Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Class themes and book lists: switch them up or keep them the same?

This semester I have been Having Ideas. I have started to read enough interesting articles and news snippets that I have started a file on my desktop and in my Firefox bookmarks, and this is a clear sin that these Ideas are coming to a head. Usually, when something has been happening and I want to talk about it with people, I force my freshman comp students to read and write about it. I did a little around the Arab Spring a while ago, but was living in a pretty isolated place where getting them to think and care about other countries was difficult. But this year I am interested in two ideas: Transportation of the Future, and Surveillance. I could pick one of them and shape a course around the Idea.

Generally I like to start out very simple and concrete and we practice making little easy claims and arguments. My first theme clearly stems from my interest in choosing a new car at some point in the near future, and of course you can have a lot of fun writing essays about the various aspects of car culture and how people customize their cars to send meaningful messages about themselves. But this quickly spirals out into other important questions ---- should we really be spending so much of our money on personal transportation? What about the upcoming crisis with peak oil and environmental issues? Why not walking or bicycling? Car sharing? What about how our cities and suburbs are laid out ---- why are they laid out that way? How are we allocating money and should we divide it up for our current priorities ... for example, why is The Hot Place not putting much money into public transportation and infrastructure and funding? Should they put their money into public transit, or into making private transit more convenient?

By the end of the semester, students could spiral out into research projects on any number of topics related to just about anything on transportation, transportation technology, infrastructure, or even the cultural implications of these changes. I foresee this being more easily appealing to the males in the class, but since I have been doing pop culture from a very heavily fashion perspective I am ok with it.

The second Idea, of course, is a bit darker and more threatening. We could start very simply, with the idea of "creeping on" someone. I will leave aside for a moment how this bit of slang completely offends my ear and my understanding of prepositions. As my students have explained it to me, creepin on people involves checking out everything someone does on facebook, trawling back through years of their past posts and pictures, and even obsessively checking when that person is online. It opens up all sorts of interesting discussions about gossip and how their social media changes their friendships and love relationships and casual acquaintances that they may want to see succeed or fail. But who else is monitoring us, and what are they doing with this information? I don't want to just talk about Wikileaks and Snowden and Big Data, but also this disturbing trend toward self-surveillance that I find creepy and Foucauldian. Besides the FitBit and sleep devices that will constantly monitor your "performance" in terms of steps and heart rate and breathing and sleep patterns, I just found this at my local pet store:

Sort of like the nanny-cams hidden in stuffed animals I have seen for sale, this allows you to track everything your pet is doing, monitor its vital signs, and "see through the pet's eyes" so to speak if you switch over to pics or video. We seem to not only be completely reimagining the concept of privacy but the very notion of separateness. And not simply being tracked and assessed and categorized through intrusive technology everywhere we go, but we are apparently imposing it upon ourselves. The apps and "wearables" that allow you to hyper-intensively track your own productivity and efficiency of exercise, digestion, and sleep are particularly troubling when considered in light of Foucault's microphysics of control, that grid or webbing he hypothesized would form an ever-tightening mesh around us.

So, as you can see, I find both of these topics interesting and complex enough to build out an entire course around them. But I don't have readers, and I need to turn in book orders very very soon. I haven't gone through the process of making my own reader here yet, and I think those course packets are also due now, but I don't have the time to compile them or the strength of will to commit to one reading over another at the moment. (Decisions are always the toughest for me! Both/and, please!)

Hence my inclination to put this off and re-use the current reader/photocopies for the next year while I figure out how to teach the below transfer writing class (I have that in the fall and have never taught it before. It is part of my Special Program and it has a special theme. One very good sign that I am not cut out for this Special Program is that I should be re-designing all of my courses to match its theme; many people have proposed that as a good idea, and I am hesitant to do it, especially when Pop Culture and Surveillance and Transportation Futures are so fun.)

I have already bitten the bullet (it was tough for me) and decided (see?) not to change anything yet with my Comp/Intro to Lit course, and to stick with the same anthology and novel. I put in the book order today, yay!

Do you, oh wise internets, have a suggestion one way or another whether I change my freshman comp class readings? And what would you suggest for a book (and an anthology, and a "how to write essays" book, for a one-level-below-transfer writing class? And any guidelines on how much reading and writing to assign?)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tell me: what is service?

Things are going pretty well here in The Hot Place, as long as you ignore the fact that I am super behind in grading everything and have gone into denial and just simply stopped doing work today. And that I am counting down the hours until spring break. Really, I think I am at a normal level of tiredness for the semester, and I am in a good mood overall, so it seems to be standard levels of stress.

Anyway, one of the things I like about this place is that I have been protected from service this first year, which is very very nice, especially since I have been spending all my time figuring out where on campus I get food and how to set up lib sessions and all that good stuff.

Also: book orders! Crap! (Do I switch out my texts or not next fall? Decisions! Expect another post soon. Why are they due so early anyway? Argh. Ok. To return:)

So at my tenure review meeting (where they said they were happy with what I have been doing and were glad to recommend me for another year, yay!), they mentioned I should start thinking about what committees I should get on for service next year. I am still so fuzzy on what they do and how many are required per year and all that stuff.

Also, this place is The Land of the Acronym (TLotA --- I think it is Nahuatl). We have our fair share of bureaucraticisms (though not PIE) and the accreditation report we just got back is studded with them, so a major side project of mine has been to figure them out and learn them. I am doing a terrible job remembering them from one occurrence to the next. People start talking about the committees and all their various acronyms and my head starts swimming.

So, when they said to figure out about committee work my heart kinda sank. The good news is that, since this is a community college, I don't have to do any research at all. I say good news, because I don't have the time or energy to do that, for sure. But it is also a little sad because I love doing research and I think I would like that better than doing service. Alas.

My observing committee is a snarky and sarcastic one. I don't know all these people all that well, but they seem like good people. When they mentioned committee work ("but not X committee ---- we already have 4 English department people on that committee and we don't need that level of coverage"), someone immediately said, "OOh, yeah, Y committee, put her on that. THAT would be fun. Not." (I immediately committed to memory that committee name and vowed to never go near it.) "What about Z committee; that one never meets any more; less work," another person piped up. Everyone laughed for each comment. "What about the Committee to Decide the Fate of the Dead Historic Tree?" asked yet another person. "That is temporary, small, short-term, and a good task to get one's feet wet." We immediately became side-tracked by trees and it turned out that the decision has pretty much been made (and they rejected out of hand both my suggestion to replace it with a coffee bar and a taco truck (I got votes from first, sarcastic colleague though) and I believe it is going to be part of an art contest with the students. Alas, no carnitas for us.)

Finally we got back on topic. "Didn't the nomination period for at large reps just close? That would be a good starting committee, and would mean she didn't have to write reports."

So I am putting my name in for that committee, and worrying and wondering about how many other committees I have to be on and when I will learn what those requirements are. Any advice is appreciated!  I know that starting next year I have to help do class observations of the adjuncts; we have a lot of them. Sigh. Guilt. Awkward. That will be fun. Not.

Stay tuned and watch me dither about while planning my book orders for fall, and hear about the other part of my job I was hired for but have not actually begun yet, the Special Project In Training. Except for the minor part where I am not trained licensed or experienced with SPIT in any way. This should be --- interesting. Possibly in that slow-motion car wreck sort of way.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What IS this ridiculousness?

I have spent far too long looking at shower curtains online. And any amount of time looking that does not result in a purchase and getting the damn business over with is too much.

Now I remember why I have had my shower curtain for about 10 years: every time I clean the bathroom and I think to myself, "Self, that shower curtain is on its last legs, what with the hem fraying and the pulling away from the grommets and the bits in the middle that are wearing away." And then I go look around and discover that my motherfucking options are nasty offgassing vinyl curtains or fabric curtains* with a stupid fiddly liner and you end up getting water all around anyway and having to hand bleach the fucking liner out in the yard. Seriously? Argh! Then I stop thinking about it until another grommet has started to pull free from my curtain.

See, my current shower curtain is ripstop nylon sailcloth, bought at Macy's or somewhere when nautical themes were in, and it is fabric but still completely waterproof. And machine washable, so I can just toss it in the wash regularly. I thought about trying to reproduce it on my own last time and even looked up the fabric to see if it would be at the fabric store, but between having to learn to grommet things and the colors only coming in hunter green and black, I gave up and didn't think about it any more.

Maybe I should just give it up and buy a stupid liner. Argh. Hotels have shower curtains without liners these days; why aren't there any of these for sale in nice colors and patterns?

I was mildly interested in this and in this; these are roughly my style. Of course, I have snazzy black-and-white chevron towels from Target that I don't need to replace yet, but I could just clash.

I also offer you this and you should go look at it.




Did you go look at it? OMFG there is an entire set! You could cover your entire damn bathroom in it and if people asked me if you were crazy, I could say, "does a bear shit in the woods?"

*Don't get me started on the damn RUFFLE shower curtains! Who needs a shower curtain that looks like the little girl underwear you put on the kids in tap class?

Friday, April 4, 2014

A "find" while bathroom shopping

I am spending my evening relaxing with wine and doing some online window shopping ---- my drab bathroom is completely undecorated and I'd love to add some color. Alas, the trend right now is for everything to be drab and "sophisticated" spa-style, so all the toothbrush holders and trash bins are blah and neutral or metal.

Maybe etsy will have colorful stuff, I think. And then I think, I wonder if I could replace my shower curtain on that site?

While looking about over there, I found this.

I don't know what to say.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Location, location, location

So yesterday I actually went and looked at the cute house --- the outside and neighborhood --- and then took a long walk around the neighborhood until it started raining.

Sigh. The pictures of the inside look gorgeous --- a lot of the original vintage trim (check out the art deco black and teal porcelain tiling on the fireplace!) and built-ins still intact, the hardwood floors, and a realtor note that the entire wiring and plumbing systems had been redone since the last time it was sold (nice!) and the back yard is nice and sizeable for this neighborhood. I love the neighborhood, as it is an old working-class neighborhood built in the 20s/30s back when everything was designed to be walkable or busable and on a nice small scale.

But it is also a very transitional neighborhood, to use a word people often employ when talking about living in the multi-million dollar condos in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Two streets over starts the downtown, and one street over all the old historic houses have been repurposed as law and dr offices. This is the first street starting the housing part of the neighborhood, and I wish all the people on the left side, with their beautiful restored houses and nice yards, good luck. The other side of the street has even tinier shacks, worth way less than the left side, according to zillow.

So I walked here and there and all about and was just really sad and regretful on the second or third pass by the house, when I came across a bunch of homeless people on bicycles smoking meth on the corner cattycorner to the house. (Side note: what is it with the homeless users and bicycles in this town? It is all of them. It appears to be A Thing, like how in LA everyone with a serious mental illness must be pushing a loaded-up shopping cart, as if by law. Strange.)

Also sad is how large numbers of the old houses have been torn down and replaced by small to medium apartment buildings from the ugly 60s era when everything was super boxy and ugly. And crowded. I ran into a lot of people outside doing their thing because there is no room inside the apartments, including playing music inside the building so they could hear it outside the building while working on their car etc. Hmm. As I walked back and up through the neighborhood I got further away from the apartment blocks and the streets seemed to be more single-family, owned by the occupants, type places. The houses spread out a bit and had more landscaped yards. The houses looked restored or very well kept, and were a riot of styles --- some craftsmen, some bungalows, some of those pointy gothic revival Tudor guys, some of the "California modern" and Spanish revival stuff from the 20s that I love, and the cars parked in the driveways went up in cost too.

Yes, I'm being totally classist. House-buying is a classist thing, and I'd want neighbors with a similar class outlook as immediate neighbors. Part of this I blame on living where huge gentrification took place and owning a teeny restored old house like these meant that you were a hipster wealthy professional, not a working-class person with no education. That does go against the spirit of these turn-of-the-century neighborhoods, I know.

Thing is, none of the houses in that area of the neighborhood appear to be changing hands. Probably a good thing for the neighborhood, but that might mean sitting around and waiting like 10 years to get a chance to move in.

Anyway, all of this tells me that buying anywhere near the downtown is a minefield and a very delicate matter. But there is a fairly decent house for rent in the area. I have til August or so on my lease, and if anything like that place is open then I'll think about moving and renting there. I have the feeling that I'm gonna want to walk around there extensively, really know every inch of the area and the neighbors before I make any sort of commitment.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dammit, I found a cute house

Remind me not to look at zillow listings as a way of procrastinating!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More house and apartment thinking

Ok, I have a huuuuuge pile of essays to grade. Therefore the last thing I want to do is grade essays. I am watching the rain and awaiting the arrival of a predicted thunderstorm, because I miss thunderstorms, especially on days when I don't have to get dressed and be anywhere.

On favorite way of procrastinating is research/pre-planning my various plans; in this case it means looking up and drooling over a zillion different ways I could spend my soon-to-be-here money. (I have, of course, spent all my current money on credit card bills.) One added benefit to this procrastinatory, hyper-over-planning, is that if I get totally sucked up into the researching of something, I put off buying it. I think I have not bought any nonessential purchases this month, leaving more for paying off those damn bills. This is especially good because I have been looking at things like cars and houses and probably wouldn't want to get both of those in a single month.

But also I have been looking at electric cars and hybrids of a more affordable variety and had the thought to check on rental law, and it seems like it is very difficult to rent or have a condo and get permission to charge a car/put in a charging station. The law has been on the side of the complexes thus far. Hmph. Sounds like you need to own a house to own a hybrid or electric. Grumble.

But on the other hand, I'm not sure I want a house here. Is it because of the news article where someone got shot in the face while using one of our walking trails? No, that's not even the bad story that would make us recognizable. Is it because of the dude who burned down a local hotel trying to make meth? Nope, that's not newsworthy compared to some of the other explosions we have had around here. The guy who sawed his parents into little bits? This is why I won't have children. (Also, not the worst story I could list from here.) Is it the number of break-ins and tweakers using on the streets openly near downtown? Actually, the article that really put me off was one lauding the great buyer's market around here, with lots of quotes and examples of people trying for multiple years to unload their homes with no offers. The comments on that article were really disheartening, as everybody and their brother who had moved away for a job chimed in to talk about how tough it was to sell, and how much hassle it was to rent out their old place with enough money to cover the mortgage.

On the other hand, that gives me an idea ---- maybe I could rent a house, instead of an apartment. Hmm. If I get me a used bike, or even a kayak, as I have been wanting one of those too, I don't have any place to store it* here at the apartment complex, and renting a house might have that space. On the other other hand, they don't put houses on the second floor (I was told it was harder/more work to break in to upper story apartments). My lease will be up in August, but really I have no clue what I should do. Other than go kayaking and biking as soon as it stops raining. But renting a bike or a kayak very quickly costs more than buying one. But then again, so does renting a house, I guess. But owning a house that you can never ever manage to sell again means that you can't ever move, and I'm not sure I want to commit to that.

I dunno. Maybe I should just buy chocolate. But not grade essays ---- that is never the right answer to rent vs buy.

*I am also researching trailers and roof racks because if I get a bike or kayak or something I will want to transport it places, and probably my current car will not work well for that. So you can see, the question of getting any of these little things means I need to think about big purchases like my car and some form of safe storage, so all of these decisions are all bound up in each other!