I get comfortable enough with the online stuff, I may get around to applying for a stipend to create an online version of Nature in Lit. I suspect it would run better as an online course than it does now--and even if not, hey: it's a stipend. Not a bad thing.

Which, in my mind, dovetails into the "I like the money I get for being the evening supervisor but gee, some more reassigned time would have been nice" thing. I did ask Bruce whether he'd thought about the next daytime assistant chair. Yep--and no, it wasn't me. No surprise: Cathy. Again, as with the "secretary of P&B" thing, I feel a little pissy about it: not that Cathy isn't deserving and not that she won't do an excellent job, but I do feel very much like "first runner up"--which is another way of saying "not the winner." Ego, Baby, pure ego. "What about me? Am I not good enough?"

Well, not pure ego: more objectively I can say that the two of them working together does put a good amount of weight into any argument, as both of them have that kind of powerful presence and combined, they're mighty--but there are times when they think too much alike and I honestly feel that our students could be better served if beside Bruce was someone with a slightly different agenda and take on things. Not even necessarily me, but someone who can provide a little more balance to the scale instead of all the weight going to one side. But it's his decision, and as I said, I know Cathy will do a grand job. Also, if I subtract my beauty-queen aspirations from the equation, I can see that although the reassigned time would have been lovely, I may be a lot better off in terms of protecting my time and energy to have things as they are. Please heaven we'll continue to get the reassigned time to work in Advisement; given the requirements of seminar hours, I will teach my comp classes--maybe the lit electives too--rather differently than I have, but I hope what I do will be more effective for the students and the demands more diffused for me, so I don't feel quite so hammered when it comes time to grade papers.

The other little bit of whining that I have to get out of my system has to do with schedules for Spring--and I'm on the fence about whether to talk to Bruce about my personal desire here. Normally, the problem I'd have in putting together my spring schedule would be that I have to choose whether I want to request Nature in Lit or whether I'd prefer Native American Lit (when in actual fact, I want them both). However, for reasons beyond Bruce's control, P&B now meets when those courses are scheduled, so I won't be able to request either one. It's not as if there aren't other options that I'd be happy enough to teach, even without juggling the schedule--but I may want to make a pitch for spring 2017, that one or both of my favorite courses run in a different time slot.

Oh hell, we'll see.

I'm also wavering about whether to ditch the departmental assessment committee, as I've been swearing I would do. I'm not sure why I suddenly feel maybe I should stay on it instead of making good on my promise to myself to get the hell out of it, now that I've got the promotion.

Hey! I got the promotion! Every now and then, it hits me: Jesus Christ, I actually did it: I made it. Astonishing.

And ye gods I had no idea I was so wound up and chatty today: the length of this post surprises me. Apparently, it's one of those "oh, yeah, and another thing..." sort of days. (Oh, yeah, and another thing: I don't know how long ago I stopped proofreading and editing my posts but it's been several millennia now. I used to make note of the fact that I was just writing and then flinging the post up onto the blog without combing through; now that's just what I do. Blather blather blather post.)

So, enough of the blather for today. Heaven knows when I'll check in again: next time I do any work of any kind, I reckon. I'll decide about tomorrow when I wake up in the morning: go back to sabbatical work or come to the office? Right at the moment, I'd put my money on the former--but there's also always the "option C" possibility, though I'd be hard pressed to think what a third option might look like. I'm outta here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weird that it isn't weird

I've been on campus all day today, as I expected. Summer scheduling was only difficult in that there were way  more people looking for classes than classes being run--and because Bruce was there dealing with his own enormous stack of problems (the political state on campus continuing to deteriorate), so every now and then I'd have a hard time concentrating on what I was doing and would have to back-track to try to figure out whether I'd left out steps in the process. I had, in fact, left out steps just frequently enough that I need to go back through the whole thing, start to finish, and check each bit. There are four different stacks of paper on which I have to record information--and sometimes it's hard to figure out what the information actually is (the most frequent problem is trying to determine whether the person wants two courses in each summer term or whether the person wants two courses and doesn't care which term they're in). Sometimes people leave very helpful notes about what they're actually looking for; sometimes people leave long notes that are just annoying as hell--or incomprehensible (as in the case of the person who insists that the courses he wants to teach aren't on Banner--but if they're not on Banner, they don't exist and I can't assign them).

So, I took a break from all that in the early afternoon, then returned to it and really got as far as I possibly could get without a more significant brain break. Since setting that aside, I've spent a little time working to help ASLE find a replacement Professional Liaison Coordinator. Yes: I was a total whore. I used the position as PLC to help get me over the promotion hurdle, and now that I've got the promotion, I'm ditching it. I actually haven't done much of anything in some time about it all: when minor problems have arisen, they've been handled by the managing director, and I've just chimed in with "sounds good to me: thanks" sort of messages. Not that there aren't things I could have been doing, things it would be good for the PLC to do, but, well, the next person can take what I've done and move forward from there.

I may end up having to contact a bunch of people, extending the offer: "Hey, wanna be the PLC? No pay, you never know when you'll be busy, attendance at EC meetings highly recommended even though you don't have a vote, makes a great line on the CV...." The folks in charge are in the throes (and throws) of getting the conference pulled together, so I don't want to pile more on them at this juncture and have told them so. The first reaction I got was "yes, it would be great to have the list of people you've contacted about other liaison-type things in the past, and if you have a particular relationship with any of them, go ahead and contact them." My response was, "Here's the list and what I know about these people--but I know none of them personally, so wouldn't have any more persuasive abilities than anyone else. Still, if you want me to contact them because you're too busy..." So, I'll see what the bounce back is from that, take it from there.

The only other productive thing I did today was to change my mind about the style manual I'm requiring for my 101 students. We get desk copies of books all the damned time, and usually I don't look at them--especially readers, which I just don't use (I make my own)--but right on top of the stack of I-don't-know-what on my desk was a review copy of a new handbook, so I took a look at it and to my surprise discovered that I like it better than what I've been using. It starts with sentence-level stuff, and what it says about research and the writing process is more streamlined--and I think clear--than what I've been using. So, we'll give it a whirl, see how it goes. I do need to get a second copy, however, so I can do the usual one at home, one in the office thing, so wherever I'm working, I have one ready to hand.

I'm now trying to decide whether to do some more noodle work (check the academic calendar for fall, see if there are any of those "Tuesday is a Friday" days; print out old syllabi and start to adjust them, that sort of thing) or whether to head for the hills. Not feeling entirely groovy physically, but I'm finding this brief dip into the old familiar routines rather refreshing--and part of the old routine is that I don't leave until something drives me out the door. So, at least a little noodling, is what I'm thinking, and then out. No evenings out with Paul this week: this is the one way in which I'm still very detached from what's going on here on campus; I rather forget that it's the last week of classes and everyone is just a bit wild-eyed and staggering--and Paul in particular, because of the Academic Senate Executive Committee stuff (which is enough to make anyone go screaming around the bend). But he and I will both be around next week, what with one thing and another, so perhaps we'll make up for it then.

And in any event, I'll be here tomorrow, so, until then....

Friday, May 8, 2015

Whoof

I'm not quite sure how to categorize today. I got a relatively early start, which was nice, but after a few hours of work realized I'd left the computer charger at home--and the battery was running dry, so I had to pack up and come home. I almost took a nap instead of getting back to work, but I did manage to make myself finish combing through the glossary--and am glad I did, as I found one howling error that would have been embarrassing as hell. I sent the corrected thing to Ursula--and I contacted my former wonder-student (he of the NCC-Columbia-Oxford trajectory) to ask if he'd be willing to take a look at the materials I've put together. He was in my 102 whenever it was that he was my student (I lose track of years), so he read the novel--and he was certainly much better prepared (and is much more intelligent) than the average, run-of-the-mill NCC student, so he's the kind of student I fear might be put off by the material as too simplistic. I don't know if he'll have time or inclination to look at what I've got, but if he does, his feedback will be very helpful. I've considered whether to also ask the student who contacted me a while back for some advice about her next steps, academically: she also was in my 102 (and Nature in Lit, and Fiction Writing), smart, hard working, so potentially also a good barometer for the effectiveness of my approach. I hesitate only because I know she has a lot on her plate--and because she's quiet and shy enough that she might be reticent about giving me the kind of in-depth critique I'm looking for.

So, well, I'm still thinking about that part.

And I am aware that, after today, it will be a lot harder to find big chunks of time and mental space in which to do the last bits of this project--but, even though it's early, I somehow don't think I'll get anything useful accomplished with what's left of the day. Too bad, but there it is.

I expect I will post to the blog next week, when I'm on campus: as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'll take advantage of the time I have after Bruce has packed it in for the day to go up to my office, clear out files, start getting things organized for fall. Still no students in the MDC class--but my guess is that they'll register late: I'll probably end up with a bunch of students who are taking anything they can that bears credit because their choices are limited by their placement in remedial courses. Imagine my delight: working with students who can't read or write. Ah well. But that certainly means I'm not beating myself up to come up with a syllabus. If I end up having to toss something together in August, good enough.

I did place my book orders for 101 and Mystery and Detective--even though I'm not sure what I'll end up teaching, given possible developments on the reassigned time front. However, we got a little "ahem" sort of e-mail from the campus bookstore, saying they can't buy books back from students if they don't know what books professors are going to be using. OK: books ordered. I can always let the bookstore know later that X-and-such section is no longer being taught by yours truly.

I think that's about it for today. Yet another wildly scintillating post. But I leave you with the quotation of the day:

"...he had also been grimly working his way through the world's classics. Fiction had never been Jackson's thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things--death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale."
--Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

P.S.--oh, poop

I was looking through various folders the other day and found a critical essay that I copied at some point, and apparently even read (or started to read anyway) but that I did not include in any of the stuff about critical material. I'm not fussing with it now: as I said, I'm taking each piece in order, so I'm combing through the glossary etc right now. If memory serves, the critical stuff comes next. When I get there, that's when I'll add the one I just unburied. But, well, poop.

I also find that I'm champing at the bit to hear back from the wonderful colleague who was willing to read through the whole mess and give me feedback about whether it would work for the kind of undergrads he teaches. I understand it's end of semester and all that good stuff, but I wanna know. Now.

Patience has never been one of my best things.

Getting ready for tea with the goddess of wisdom

I just sent another of my no doubt importunate e-mails to Le Guin: I have at least managed a draft of the themes chapter, and as I'm now working through each section in order, I started to look again at the glossary and pronunciation guide. It occurred to me that, when I see Le Guin in July, I don't want our brief meeting to be filled entirely with corrections of the pronunciations, so I'd like for her to have a look at it and maybe respond before we meet. Then, when we meet, I can ask her some of my other questions, and talk to her about more large-scale parts of the project, especially illustrations (androgynous non-Caucasian faces, arctic landscapes and illustrations of terms such as "nunataks" and "sastrugi," maps...).

But we have a specific day and time scheduled for our meeting, good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise: July 11 at 10:00 a.m. Or at least I think that's what we have: she's not gotten back to me with specific confirmation of the exact time, but that weekend, yes.

I also don't yet know if she'll allow me to bring another guest with me: I don't want to impose any more than I'm already imposing. Talk about trying to find a balance: working to be respectful without being obsequious is a challenge. I recognize and appreciate, however, that she's had a lot of years to learn where her boundaries are and how to make them clear, so I rely on her wisdom in terms of setting the parameters for this forthcoming meeting.

And what, I wonder, does one bring as an offering to the goddess when one goes to her house for an intense conversation? (That's her term, by the way, not mine, and reveals her expectation that we won't just be shooting the breeze, chatting about our cats.)

Shifting gears here, it does feel good, I confess, to have at least finished a draft of the themes chapter and to be working on the comb through of the rest. I realize I'm seriously running out of metaphoric daylight here: because I'm doing other things with my life besides working on the sabbatical project, I pretty much have one more day--Friday--before my attention starts getting devoured by my return to campus and those duties. Since I'll be on campus working with Bruce next week, I'll also no doubt spend time in my office, clearing out files, beginning the fall planning.... I've realized that until I know whether I have a shot at also being Bruce's daytime assistant, I won't know how many classes I'll be teaching in the fall. We also haven't gotten official word about reassigned time for fall yet, though I assume I'll get the time to work in Advisement as usual.

In fact, across the board, planning for the fall semester is going to include a lot of "if-then" scenarios, depending on seminar hours, reassigned time, and enrollment (especially in the MDC class--which, at the moment, has zero students signed up; Mystery and Detective has 16--no surprise there). All the unknowns and unknowables simply give me practice in being flexible: prepared for various contingencies but not locked into any specific expectations.

I'm sure there's more I could natter about today, but I've been sitting for a long while (working at the library), and I have to be able to stand erect enough to walk home, which means I probably should try to pry my fanny out of this chair, load up my pack, and trot off like a burro back to the barn. Oof-dah.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

kinda sorta

I got myself seated and working a little earlier than I have been of late, but I'm working at home and after sitting for, oh, a long time, realized that I hadn't been setting the timer to get me up and moving every now and then. "That's OK," I thought, "I'll just take a longer walk than usual to make up for it and then get back to work."

Well, I did the walk part.

It's another utterly, spectacularly gorgeous day, so the walk went on even longer than I intended, but once I sat down, all my energy deflated with a sad, whimpering squeak, so no more work is going to take place today.

In checking through my campus e-mail today, I got the information about when adjuncts need to submit their preference forms for fall--and it's in early June. So when I see Bruce next week, I'll ask him if he wants me to do a first pass through at least most of it before I head off to Idaho and other points west. Some time back I also got a link to evaluate adjunct applications. I looked at one, but then I realized that looking at them all would be quite a time-consuming enterprise, and I didn't want to take the time out of the sabbatical project for that, or not just yet anyway. So, that's another question for when I see Bruce.

I'm starting to think that perhaps I need to make a list of the questions I want to ask him: they seem to be piling up. Then again, I'll be working with him for most of the week, I imagine, so if I forget a question on any one occasion, there will certainly be other chances for me to ask.

I have to say, almost every time I check my campus e-mail--which I have to do more often than I'd like, just to keep things manageable--I encounter something that either makes me angry or fills me with discouragement. Education is under attack all over the country--often even by the best intentioned "champions" of education--and NCC is no exception. But one of my former student stars, who went from NCC to Columbia and now is off to Oxford, just posted a photo of Columbia at night, a photo in which it looks every bit a temple of higher education, and I thought, "Thank God there are still a few places like that around." Of course, I have no idea what kinds of battles are being fought behind the scenes at Columbia, how the standards of education are being eroded (or what struggle is going on so they're not to eroded), but there certainly is a benefit to being an enormous, private institution in the Ivy League instead of being a community college in a state system.

Still, as I think with despair about what we're facing, how hard we're having to fight just to keep what little we've got, I know that I've made a difference in a few lives. My Oxford-bound former student is only one shining example. And I tell myself that they're why I keep fighting--and why having this sabbatical as a time to rest and recover is part of the sabbatical project. I may or may not finish all the pieces, even in rough-draft form, before I have to fling myself back into the teaching trenches, but the time I spend resting is going to benefit my students in the long run. Certainly it will benefit me.

And on that note, I'm going to hang up my spurs for the day and loaf around until it's time to meet Paul for dinner. He's in deep water right now, because he agreed to be on the Executive Council of the Academic Senate, so he's not in the trenches: he's out there running across mine fields and barbed wire, surrounded by cannon fire. I am glad to be able to support and encourage him--and the entire academic community is lucky as hell to have him on the front lines for us--but the contrast between what he's going through and my reasons for wining and complaining make it very clear how completely spoiled I am.

So I'm going to spoil myself some more. Because, for a while longer, I can.

Friday, May 1, 2015

a little dip in the deep end

I sorta-kinda finished the "Science and Science Fiction" chapter, so I also sorta-kinda worked on the themes chapter. And I've figured out part of why I'm resisting: it's that balance I can never quite find between giving too much and not giving enough. I think part of what I need to do--for the whole thing but especially for this chapter--is figure out exactly how I think it will help students. What do I want them to get out of it? I'm not entirely sure I know: I'm assuming they'll have to write papers, and I'm assuming they'll need to write about something thematic (that's a pretty standard approach to analysis, after all), and I'm assuming they don't quite know what a theme is or, once one is located, how to write about it. I'm also assuming that I have to be at least a little careful to avoid "spoilers": I can't be sure that students will have read the entire novel before they read any particular section of my apparatus. Other than that, my brains seem to be gummed up in some way: it's a form of writer's block, apparently, but it's hard to muscle past/through.

On a more positive note, I heard today from one of the colleagues at a 4-year school whom I contacted about providing some feedback. The first one I heard from generally approved of the project as a whole but didn't evidence any interest in looking at it in detail (but then he has a lot on his plate at the moment, so hardly surprising, and no indication of any rejection). The guy I heard from today is highly enthusiastic, which is great. I think I'll send him what I have finished at this point and let him know that the themes stuff is in progress; certainly just sending what I have now will give both him and me a great sense of whether I'm on the right track (and let's hope like hell that I am). I can send him more later, if he's interested and if it seems useful.

And of course I'll post the results here, once he's had a chance to get back to me.

Now, however, I'm not entirely sure what I want to do or how to go about doing it. I'm in one of those states when I'm both lazy and restless--and not quite sure how to make best use of the time between now and when I have to get on a train in to the City to try out that tango class. (If I hadn't already paid for it, I'd bail--but I don't see how to cancel the class on their website, so I guess that's my indication that I should go.) I had a great class last night: those experiences in dance class are deeply beneficial to me as a teacher. I need to remember what it is to feel very frustrated--and what it is to get help to pull out of frustration. The main instructor last night is great: I've worked with him before, and he can break things down, understand, explain, clarify, demonstrate--and have a sense of humor the whole time. Last night, he wore a clown nose all through class. (Tango is, after all, such a serious dance.) I'm not sure I'd be able to carry off the clown nose thing, but it's good to remember to keep things light and loose.

Nothing more to report at this juncture. I don't know what tomorrow will be like. I have a lot of life-maintenance stuff to do, but it's hard to tell whether tonight's City jaunt will make me want to stay home and metaphorically hide under the sofa or if it will make me want to get out. The weather certainly will be an inducement to get out, so ... well, we'll see.