Notice about Cookies (for European readers)

I have been informed that I need to say something about how this site uses Cookies and possibly get the permission of my European readers about the use of Cookies. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the cookies on this site work. My understanding is that Google has added a boilerplate explanation. That's the best I can do.

Student Readers: A Warning

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

Hi! And you are...?

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

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

Follow by Email

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Well, that was scary

I was all set to tap-dance out of here on the happy wings of the fact that Bruce has released me from duty for tomorrow (he didn't come in today, so we were trying to handle things over the phone)--and when I checked my e-mail I saw that I made a huge, horrible, utter fuck-up with a very unhappy FT faculty member, creating major confusion over whether we could turn one of her courses into an adjunct course. There is a solution, so my colleague is not going ballistic, as I feared she might, but I really did screw up big time, and I feel like shit about it. I simply didn't read her e-mail carefully enough and don't know how things work in terms of people teaching outside the department as part of their course loads. I should have realized that she didn't need a separate contract for a non-English-department course that was on her FT schedule (I didn't when I was going to teach MDC), but, well, I was juggling a few too many things and wanted to get her squared away in too much of a hurry. Mea maxima culpa.

There is good news however: I checked e-mail again, and although there is still a possible problem, she's being very gracious about it and I think will be fine with the solution. Even better news, since Bruce did spring me from duty for tomorrow, if there's any further fall-out from the mess I created, he'll be the one in the hazmat suit, cleaning it up. I feel rotten leaving him with my mess--but then, I sorted out some of his messes, so I guess we're even.

Other good news: all of my course materials have been copied for the first week or two of classes. Also, I have everything set up on Blackboard (the online platform) for 101 and Mystery, and enough set up for the SF class to get the semester started. I'd love to get the paper assignments for SF hammered out before Monday. It may be overly optimistic to think I might work on class stuff tomorrow--I may be lying on the sofa fighting a decompression headache--but if I could, that would be sweet. Even if not, I don't have anything on my calendar for Friday during the day, or Sunday, or Monday. (I have activities in mind for Saturday, but they're for fun, not work.)

Mostly, I hope I can let go of quite a bit of residual anxiety: once I get flurried, it takes a long time for the mental and emotional silt to settle. Breathing is helpful, I find. So is doing mindless silly stuff. In fact, a jigsaw puzzle may be called for.

Isn't that an enviable place to be? Trying to figure out what will be the most relaxing form of mind-candy? And here I am, in exactly that place.

Life in the trenches isn't so bad sometimes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Oh, my giddy aunt

What a maelstrom of a day! The continuing swirl of chaos and craziness regarding adjunct scheduling--and we're still not done, as there are still a number of classes hanging fire in terms of whether they'll get enough students enrolled to run. Some affect FT faculty, and those are the biggest concern, but then we have to repeatedly comb through the adjunct seniority lists to be sure that people with the most seniority have classes--even if they end up tossing them back to us. We have a lot of adjunct courses on hold, too, as we're not sure but what we may have to cancel them. It's a rolling cluster-fuck (which sounds like a lot more fun than it is).

I was once again called upon to exercise my diplomacy skills today: an adjunct was breathing fire about being jerked around, threatening to file a grievance, trying to throw his weight around how he'd been here for 20 years (um, no) and was a "full professor" (um, no--not here anyway), shrieking about how he's had to declare bankruptcy and don't we understand that he has to keep his house and feed his family.... It was one of those times when I remembered my mother's sage advice to be "relentlessly" polite, and because I stayed calm--the most I said, several times, was "May I finish my sentence, please?" always said as a gentle request--eventually I think he started to realize that he didn't have to act like an asshole. I explained the contract to him; first he argued with me about it, but I said he was half right (which he was), and when he said, "Is what you're saying going to stand up to a grievance?" I said, "Yes, it will." Then he asked if the adjunct union rep would say what I was saying, and again, I assured him that would be the case. By the end of the conversation, he had completely backed down and simply asked us to do what we can.

And it turns out, he was flipping out about not getting a course that he may get anyway. The office staff were just telling him he might not get it, because it might have to go to a full-time faculty member (and I had to explain that no, we can't just give full-time faculty "administrative work" to fill in for a course: we have to teach our full course load). But I get it: he's petrified that he won't get the money he's counting on, and he was displacing that fear into a whole lot of misdirected anger. He sure didn't have any business screaming at the office staff about it--nor at me, for that matter, though my position does at least make me someone who should have to field complaints. The office staff can't do a damned thing except what we tell them: he was blowing the messengers up with a bazooka. I'm very glad I could get him off their backs--and off my own, actually. And I'm superlatively proud of myself that I didn't feel stressed out or anxious about it at all.

But, in terms of dealing with people, Bruce did his thing of charging in with guns blazing instead of talking someone off the ledge (as it were)--on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, I probably would have handled things differently, but I think ultimately his way of handling the situation was appropriate (a full-time faculty member was unhappy about a change that probably will have to happen to her schedule and wanted something that we can't do). On the second occasion, however, I understand why he acted as he did, but I think a more diplomatic response would have worked as well if not better (though I admit, it would have taken longer). In that case, a couple of students were pissed off that we wouldn't put then into courses that were already closed because they were filled to capacity, and first they unloaded on the office staff--who also aren't great at calming people down--and then when the office staff called Bruce in, he didn't even listen to the students: he just said "I don't overload courses, period, end of discussion."

Now, I grant you, the students were being snotty brats with a severely over-developed sense of entitlement, but there are ways to deal with even that attitude, as completely maddening as it is. Yesterday, I was on the phone dealing with something else, and just happened to field a student who came charging in to the office, saying he "absolutely refused" to take a remedial course because he only missed the cut-off for credit-bearing courses by one point. I directed him to Cathy, but before he went to talk to her, I said, "A word of advice? Going in with 'I absolutely refuse' probably isn't the way to start things off, but if you explain your frustration and ask if there's anything to be done, I bet she can help you." He understood, calmed down, talked to Cathy--and I saw him today, registering for 100.

Let me hasten to say: I have not had a personality transplant. I still have a ferocious temper, and it can explode in a nanosecond. But I'm getting better at going with a more beneficial reaction as my first response and saving the volcanic eruption for more worthy situations.

I did spend some time on my own classes today--and as an ironic side note, the thumb drive actually was in my purse yesterday: I just didn't dig deep enough into the little pocket where I'd stashed it. But of course today, I found a few more mistakes--and ended up adding a reading to the SF class, as well as dividing one of the novellas up into three portions instead of two. It's all about the "built in extra credit" thing: I wanted the Mystery course and SF to have the same number of total points at the end, and as I'd constructed SF, I was two readings short. The one day at the end that I'd reserved for general discussion with no assignment due is now a day when a reading response is due. And unless I show a film on the day when the final paper is due (and finish it the last day of class), we're only going to watch one movie. I may have another hanging about, just in case we have time for it (the classroom is just down the hall from my office, so I can make an impromptu decision), but my guess is that I may end up ditching readings anyway so we have more time to discuss.

Tomorrow, Bruce says he'll only be in for about an hour; I'll try to arrive around 10 again (it was closer to 11 today, but hey)--but Thursday is when he and I will have to really get down and dirty with nailing down the last wobbly bits. Fun and frolic, man: it just is a carnival around here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A good plan gan agly

After driving myself bananas trying to fix the various messes that Bruce and I had left in our wake last week (and making yet another error along the way), I actually got to sit down and start chipping through my own prep at about 2 p.m. My brilliant plan was to bring my laptop with me--because I can translate Word files into PDF files on the laptop but not on the office computer--and simply swap things back and forth between the two computers using my thumb drive.

Which is sitting on my desk at home, it seems.

All day yesterday, as I looked at the damned thumb drive, I thought, "I'd better remember to put that in my purse." If I did, I don't know where in my purse I put it: I sure as hell can't find it now.

This seems to be the motif of the last few weeks: "Where the fuck did I put the..." sleeve for my water bottle, thumb drive, pencil case, class folder, latest printout of X, travel cup for iced coffee ... and I could go on.

It's awfully damned early for that strand of pearls to have broken. And I am seriously losing track of what I have and have not accomplished. I did finally nail down a reading list for SF, and made the error of posting it on Facebook, where a friend immediately started in with "What, no Bradbury? No Octavia Butler? What about Carl Sagan? Have you considered Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Oh, you're thinking about films, too: what about ET? What about..." I finally said, "I think you should teach the class"--and she stopped. So far. I know it was all motivated out of her own excitement about the material and enthusiasm to share her ideas, but I my first reaction was defensive panic.

Calm. Calm. I have reasons. They're good enough. I'm not thinking through it again.

The students may not like the list as well as I do: I did decide to go with the first two of Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy and with two Le Guin short stories ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow" and "Newton's Sleep") and two of her novellas (The Word for World Is Forest and Paradises Lost). The objection may be that there's an awful lot by those two authors, at the expense of a lot of other authors we could read instead--but thematically, I'm happy with the progression.

Of course, now I have to work on essay topics, and at the moment, that's a kind of thinking I just cannot do. Things downstairs in the main office will have to calm down significantly first, and I'll need a little time to finish basic maintenance on class handouts first.

Speaking of which, I found yet one more thing on the 101 syllabus that needed to be changed/fixed--and five pages of the syllabus for Mystery and Detective that needed the same. It really is endless: somewhere along the line, I'm sure to find something I meant to change/should have changed and didn't--or an idiotic typo, or something.

But speaking of syllabi, one of my colleagues sent us a link to blogger Sonya Huber's "Shadow Syllabus"--and it's brilliant. I've got links to it on all three of my course pages in Blackboard: Beautifully put: I couldn't have said it even close to as well, but she captures how many of us feel. Utterly great.

In any event, I'm about to fold my work tents (tense) for now. I have a collection of the documents I need to get copied this week, another collection of documents I can send off to the printing department; I've made sure to have AV equipment reserved when I need it for all three classes (or I hope I do: there's always the chance that I may wish I had access to the laptop and overhead projector for 101 on a day when I didn't reserve it, but my experience last semester was that usually all the equipment was unlocked and I could just fire it up when I needed it). Tomorrow or the next day, I can pick up copies of the books for SF from the bookstore (so I have the same editions my students are likely to have) and I may be able to drop in to one of the Blackboard help sessions, just so I know why the "Welcome" page isn't the first thing students see when they click on the class. I may even get to an orientation session on Wednesday (unlikely tomorrow), which would be fun. (And every time I think about that, I wonder where things are with seminar hours--and then I think, "Not my problem. Scott will let us know when anything is sorted out. If anything is sorted out, at all, ever.")

So, I'm going to noodle around a bit on the computer, then gently steal away into the night.

Possibly more tomorrow....

Thursday, August 20, 2015


I feel as if my head is surrounded by clouds of gnats: trying to keep track of what's going on is proving just about as challenging as it can get. Bruce and I hacked through the underbrush for most of the day, and I have to say, the problem with him having things in his head is that he doesn't meticulously keep track of what's where, what's been done, that everything is recorded in all the places where it needs to go. We must have assigned five or six courses only to find out he'd canceled them some time ago. In at least three instances, we were told that a faculty member had declined classes--but wherever it had been written down for Bruce, he lost track of it. (I wasn't being paranoid about the possibility that he'd forget he'd said I could have the SF class.) He even said at one point that he "likes mess." (I refrained from comment about the evidence of that in his personal life.) A lot of what I was doing was trying to make sure things were clear--all the records matching and that we could actually, literally see what had been assigned and to whom. At some point, he was working in red pen, which makes it harder to see any subsequent changes, especially when a course has changed hands three or four times....

On top of that, seminar hours stuff is turning into a maelstrom: the administration has done precisely nothing to even let students know that the mentoring/advising option exists, never mind giving students a way to indicate their interest and availability. Within a few hours, another member of the committee and I had come up with jazzy fliers (his jazzier than mine) to replace the turgid text that someone in admissions had ground out, and I created an interest/availability form--but we now need the administration to set up a link that can be accessed by e-mail, through the NCC home page, through the "Portal" (the central log-in site), so we have a way to electronically gather the information. We are under this contractual obligation to fulfill hours as if they'll happen starting with the first day of classes--but nothing has been done so we can start fulfilling them.

I probably should stop there. It's a hairball of epic proportions, and I don't imagine anyone really wants to see each individual hair teased out of the mess. I saw Paul briefly this morning: his reaction to the madness was to kick it right back to the administration. We're here in our offices, dutifully ready to meet with students: we're fulfilling our contractual obligation; it isn't our fault that there are no students for us to see. I've often had the "sometimes you have to drop the football" response to impossible situations of this type, but in this case, I have a feeling somehow it would backfire in truly unpleasant ways. That said, a member of our union leadership intimated that even if we make a brilliant success of the seminar hours, the administration is still going to be gunning for us to have a fifth class.

Please please please please let me have enough money in my retirement fund that I can take an early retirement option with the next contract and get out of here before that happens.

In any event, I will be back in on Monday--albeit without Bruce--cleaning up the last of the mess, which will mean being on the phone with Bruce, making frantic notes. At this point, plans to do any photocopying are on hold, as both the departmental copy machines are down, and we don't know when the repair guy will show up. Plan B--Kinkos--is already in place, but before I get to that, I have to quadruple check to be sure I have printed the latest version of all handouts so I'm sure I'm photocopying the correct thing.

Now, I'm going to noodle around with handouts for a bit--and it looks like I'm not going to make it to tango class, dammit: this is what happens when I get on a roll....

Monday, August 17, 2015


Well, today didn't turn out at all as I expected. The meeting of the seminar hours was moderately painful--but it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I do not not not envy Scott, who is the chair of the committee. He's wonderful at it, and is being very pragmatic, patient--and potentially fierce if need be. He was going from our meeting to a meeting with the idiot dean who is making our lives hell. (As Cathy explains, the dean needs to win some fights with us in order to gain face with the administration. Kinda thought the dean was supposed to be in our corner, but apparently not on this campus.) We'll know more about just how painful things are going to get once we hear Scott's report on that meeting.

I then dutifully went down to get to work with Bruce--and he was clearly in one of those "I have so much shit I'm trying to keep track of, I can't see" places. Right now, just about everything is in his head, and he's doing some feats of prestidigitation behind the scenes, but it's chaos--hell on a stick, to borrow a phrase from one of my students. He needs to just work on his own a while longer, so--miracle of miracles--I'm sprung for tomorrow. For one brief and unhappy moment I thought I'd have to come in anyway to meet with our tech guru, but whatever the printer problem was, it's solved for now, so, well, hooray!

And the other hooray--a really huge one--is that it's official: I'm teaching SF. I've done a preliminary book order, and now I can start figuring out an assignment schedule and paper topics. Tomorrow. At home.

I have a list of things to do tomorrow, in fact, but ... that's tomorrow. (You know, when I'm stronger.) Now, I am going to a routine/follow-up doctor's appointment and then, well, wherever I decide to go next. Ain't life grand?

Sunday, August 16, 2015


I've been pretty much nailed to the computer today, and although I know I'll have a lot of "oh, shit" moments, when I realize that there's a stupid typo in something or I'm missing a handout or I have something set up incorrectly on Blackboard, I at least have all the materials for both 101 and Mystery and Detective up on Blackboard and ready to roll. I think. I still have to print things out (and make sure I've printed the most up-to-date version), but I'm going to do that in the office--once the departmental tech guru figures out why my computer says the printer network is offline and gives us a new ink cartridge. Then I get to stand at the copier--and call the Printing office to find out how much time they'd need to turn things around, so I can farm out as much as possible to them.

Which pretty much frees my days to deal with the domino-chains of scheduling that Bruce and I will be facing over the next two weeks. First, of course, I will need to make sure my own schedule is set, and do what I can to fix the schedule for my colleague who needs to switch from afternoons to mornings--and find out why the rep to the adjunct union is calling me about a complaint. But then, Bruce and I are off to the races.

One tiny scrap of good news is that an adjunct wrote to Cathy asking for an assignment--and A) I don't think we had anything to give her but B) she's qualified to teach 100, so we may be able to open a section for her to teach. The problem of not enough seats for students who need 100 and not enough qualified faculty is a real one, as I mentioned, so if we can provide even 20 new seats, that is a sliver of relief. At the moment, the only sections of 100 with any room for students are the ones designated for ESL students.

We have a similar problem with 001, actually: there are a few evening sections that are going begging, but mostly it's the ESL dedicated sections that are still open--and one only has one student, so I imagine it's on the chopping block. There's more chaos with 101: some sections are filled and others still low, mostly evening sections but no discernible rhyme or reason for why some day sections are filled and others at the same time are not. Bruce has slashed sections all over the map, too. It will be very interesting to sit down with the master lists to see where things are now: I suspect that a lot of the work I did before heading off to ASLE had to be completely changed, and I don't envy Bruce the work he's been doing at home in the intervening weeks.

But that's all fuss and feathers for the days to come. Right now, I'm going to try to pry my ass out of this chair and force myself to get outside and walk around a little. It's starting to cool down enough that the prospect of moving outdoors doesn't seem intolerable, and heaven knows it would be great for my body--and might help normalize sleep patterns that have been wonky as hell for days now. Come what may, that alarm goes off at 7 a.m. tomorrow, and I have to get back into the morning routine of a day at work--heat wave or no.

Probably no post tomorrow, but maybe Tuesday? We'll see....

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cool stuff

I was late for my appointment with my colleague in Distance Ed (the "faculty support" wing of that area), but he helped me get things sorted out quickly--and, in fact, he completely saved me from horrific disaster. Stupidly, I'd been putting all the materials in the Blackboard area for the 101 section that I'd booted back when I got my reassigned time--just because it was on top--and one of the questions I was going to ask Adam was whether I could easily copy it all into the other section, but when we went into Blackboard ... poof! The section was completely gone. Bruce had--wisely--canceled it, but I hadn't realized that would mean that everything I'd done would vanish along with it. Fortunately, Adam knew the right person to call, and they were able to resurrect everything and roll it into the 101 I actually am teaching.

So, well, lesson learned: this is what the "sandbox" is for. The "sandbox" is the term they use for a sort of class-in-the-abstract, a "dummy" course--in multiple senses of the word "dummy" in my case--and I didn't see any purpose to the abstraction, but now I sure do. I can only build one course at a time in the sandbox, but now I know how to copy all the materials into a real course when they're ready--and I don't risk losing hours and hours and hours of work.

Adam, I hasten to say, was impressed with my sang froid--though I confessed that, if the material really had been lost, I would have either thrown an epic hissy fit or fallen into a trough of despond once I got home and had to try to reconstruct it all.

He also had some great ideas for simplifying where I put instructions for discussion board posts, for example, and helped me with how to organize things so students don't get lost in the stew.

We then had a terrific 30-minute conversation about learning processes, about reading on digital devices versus on paper, on the spacial bias of brains and how that relates to memory (which is why "memory palaces" work) ... cool stuff. He's getting a master's degree in this kind of thing: the told me the exact name of his discipline, which of course I immediately forgot, but it's something like educational technology--so in addition to having to know how the tech stuff works, he has to know a lot about how education works.

Of course, after a five-hour (really, no exaggeration) conversation with my ASLE colleague Ant yesterday, my voice is damned near shot, and I didn't sleep for shit last night, so I don't know what kind of manic energy I'm running on. I did get a strange morning nap: I woke up so early that I got all my morning prep done and had enough time before I had to leave the house to lie down for almost 2 hours. That still left me short of optimal for my body, but at least I don't feel like someone coated the inside of my eyelids with sandpaper.

The other thing that arose from the conversation with Adam is that several handouts that I thought were completed in fact were not--and something is wrong with the local network here in the office, so I can't print anything, plus I don't have access to my wonderful Adobe Acrobat Pro here in the office, which means I can't do the nifty docx to PDF save that I can do at home--so I have to make lists of what I need to reprint, and what I need to resave. (Blackboard will take docx files, but it will open a PDF in a new window, which is handy--but it's easier for me to edit documents in Word; hence the desire to have all my materials in both formats.)

Because I'm riding this sort of manic high, part of me wants to keep working, even though I can feel the laws of diminishing returns starting to kick in. I also have a few problems I have to deal with on Monday, when--after a meeting of the seminar hours committee--I have to start working on the scheduling nightmare with Bruce. I got to my office to find a voice-mail from the department's rep to the adjunct union: apparently he and I have to talk about someone's "concerns" about her schedule (which means I have to be absolutely positive that rules of seniority are being strictly followed: fuck fuck fuck)--and one of our full-time faculty members is frantic to change his schedule for the fall. He and I already went through a round of e-mails about his request for a complete switch to his spring schedule--which is relatively do-able at this juncture--but he's in a panic because he called Bruce in July to request a change for fall and it hasn't happened. The office staff explained that Bruce hasn't been in, and nothing can change until Bruce is in, but the guy is not willing to accept that as a reason why his request--actually, demand--hasn't been addressed yet.

Then there's my own champing at the bit to have it official that I'll be teaching SF. It's not officially on my schedule in Banner yet, and yes, I'm a bit like the panic-stricken colleague mentioned above, worried that Bruce forgot I was going to have that as a back-up and that he's given it to someone else and I'll end up with another 101...

Of course, the really big problem is that we are in desperate need of sections of 100, but there are strict parameters for who can teach 100, and we only have a handful of faculty who fit those parameters, so I don't know what the hell we're going to do about that. But I guess that's what Bruce and I will be talking about next week.

For now, I'm going to noodle around for a few more minutes, then get into my riding britches and head off to try to remember how to ride a horse...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Halting progress

Well, the MDC class was officially canceled today--which is a relief, actually, as now I can officially put the SF course on my roster, or so I hope. I suddenly had a wave of panic that Bruce might have forgotten that he'd said I could have it if MDC didn't run, and he might have given it away to another full-timer--maybe even the colleague who was there as back-up, in case the MDC did run. I sent an e-mail to him and to his assistant and know I won't hear anything until tomorrow at the earliest about it. I'm not sure if he's in this week or if he's waiting until I'm around next week; I'm pretty sure she's around, but she can't make the move without his OK...

Well, we'll see.

There seems to have been a sudden up-tick in registration in comp classes: I now have 10 in my section, which is a decided improvement. Some of them--especially the evening sections--are still in significant danger, so Bruce and I will decidedly have our work cut out for us, next week and the following. I don't think I mentioned the moment of having to deal with a relatively hysterical colleague who had written to William about needing a change to his spring schedule--and who had to be gently reminded that William's term on scheduling doesn't start until fall and even once it does, I'm still officially chair of the committee unless the committee decided to demote me. The hysteria calmed down pretty rapidly, but I do have to remember to change his schedule when I go in next week so that it's done before schedules are distributed. And I have to teach Cathy about schedule changes: man, she is in for a fierce learning curve when the schedules come out and suddenly she has to deal with all the usual suspects. She's never done any scheduling before, so, well, ow. But I'll help. I've told Bruce for years that I'd like to be involved in that process; maybe now's the time.

As long as I'm on this rather lengthy tangent about scheduling, the e-mail that William received from the colleague who wanted a change to his schedule gave me the distinct impression that people (or at least some people) feel that things went to hell in the proverbial hand-basket when I was in charge and welcome William's return with enormous sighs of relief. And that, in turn, makes me wonder if I want to set myself up for a potentially ego-bruising run for re-election at the end of this year. I felt very snubbed the year when I ran against the former assistant chair and was elected alternate, not full member of the committee--and now I'm more "ego involved," as I've been chairing for the past year, in addition to my initiative through P&B to get a clear sense of who is qualified to teach what. I do enjoy the work, strangely enough, but my fear of getting unceremoniously dumped through a departmental election weighs heavy in the balance.

Another "we'll see" moment.

Meanwhile, and more of the moment, I've been trying to get at least a little bit systematic about my attack on each of the classes, but I keep encountering the brain-fry problem: I have to stop working on 101 handouts, for instance, in order to stay sane--but in order to stay working, I simply shift to Mystery and Detective handouts. I did, however, have a realization that was remarkably slow to materialize, that being that there's no reason why I can't teach SF thematically instead of chronologically. I don't have to teach Bradbury, or any of the Old Guard canonical authors: I can stay closer to what I know and assign readings that can be used for different themes, regardless of date of publication.

The cool thing about working thematically, of course, is that some books can be used for more than one: Atwood's Oryx and Crake, for instance, can be used for a "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" topic (along with Frankenstein, for instance) as well as for a "What are we afraid the future might look like?" theme--along with, say, 1984, which despite not having come true in 1984 still might resonate in terms of fears of media control and "big government." (Using that also has the advantage of giving students the basis for references to Big Brother--which is a "meme" without context for them, like the sound of a needle skipping over a vinyl record: they know what it means, but they don't know where it comes from.)

The possible themes are rich and abounding:

What does it mean to be human? (Frankenstein, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, possibly Perdido Street Station--or almost anything by Mieville set in Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon, or King Rat, for that matter, although Mieville's stuff is arguably not actually SF. I could possibly also use Word for World Is Forest, hereafter shortened to WWIF.)

What is the proper relationship between humans and the nonhuman world? (WWIF, possibly Oryx and Crake ... and I bet if I look at the ASLE website, I can turn up about a dozen other possibilities.)

Just because we can, does that mean we should (or: How Crazy Is the "Mad Scientist"?), see above....

I could keep going. I'm afraid students would balk if I teach more than one novel by any one author, but I could do a lot with Handmaid's Tale and The Lathe of Heaven, too.

Well, it will be fun to figure out. And the nice thing is, I can return some of the books I hauled out of the library and check out other options instead. (I'd need to reread 1984, for instance.) And, as usual, the problem is more what not to assign than what to assign: I could easily come up with more than enough titles for a grad-level course, never mind more than enough for undergrads. I will be very interested indeed to find out about these students: how much they read, what they read, how nerdy they truly are....

Sudden shift of gears, but I'm very much looking forward to meeting with my ASLE colleague on Thursday, in part to talk about conference site ideas but also to talk about nerdy things--and I do intend to pick his brains about what books and/or films he'd use if he were teaching the class. (I bet he does teach SF; I'd be shocked if he doesn't.)

Oh, and another, less happy shift of gears: I heard from Le Guin's agent today that Penguin, owners of the paperback rights to The Left Hand of Darkness do not approve of my all-in-one student edition--or at least not if published by someone else. I fired off a couple of "push back" questions (what if they published it? what if they published an educators' edition that just packages a code for online access to my materials?). If they really have no interest--or if I'd have to follow the Random House "educator's guide" stuff as I've seen it for other books--I'll have to do some in-depth rethinking, but I want to hear from her about the other options first.

Whew. Well, I guess that's the news--pretty much for this week. Tomorrow I'll meet with Paul in the evening, which is always a great thing. Wednesday is lost to a doctor's appointment, meeting with Naomi (former student, now friend and cat-sitter extraordinaire), and yoga class. Thursday is devoted to meeting with said ASLE colleague and--since I'll be in the city anyway--tango class, unless my subconscious throws up some kind of road block. Friday, I meet at some point with the helpful colleague from Distance Ed, for assistance in getting all my materials clear and sorted on Blackboard. So, yeah. This is the week. Whew indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2015


I have a meeting next Friday with someone from the Office of Distance Learning to help me get everything sorted out on Blackboard, so I'm taking a bit of a pause on that. I've spent a while today trying to get all my documents cleaned up and ready to go, but I'm about out of gas on that, too. Today's big frustration was realizing that I had written over the "brilliant" work I'd done the other day, coming up with more focused and intellectual topics for the first paper for Mystery & Detective, so I had to reconstruct--and of course I feel like what I came up with isn't anywhere near as good as what I had and lost. (Wouldn't it be fascinating to have some way of testing that, to recover a brilliant idea you think you've lost and compare it with the reconstruction that you're sure isn't anywhere near as good to see how accurately you assess the relative strengths of the one you can only remember thinking was brilliant versus the one you actually have?)

(The convolutions of that sentence are, I think, a relatively good indication of where my brain is at this moment.)

However, on the topic of feeling as if progress is being made, I do think I'll use Wells's The Time Machine for SF, but not The Invisible Man, which is more gothic horror than SF--although even The Time Machine is considered SF only because there's an actual machine involved. That's going to be fun to address, I think (I hope): what makes something SF? No one agrees entirely--or at least it's awfully hard to draw the borders. (That's sort of true of a lot of genres, come to think of it.) So, at the moment, the reading list is Frankenstein (because, well, you sort of have to), The Time Machine, and The Word for World Is Forest. Judging from the reading list that worked last time out for the Mystery course, I can probably do three, maybe four more--if I stick with novels. If I put some short stories in there, I can cover more ground but not as deeply, and honestly, I know the novels better. I would also like to show a movie or two: Blade Runner, if I end up teaching Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and maybe Avatar, to pick up on some of the issues in The Word for World. (By the way, nerd note: Le Guin wanted to call that novel Little Green Men, which would have been appropriate, amusing, and a hell of a lot less effort to write--and say--than the title her publishers insisted upon.)

OK, enough for now. I'm about to be a student of equitation--which is always beautifully humbling as an experience. I rode on Wednesday, too, so my body feels now like my students' brains feel: ow ow ow. But good ow.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


No, once again, it is not "Talk Like a Pirate" day: I'm just losing my mind trying to get the 101 stuff on Blackboard, organized and making sense. I truly hope that the end result is worth the effort, because I truly am losing my mind.

And I've officially hit the "working with Blackboard" wall--but panic is rising about my other classes: I do have to prep for Mystery and Detective and SF (that's looking more and more like a sure thing)--so, in the interest of feeling like I'm making some kind of progress, I'm going to work on SF for a while. The nice thing about that is, it means "get comfy on the sofa and read." I'm about half-way through H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, which I don't think I've ever read, and after that, I've got Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, and Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm not sure how much of the old classic stuff I'm going to use. I know for sure I'll teach Le Guin's The Word for World Is Forest (great themes, easier and shorter than the great classics, Left Hand and Dispossessed)--and I may really flip them out and teach either Railsea or Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. I also have Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman and maybe something else. Too many cool choices--and each choice means I then have to figure out paper topics. (Talk about "argh" moments.)

I am happy that I've come up with more specific paper topics for Mystery & Detective--and I've melded together the "reading notes" and "summations" into Reading Response assignments, and their first reading response is to a handout about how to create a reading response (melded with a self-evaluation). Feels like it makes sense; we'll see how it flies.

Writing about that, I start to get a wave of enthusiasm and think, "Oh, maybe I should work on that a little more"--but my sleep patterns are still disrupted after a rough day on Monday (family stuff), so I'm going to put off any of that kind of thinking for another day and just read.

This is what I said I wanted to do for a living: sit somewhere comfortable and read books. And here I am, doing just that. Pretty freaking amazing.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chaos reigns!

Every time I work through one step in my semester prep, I uncover a problem with the assignment flow or how and where I've expressed things, or something else I need to rework for whatever reason. And as I started putting things up on Blackboard, very confident that I knew what I was doing, I uncovered some problems there--among them the fact that the order of discussion board threads doesn't stay put but changes every time I add something new. On Friday I sent an e-mail to the IT folks, asking if someone would be willing to help me get everything rolled over and up and ready--whatever the various steps are called--and now I think I'm going to need several steps of assistance.

I am in one of my manic states, in which I think, "I can keep going!"--but I know that the return on investment is starting to decline: it's like when I've tried to pay bills when I was distracted by something else and have made howling errors (like writing the check for the balance that's left in my account after subtracting the check amount instead of for the actual check amount). (It's complicated. Don't ask me to explain.)

And the area around my computer in my apartment is starting to look a lot like my office, with steaming piles of who the hell knows what strewn liberally all over the place.

Still, I do think progress is being made.

By someone. Somewhere.

I'm going to take a few minutes to at least make an attempt at some kind of triage on the swirl of papers all around me, but then I'm hanging it up for today. It's a coin toss whether I'll be a good girl and go out for a walk or collapse on the couch--to read possible books for the SF class. I assume I am going to teach the SF class. William and I agreed to wait until Aug. 17 to make a decision about the MDC course, but it's looking like that one just isn't going to fly. And I created a super nifty flier and everything. Ah well. I'll be happy to teach SF after all these years--or I think I will be. I understand from a colleague that the students will be Star Trek geeks of the highest order--not that there's anything wrong with that--but I think I'll find it easier to strike the balance between "this is fun stuff to read" and "we are scholars and have to think like that" for the SF class than I do for Mystery & Detective--over which I continue to fret (and about which I have adopted the Scarlett O'Hara mantra of putting off thinking about it until I'm stronger).

OK, stopping now, or I'll still be blathering come midnight.