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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Too Tired to Tango

I was a very good girl and got to bed at a reasonable hour last night, only to be awakened in the early morning by an incipient migraine. I took my pills, fell back to sleep for an hour--at which point the caffeine in the meds kicked in and woke me up: it was 5 a.m., and the alarm was set for 6:30. I think I drifted off to sleep again at 6:25... or at least that's how it felt. So I've been pretty crunchy today.

Fortunately, it was not only a short and relatively easy day but a good one. The seminar hours workshop on electronic record keeping actually turned out to be very important--not only because there were some specifics that had not been sufficiently pointed to as crucial in the process but also because people had a lot of very good questions, from the pragmatic to the political, about how the new process of working with our own students--or sending them to someone we know and trust--would play out. So my apologies for any snarkiness I evidenced in yesterday's post about how unnecessary the workshops were.

Further, Scott suggested a solution to a problem I am facing, about how to adequately track hours in the weeks when I'm engaged in mandatory conferencing with my students. Another faculty member wants to do the same thing, and Scott had a suggestion that seems a lot more useful than the solution my colleagues in the Writing Center and I worked out--as long as it doesn't require a ridiculous amount of work on the part of the people who have administrative access to the grids. I've sent an e-mail about that to the WC colleagues; I'm trying very hard not to involve our one remaining administrative assistant in the office. She's wonderful, but she's trying to do the work of three people (the other two have retired because they were experiencing such profound health problems; it's very sad to see them go, but I'm glad they are able to take care of themselves). Her work load is so ridiculous that Bruce has closed the office for any important business in the middle of the day. The office aides will be there to clear paper jams and that sort of thing, but Lori will be buried in work--and I really do not want to add to her burden because I want to do my thing my way.

So, we'll see what happens with all that.

Class was great. The students were very actively engaged in their group discussions--and as far as I could tell, they were right on task. The class discussion was also good, though there's one over-eager student whom I will have to squelch. (Quick! Someone get the burlap bag!) They're already focusing on good points, good issues to explore, and the starry-eyed romantic in me is telling the cynic that they really have found those points on their own, not by using online study guides. (Full disclosure: one of the reasons why I teach the Le Guin texts is that there are fewer cheat sites available, or at least they're harder to find.) One student is already headed for a crash: he's come to class twice without his work. I let it go on Tuesday, and I didn't catch it today--but if he's there next Tuesday without his work, he will be cordially invited to leave. Ditto students on cell phones: I didn't interrupt myself to toss anyone today (and there was only one obvious offender--and he'd made some good contributions, so I kinda let it slide), but Tuesday, the gloves come off.

In fact, I'll start the class with an announcement to that effect. That's a buzz-kill, I know, but it needs to be done. Wheat from the chaff, and all that.

The best part of class, however, was after class. One student who had said in the groups that he'd gotten absolutely nothing from the reading stayed after; he made one wonderful contribution to the class discussion--he's plenty bright--but he frankly admitted that, as a person with a strong right-brain, scientific bent, he tended to read fiction and simply think, "It's the way it is because that's what the author decided; the protagonist does as he/she does because otherwise there wouldn't be a story." So we talked for a good while after class about how he can adjust his thinking so it works. It took a little while--me lobbing questions at him, which he would first answer in the sort of "it is what it is" way but then answer much more insightfully--but finally he came up with some analogies between literary analysis and scientific experimentation that worked for him, and I thought they were actually pretty brilliant. I told him the kind of work that literature requires may never come naturally to him, but he can learn it--and he showed me that he can just in our 20 minute talk after class.

Part of what he got to was that the "why" questions--why does Victor do X, why does X happen--are not the question that we're trying to identify: they're the questions that lead to the question posed by the work itself. He got there because he said something about how science isn't unnatural--as humans are "natural," our brains are organic/natural organs, so whatever we do is "natural" (a point made by Neil Evernden, in The Social Creation of Nature, a work I relied on heavily in doing my dissertation)--and I said, "Right. So the question is, if science itself isn't the problem, what is? Is it how people use science? Are people the problem?" And he started arguing both sides of the question, thinking through how he could create an argument, which led him to the kinds of questions he'd need to ask of the "data set" of the text....

I was truly excited by what he was coming up with. He found a way to understand not only what he has to do but how to do it, and what he was saying was really super smart. If he can translate all that into written language, he's going to be a treat to work with. He's very articulate, clearly firing on all cylinders, so I'm jazzed about the prospect of him in the class.

Happy, contented sigh.

So, I came back to the office to organize and cross some little bits off the "to do" list, such as putting in my AV requests. However, in that process, I had to issue two "oops! my bad" e-mails, one saying I did not need to show a DVD on the day in question (though that's what I'd requested), one saying oh, wait, yes I DO, in fact, need to show a DVD on that particular date. At about that time, I figured it was time to put down my pen (metaphorically speaking) and walk away from the work--or at least that kind of work. I did find out about a few references in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (notably that the phrase "the tyranny of objects" is not just the name of a band--a band I'd never heard of until I did the Google search and turned up mostly references to it--but in fact comes from Adventures in Immediate Irreality, by Max Blecher--something Paul certainly knew when he wrote his grad paper about Blade Runner), but that pretty much wrapped up the work for today.

For this week, in fact. I'm trusting (I hope not in vain) that I will have time on Monday to mark what I've collected from the SF students, so I have it ready to return to them on Tuesday. I'm a little nervous about that: I have quite a bit to get through (big class, two assignments, though not everyone has turned everything in). But I really do have to get it done on Monday--or get up insanely early on Tuesday (or skip the first department meeting of the year, which I can't really do, as I have to act as Bruce's memory for part of it). Otherwise, once I collect first assignments from the 102s, I'll be beyond swamped. As it is, I'm  not sure how I'll mark everything for all three classes and get it back in a timely fashion--but this is the fun stuff I get to figure out as the semester progresses. And if I can chase a few students out in these first few weeks--before their first essays are due--that will be great.

One way or another, it will all get done. It always does.

And now I truly am stick-a-fork-in-me done. Poor Paul is still in meetings--normally he'd be getting home to Massachusetts by now--and I'd love to see him, but I'm going to take myself out for a nice dinner and a stiff drink. It's not the first full week yet--that's next week--but I'm getting into the swing of it now, and that's worth celebrating. I suppose.

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