Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stop and Smell the Flowers

So, did I get my nose back to the grindstone and work diligently at my dissertation in the remainder of this week? No, I did not! Instead, we went out to see the wildflowers, as it is wildflower blooming season. (and horrible allergy season, at home, but that’s another post.)

I had read some reviews of how amazing and beautiful the wildflowers are in March and April, so I did extensive research on the web and planned up a little trip. The first problem was that the famous areas all got burned up in a wildfire, and those trails and camping places have been closed indefinitely and are desolate heaps of ashes, anyway, but we managed to find a scenic road and drive up it. Much more my lazy style than hiking all that way!

I drove up through the wine country, around and over the side of the wine country, along a valley, and then through a cute little touristy town that Dissertation Buddy had been wine tasting in frequently and promised she’d show me the place. Then we drove out to the mountain.

Of course, I forgot my camera, so I’ll have to describe all the wonderfulness. But I got my idea for the route from this site documenting this guy’s bike ride (Lance Armstrong uses this path to train in the winter months, so hell no I am not biking up this mountain!). Right outside the town it was all soft and green, and the road quickly narrowed until it was barely wider than our car. It climbed so steadily that I worried I might get tired, pushing on the gas, and have the car slide backward if I were to ease off the pedal. There were lots of crazy-tilted switchbacks which we mounted ever higher, and lots of blind turns in and out of the hills where I thought we’d be annihilated by fat SUVs barreling back down the mountain (assholes!). There were, indeed, some intrepid cyclists kitted out in full spandex glory. We passed them as if they were stopped, they were pedaling so hard and moving so slowly. I felt sympathy for them, especially every time I hit a blind curve and nearly ran into some.

I was only doing 20 or so as we ambled through rolling green fields, then green fields with uninquisitive cows, then the beautiful mountain turns and switchbacks. The grass was long in places and rippled like the surface of a lake. In others, the ground cover was scrubby and patchy --- there were agaves and other cacti in places, and the earth was reddish, rocky, and extremely dry. My familiar California habitat! In places the hills/mountains were broken by striations of rocks pushing up out of the earth --- serpentine, which glimmers in the sun, and copper, mostly.

And as we’d come around one bend or another, sometimes dangerously close to the edge of the road where it crumbled off into nothingness, we’d gasp at the absolute beauty of the view below --- glimpses of the lake in the bottom of the valley, dense forests of pines and evergreens, fields of scattered oaks both sturdy and the cool twisty-gnarley kind, and an amazing shade of blue sky.

It was a wonderful drive, and sometimes we’d even see a lupine or a poppy plant. “Ooh!” we’d say, “Look! Wildflowers!” But in truth, inside I was a little, “eh? the newspaper pics had carpets of these flowers stretching everywhere you could see!” It was a gorgeous trip anyway, but I was feeling a bit misled. When we stopped at a scenic view turn off, another car with an elderly couple stopped and got out with their dog. The woman asked if we had seen any wildflowers and she had the same basic complaint as I did. So I felt a bit vindicated, although Dissertation Buddy tried to get me to close the conversation. Her friend is going blind and she was of the opinion that telling them we had seen more (or any) wildflowers would make them really upset and remind them of their fading eyesight. I’m of the opinion that people with fading eyesight should not be driving on hairpin turns through the mountains. But anyway.

We got back in the car and continued. A mere fifteen (a beautiful fifteen) minutes later, we passed a steep hillside that was literally blanketed in wildflowers. It was gorgeous, and like an optical illusion: as we approached it, it looked like a carpet of orange --- California poppies. As we passed it, noting another scenic turnout for us up ahead, the colors changed and it became a magnificent blue-purple as the lupine became visible. Ahhhhh!

(I hope the grumpy elderly couple continued on, because, yes, there was one carpet of wildflowers and it should have satisfied even her.)

There were a couple people there enjoying the flowers when we got out. We parked under a pine ---- sugar pine, I think ---- and the place was quiet except for distant birds and the squeak of pine needles under our feet. I breathed in deeply the spicy tree smell (like cinnamon and vanilla and sap), the gentle breeze, the dryness of the dirt; this is what I associate with California and camping. Dissertation Buddy loves the coast and Big Sur but I grew up camping in the valleys and not in places full of salty air and fog. This was familiar: chaparral, forest, the West.

We crossed the road to the flowers. The lupine smelt amazing, like blueberries. The bright petals of the poppies were as fragile as a butterfly’s wing. Dissertation Buddy was so taken with it all that she tried to use her cell phone camera to capture some of the view. It was peaceful, even with some other tourists around. Fat bees buzzed everywhere and gnats chewed on my shins, but I didn’t care. It was one of those perfect California days where it’s too chilly whenever the breeze blows and too hot whenever it stops. (Perfect if you’re hiking, that is.)

Eventually we got back in the car and headed ever upward, the views becoming downright spectacular as we wove in and out of the mountaintops. We weren’t sure if we could go to the very top, as some of the campsites here were closed by the fires as well, so we kept our eyes peeled for a good spot with a view in preparation of a picnic.

If you know me you know that I always prioritize food and that food must come everywhere with me. So of course we had planned picnicings. We had bread and cheese and salami and a really tasty chickpea/tabbouli salad thing DB had made and added all sorts of interesting nuts and seeds to. Mmm! We lounged around and looked at the view and talked about all the different places we needed to go camping before we left California. (for it’s just a matter of time, right? I’m sure my one job offer will be from rural North- Southeast Arkansas Technical College and I’ve just got to make peace with that now. But it will be hard to leave all this.)

I was a bit worried when I remembered my usual response to eating a large meal is to immediately fall asleep, which bodes ill for driving, but I managed to get us back down the mountain just fine and it was even prettier the other way. If that’s possible.

We drove back through the town and stopped off at some lavender farms. They were disappointing as they weren’t really growing. No blooms ---- just some small sad-looking green lumps. Tsk. It seems odd that they wouldn’t be growing when now is declared the flower blooming season, but evidently they don’t follow the California wildflower schedule. DB said she knew some of the nicer wineries were outside town --- less pricey, less pretentious. So we drove around and got lost for a long time and then just picked a random winery, which may have been the one she was thinking of and she had misremembered the name.

Have you all seen Sideways? I haven’t, but I guess it’s set somewhere around here, roughly, and the LA Times had an article about how, since the latest thing has been to charter a bus up from LA with a bachelorette party or otherwise loud and rude and crude mob that does not understand the intricacies of high-class wine tasting, the prices of everything are going up.

Luckily, it wasn’t too bad where we stopped. I really liked the first thing we tasted --- a Sauvignon Blanc --- nicknamed “sunshine in a bottle!” It was good. The rest ranged from “meh” to a really weird metallic strong taste, that DB said was tannins. I didn’t like those. DB, being a veteran wine taster and grad student extraordinaire, cadged tastings for us of their pinot and all the other wines they make but didn’t include in the price of our tasting. Atta girl! Still, I liked the first one best. She raved about the pinot and we proceeded to have an argument about pinots because she is my only source of wine knowledge, and has either told me something wrong or is changing definitions and information on me when I’m not looking, which is not fair.

Anyway, pounding a bunch of wine and having an argument is a sure sign that we should hang around a while until I was good to drive back, so we went into the garden out back and then wandered all over someone else’s property next door, talking and being silly. Luckily, no one had any problems with this. We chased some baby goats, because they are cute. And we saw a hawk just hanging in an updraft, looking out at the expanse below him, and we were jealous. It was still a beautiful day, although the wind was picking up and getting chilly. After a long talk about nothing in particular we got back in the car at last, and drove drove drove back towards home. We were quiet most of the way back, tired out I guess.

I’m so glad I went, even if I really should have worked on the diss. I wish I had time and money to do more of these types of things. In any case, I need to promise myself that I get out and do this more often, and not lock myself up in my apartment avoiding both my dissertation and the outside world.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Belling the Cat

Belling the cat my ass; it should be pilling the cat. I've just found my little troublemaker's secret stash of drugs, and unfortunately for me, he's not stockpiling them to take them. All those claw marks on my leg and this probably means I'll have to go back to the vet for more ---- more expenditures, more frustration and pain, more chasing a little black blur around the apartment for another week. Great.

So it appears that my cats are smarter than me; why am I not making them write the dissertation for me then? Oh wait, I think I've answered my own question. Little bastards.

On the other hand, I bet my cats are more of the lab scientist types than lit scholars, anyway. If I let them loose on my chapter they'd probably produce a study of the relative fascination indexes of various bugs, the Realism Mouse, toilet paper, and the laser pointer. ("Fascination increases as wiggliness (W) approaches infinity, while decreasing in inverse proportion to stinkiness (S)...") The most I've ever gotten them to do on the humanities side was to put their pointy little teeth marks all over a draft that was conveniently hanging off the table edge (obviously they were making a sly reference to Distinction: Critique of the Judgement of Taste).

On the other hand, tonight they were licking this one library book and knocked the whole stack over, making a huge mess and scaring the bejeezus out of me, so perhaps there is a future for them in textual analysis yet. I don't know what was on that book, but I had to hide it in the closet eventually. Thinking on it, that was a bad idea, because that's where I keep their food and now they know that this book must be wonderful and edible. I'm going to have them meowing and leaping on me like when I bring out the treats when next I go to take some notes.

Here's my little Watson and Crick (Laurel and Hardy?), conducting tests with the now retired and obsolete Purple Mouse.

Why Timido always looks so startled in pictures, I don't know. He actually has other expressions. It was a guilty look as he wriggled out of my arms and the blanket that tipped me off he thought he was getting away with something --- and yes, he was stashing his pills. You can't hide from me forever; I have nieces and nephews --- I know that look!

But even when they torment me and claw me and annoy me and mug for my attention, I'm still captivated by how damn cute they are. How the hell do they manage to do that?

Now that would be a worthy experiment for the scientists.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Random Bullets of Spring Break

Hello all, welcome to spring break! How much dissertation work has this cog done? Absolutely none! That makes it a little over a week since I have even touched it. On the bright side, I have finished and uploaded all my grades. Well then, what have I been doing, if not what I'm supposed to be doing?

---- I invited people over for a delicious meal cooked from scratch which involved almost every dish and pan I own (not hard, actually) and which we luxuriated over with the accompaniment of large quantities of wine,

---- The next day I alternated between lazing around, half-heartedly doing the resulting mountain of dishes, and interspersing these activities with copious amounts of internet time-wasting,

---- Then I invited more people over, who had a movie they wanted me to see, and offered to serve them all the leftovers from the previous night. A brilliant idea ---- I spent another half hour washing dishes and then had lots of fun totally impressing people with stuff I hadn't even cooked that day. And, I have only a little bit of leftovers rather than an overload to look forward to in the coming week,

---- I spent quality time outdoors, on the beach (it's beautiful weather out these days, not to inspire envy in anyone, but it's true),

---- Entertained los gatitos with much play and spoiling, first with a spare toy donated by friends. Length of time before the tail was gnawed off: 5 minutes. Length of time before the body was chewed apart (see pic to left): another 10 minutes, spread out over a couple days because I got wise to the fact it had elastic string and I was locking it away when I went to bed.

Post-Purple Mouse, I obtained Realism Mouse, which was made of leather bits and what seems like fur. That caused hissing and fighting and I had to throw the carcass straight away after five minutes --- it didn't even make it to the Drawer of Forbidden Toys.

After Realism Mouse I got new batteries for the laser pointer and also saw, at last, a "chew toy" designed for cats. I got two this time. I suppose I could take a picture of them too, but I won't bother. So far they have lasted well and are quite the hit. They make a squeaky snapping sound when they are chewed on hard, but are relatively indestructible so far. They are wrapped with a latticework of nylon and then fabric and then have catnip stalks in the center. I fully expect my little troublemakers to put on weight, saying "Duuuude" a lot and veg out on the couch with the remote now. Just as well --- the little fuckers weren't getting anywhere with my dissertation or my grading.

---- Went over to another friend's and was fed delicious homemade soup from scratch. Ooo! And a custard (meh. --- I'm not so fond of mushy foods.) I'm feeling enjoyably connected back into the gossip of the department, though I fear I have but scratched the surface.

---- Oh, and I tried Pilates for the first time ever ---- aigh! Shit! What muscles! I had no clue I could hurt in such places. We'll see if I can get back into some sort of exercise habit ---- even though it's warmer, I'm just not able to work up the effort to go swimming. Besides, despite Pilates being the absolute embodiment of everything that fucking pisses me off about California, I'm very tempted ---- they had me at "makes you seem taller."

---- And today, when I was supposed to be getting back into the work groove and getting tons of shit done before starting a new quarter and a new load of teaching, I abruptly decided, screw it, and went out shopping. For some reason I bought a lot of skirts and dresses, as if I wanted to become the Girliest Girl Ever. These dresses have some serious foof, although they are not full-on ruffle-butt kiddie dresses. Nor are they the skanky style that pairs so well with ugg boots after the manner of my students. And, really, considering I so rarely make the effort to dress nice and shave and coordinate and sit on chairs like a lady rather than sprawl with one leg up in an ungainly position, I don't know what came over me with the foofy dresses. I guess it's spring.

Unfortunately, I went back to a store fully planning to try on and shell out for this one dress I saw last week in their display window, only to be denied. I was thinking this would be an awesome graduation dress, considering that people are insisting I wear something underneath the robes, but there was no large and the medium did not zip up. Sigh.There were other problems with the fit too, but the dress had such style! See for yourself:

Yeah, I know: bra strap. And a really strange fit with the cleavage that doesn't work. The light in the dressing room was dim, so you're not getting how electric neon hideous that orange and yellow and green truly are. But they are indeed wonderful. So loud. Sigh.

The skirt is, indeed, only mildly foofy. It could use a, whatever it is, a petticoat or something. Not sure I'd put that much effort into getting dressed in any such way, but perhaps I would if the dress actually fit. Ah well.

So that's what I've been up to ---- I should post some cat pictures for your further enjoyment and edification, but perhaps later. Tomorrow is another day. Oh yeah, tomorrow ---- I guess I should deal with my final chapter tomorrow, huh?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thanks for the Meme-ories

Dr. Crazy, and I believe other people as well, have tagged me for a meme ---- the assignment is to write one's memoir in six words. Now, I know I haven't really done much (see The Way of the Couch), but really, only six words? That's more of a character sketch than a developed life story. (But then again, I hate memoirs and autobiographies in general --- they fail to live up to my sense of a well-plotted novel or five-act play. But I digress.)

What follows are the rules, but I'm going to break them, naturally.


1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4 Tag five more blogs with links

5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Of course, you realize, this means war!

Because I am never so ridiculous and foolish as when I am angry. While I wish I were the rabbit in this scenario, I'm more often the duck, shooting off my own nose to spite someone else's face.

And if I were going to make up a six-word mantra or slogan for myself, it would have to be Daffy's
"Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Hoo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!".

Now everybody go meme yourselves.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In the Pipeline Part II: When the Plumbing is Clogged

Long long ago, I asked if it was better to go on the market while ABD, in a "trial run," or deal with finishing the dissertation first and have a gap year while going on the market (for me, the "gap year" is much more about "how will I eat and pay the rent" and much less worry about gaps opening up on my CV).

Having survived two job market attempts now, it is clear to me that the answer is "PUBLICATIONS!!!!! PUBLICAAAAAAAAAATIONS!!!!!! Publications You Motherfucker! We Rejected Candidates Who Had Published Entire BOOKS As Not Worthy To Even Wipe Our Feet and We Should Charge YOU For Forcing Us to Look At Your Sniveling Job Materials You SCUM, UNPUBLISHED SCUM I SAY!!!!!!!"

And those were just the ones kind enough to send the Please Fuck Off letters. Most schools seem to think that acknowledging failed job applicants will make them ritually unclean, as if our unworthiness will rub off on their schools and make them drop a level in the US News and World Report Rankings.

So, Ok ---- after going off and crying in a corner for a while I went back to the twin tasks of working on my dissertation and getting stuff out to publishers. (Don't even get me started on how my department assumes we will finish the whole program, including the dissertation, and graduate in four years, teaching the whole time, including getting trained in comp and then moving back to Eng after a year, with no summer support and almost no help or advice on publishing or even time to wedge in some work on publishing --- but anyway.) In fact, you may remember that after Mostly Disastrous Job Market Year #1 I got right down to work on a chapter and three articles (one of which got rejected and I scrapped), and I sent out finished manuscripts into the publication pipeline last summer. (Then I went out on Truly Disastrous Job Market Year #2. But we won't talk about that now.)

The problem now is that those pipelines appear to be clogged.

I mused about this a little last year when I compared the constant process of having ideas and writing them up and sending them out and getting them back to either juggling or pinball. I understood, at least I thought so at the time, that the whole publishing process was another of these aspects of being a professor where you need to be incredibly self-directed and able to think ahead and organize long periods of time, being able to shoot something out there and then turn back to do something else, keeping busy, while your shiny little idea pinged and panged back and forth and set off little lights and buzzers until eventually it came back and you thwacked it back off again.

I had no clue that the ball might hurtle off into the ether and be never seen or heard from again.

Now what? It's been eight freaking months, people! I would like to have something worthwhile on my CV when I go (sigh) back on the market yet again in the fall. So if I'm getting rejected, I would like it to happen now so I can go take my pinball and play it in another game and get it rolling along its new tracks before market season again. (Has my metaphor lost anyone yet?)

Or alternately, if it's any good, I would like to hustle along some revisions and shoot it back out there, because it has been pointed out to me that sending an article out to a top journal, such as, I don't know, PMLA, takes absolutely no skill whatsoever and thus doesn't really count for much on a CV. I have been further informed that there's no point to listing a revise-and-resubmit on one's CV either; no one will care or count it as a publication unless you can say "accepted" and "forthcoming." Someone else told me that "grad students these days" will list articles as "submitted" to various journals when they haven't actually submitted anything yet but they have been thinking about it, and so search committees treat CVs with submitted publications exactly the same way as blank ones. Turns out, some of my peeps here did exactly that, to which I said, thanks guys. Way to help me out.

If you want any advice (and would actually take it from an unpublished scum like me: look at the turnaround time of the journals you want to submit to. Harass your profs and people in your field, if need be. I think that journals that publish quarterly or more often meet more frequently and have faster turnaround times than journals that only publish a couple times a year, or annually. Or maybe I just picked super duper slow venues.

With one journal, I've been checking in since MLA (someone told me that December "doesn't count" in journal turnaround time because everyone knows the semester is ending and full of grades and holiday preparations and then it's MLA. I totally accept that. I waited until I was back before trying to nag people.) This has become a routine for me now at the top of each month:
  • send rent check
  • send polite nagging email to journal
And then, a few days later:
  • rent check clears
  • return email explains that the editorial board has not yet met to evaluate the reviews of my article
This is getting frustrating. I had set myself up for the idea that publishing anything takes about a year, but this is looking like it will take years before it actually appears anywhere in print. I mean, I've been told that the best I can hope for is a revise-and-resubmit since it's very rare to be straight-up accepted by a journal. I've also been told that it takes about as long to go through the R&R part as the first part, if not longer.

Crap! Crapitty crap crap! I wouldn't be so upset about all this if I didn't feel the pressures to get something real on my CV in time for the next job season! I would just go back to writing more things and pinging them out. Do people on the tenure track feel the same way, what with tenure standards and internal reviews and whatnot? Gah!

The other journal is stuck too --- after a few reminder emails I got a response that they would be happy to work with me and that they were sending back the readers' reports after X happened. I think that may be an unofficial revise and resubmit, and the editor was very very nice and encouraging. So I have all these hopes and excitements about this one. But. The reader reports have never arrived. The polite, questioning emails I have sent about them have never been replied to. X deadline is months and months away and I could see that, if this editor is organizing the X as well, the editor is not doing anything journal related in that harried and crazy time. So now what do I do about this one? Or that one? Gahhh!

Some people have told me that this turnaround time is completely unacceptable and I should pull both articles and start again. But I have no assurances that starting again somewhere else would be any faster. And I would like these articles to go in these journals; that's why I submitted to them first. And I haven't been rejected by either. And that last, hopeful-sounding email from the one journal, like the faint shadowings of land to some shipwrecked survivors, really did seem like they wanted my article if I only fixed whatever mysterious things the reviewers suggested, but since I never did see the reviewer reports, it feels like the land was really a mirage, never to be seen again.

I have gotten some conference proposal stuff out for Yet Another Idea, and I am working away at finishing the dissertation. But, you know, the timing on these won't be quite right for the fall job market either. Dangit! I was hoping my mantra would be The Third Time's The Charm, not Four More Years.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What to Bring to Conference Papers

I recently (well no, a while ago) did my due diligence and departmental support by sitting in the audience for someone's talk on campus. Luckily ABDs like to procrastinate, or else no one would ever have an audience for student talks and round-tables and such. (Of course, if you want to fill your panel's audience, I have made suggestions for packing the aisles in the past.)

And I believe that advanced grad students (I hate the term "old") and professors do a valuable service, sitting in and critiquing the presentations of new grad students, and ideally they model how to be good audience members as well, but I could probably write a whole other, much funnier, post about all the right and wrong ways to be the audience at an academic talk (Flavia has an amusing example of audience body language here). Grad students with conference experience can give advice on presentation style and hopefully nip some of the embarrassing tics or unfortunate conference assumptions before the new grads venture into larger venues and bring humiliation down on themselves and the department. (One tip: when you are asked to give a "bio" of yourself to the panel organizer, that means a short statement about where you are studying/working and your interesting current or past research. Not a 10 page actual life story or personal philosophy. And for heaven's sake, not in verse.)

So while I believe sitting in these talks is part of my uncompensated service requirement, to help out our department and the profession, the one I listened to most recently taught me much about what I do not want to hear about at a conference presentation. Which made me wonder, what does one bring to a presentation of one's work? This is not surprising as I can over-think anything to the point that I no longer have any clue how to do it, including writing or reading my own name if I stare at it hard enough.

I think the question of what to bring varies from conference to conference, depending on your expected audience (is it an author-specific conference? a field conference? interdisciplinary?) and the particularities of the field or discipline you work in. But I think of the conference presentation as one small part of a larger conversation with scholars, with the end goal to use your research to somehow help or teach them.

So, for example, I could see that simply bringing the existence of a text to your colleagues' attention could be a valuable project in itself, if it is a recently recovered or relatively unknown text, and so you bring them the text and show how it fits into their larger canon or framework.

Or, conversely, you want to bring in some context that no one puts with your text --- I love presentations with lots of pictures, but that could just be a comment on my own deficiencies in paying attention at conferences.

Or, perhaps, your specialty, like mine, is Bizarre Metaphors and you love to yoke together the most disparate texts imaginable --- say, for example, The Piano Teacher with Jane Austen's Emma --- to show us something new and surprising with the comparison. (This works often with theory --- oops, excuse me, Theory --- and the bringing together of texts with theories that are not commonly used on those texts. It's sort of like the person at the potluck who brings poached pears with pickled greens and then convinces us that this unlikely combination is in fact terrific.)

But what you should not do is to point out an unusual image pattern in an Extremely Familiar Canonical Text and then enumerate the appearances of these images In. Excruciating. Detail. Particularly if you find yourself running out of time and frantically jettisoning bits of your talk that explain why these patterns are important. Nor should you set up such elaborate framing and clarification and foreshadowing statements that you have to declare you are out of time as soon as you get to the "meat" of your argument. Nor should someone be able to summarize your paper before they've heard it.

In short, when you consider what to bring to the conference paper, consider what your audience already has. You wouldn't bring tomatoes to a salsa convention, of course, but you might consider even further than that and realize that you probably won't need to bring chips, either. Or perhaps you do, but you bring only a little bit and balance it all out neatly on the plate with other things. And there's the trick of it, right? Dr. Crazy has been blogging about the frustrations of writing a conference paper --- actually, it may be at the article stage now --- where she has to "write tight" to fit the constraints. And balancing all the things you have to say in order to bring your colleagues something lovely and useful in the time constraints of a conference paper is fucking hard.

Personally, I find my conference papers written "from the ground up" to be a huge mess compared to the ones I had the time to write out a huge rambling lumpy argument and then cut down from the chapter. But I think I need to learn how to start with smaller, self-contained ideas and "write tight" up from them because I need to go to conferences more often than I produce chapters. Bleah. I'm still not at the stage where I have ideas that occur to me at the level of arguments. I still start with "whoa, that bizarre image keeps happening in this text!" and then I have to brainstorm and write my way up from listing every instance in excruciating detail to developing some sort of argument about them to then figuring out what the stakes are for my argument and then finally turning it into something that resembles academic writing. And whoo! is that a lot of work. But at least I know to cut out all the useless early crap and I know when I'm far from done.

So if you see me at some conference, bring me something tasty and new and unusual. I'll be the one with the roasted garlic and jicama.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Question for the Ages

Whew! Fifty essays, four days, a long and tiring TA meeting to prep the final that will soon descend upon us (and we didn't even have the sure-to-be-equally-long-and-painful paper norming session yet), and my mind is about as sharp as cream cheese. Mmmm, cheese for brains! (drools.) I have about twenty posts I want to write and another twenty I want to respond to, but that will have to wait for some sleep.

I gave up on cooking supper tonight and went straight to the Trader Joes chocolate raspberry sticks. Weight and health will return as actual concerns after this bout with grading, but not during.

So it's time to ask my peeps for some important and highly intellectual help: what shoes do you wear at a graduation? Under the fancy robe-thingys? At an outside ceremony which involves processing in down a long grassy hill?

I'm thinking any sort of spiky heel thing would get stuck and at best, aerate the turf, and at worst, send me careening down face first, perhaps to start a huge chain of pratfalls like those cool displays of dominoes that make patterns, except that this would not actually be cool at all, barring perhaps those sadists in the audience.

On the other hand, everyone's doing those ballet-flat type shoes, and I think if you are already short and have wide, flat feet like a duck (thanks for pointing it out, Dad!), those shoes don't fit very well or look particularly flattering either.

And while huge ass-kicking Dr. Martins or maybe even motorcycle boots sound great on a metaphorical, message-sending level, I'm not sure that I actually want to go for that look.

So, what to wear, what to wear? Suggestions?

I should add that I am a fashion schizophrenic (no offense meant to actual schizophrenics) ---- I bounce back and forth wildly between wanting whatever makes me "fit in," as in blend in and be invisible among the crowd, and, desiring wild and funky stuff that either seems "unique" (yes yes, I know how loaded that term is for the fashion system) or sets me apart as too smart for or somehow transcendent of the fashion system. Sometimes I aspire to both at once, which I understand is not really the way to go.

So: color? Should you stand out, contrast, wear black or neutrals? The school colors?
(Some of you might recognize that I have these in leopard-print... but leopard-print just doesn't seem the right tone for graduation, does it?)

Strappy sandal-ly things or closed? shoes? Go for funky and weird or try to make your feet the most unobtrusive things about you? Eh?(I've been liking bronze lately... no clue why. I'm a little scared of pointy-toe-ness.)

I went and pulled a bunch of pics off zappos. You can see my random, occasionally retro, tastes:

Some of these are cute and some of them are so hideously ugly that I'm fascinated and must have them anyway. Isn't that strange? And I thought I had uploaded more sandal-type shoes, hmm. Where did they go?

So, I like all of these or am fascinated by the idea of wearing something that screams, Look at my hideousness! I don't know if any of them would go with regalia or what I want; I'm mostly posting pretty pics for my own amusement and am completely open to suggestions.

What say you? And: send me you relaxing and mindless shopping entertainment suggestions! As I will have finals soon, very soon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Yet Another Break from Grading

I need a grading breather. Of course, this is after the break I took to cook a large and involved lunch, the break to wash dishes, the break to get coffee and settle in at the neighborhood coffee shop, etc.

But man, it feels like Groundhog Day. The Bill Murray movie, not the media event. Every day it's: get up, put some clothes on and go to a coffee place so I can't avoid grading via sleep, grade things, avoid grading things, come home and relax and avoid the dissertation after grading things --- is it Monday? is it Tuesday? Did the weekend actually end or am I just going to be doing this for the rest of my life? Urgh. Please end soon.

I especially need a break because I just read a certain student's paper. You know the one ---- the one who went missing during weeks five through seven; the one who bombed the midterm; the one whose comments in section I never know how to deal with because they are pretty literally on the level of "Space aliens! This message is coming from above as mind control!" The one who asked me if this whole problem with knowing how to determine an interpretation couldn't have been solved by the use of video cameras back then (and presumably, I guess, a time machine); the one who the Prof, when observing me, noted I put such a hard "spin" on said student's comments that I never really engaged the student's (off the wall) theories; the same student who, the following week, tried to answer one of Prof's questions in lecture and who he had to put the same kind of "ummm, well, let me restate that..." spin as I had (vindication of a sort!); the one who, during week 8, suddenly interrupted section to blurt out "Wait, you mean that because the course is called [insert title of class here], we're going to use [insert title of class here] form of interpretation?"

The same student who turned in a forceful and eloquently written essay that strongly proved the paper prompt and showed none of the comprehension problems or logical gaps of the past quarter? Yeah, that one.

Sigh. And now I have to think about issues of trust and acceptance, about whether to take this essay on its self-evident merits as a sign of improvement or as a sign of sneakiness. Now I have to go talk to my prof and fellow TAs. Now I have to see if I have any other samples of the written work still in my possession. Now I have to consider ideas of evidence and proof from a different angle than what I've been teaching my students ---- or, in a way, there are similarities to this other sort of textual analysis. But now, in short, I have a lot more work than I did a few minutes ago. And it's work that is far more depressing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Can you get a charley horse from grading?

'Cause I think I did. Seriously, the back of my leg is tight like nobody's business, and it keeps cramping up. Who knew that you had to stretch to safely achieve Couch Nirvana? That sucks, since I've never been much of one for yoga. (Obviously, or I might be able to sit still and grade without hurting myself. What a dork!)

Hopefully its actually due to the changes in the weather. I couldn't sleep last night and I have a headache today --- either because of the huge change in air pressure or the relentless wind is bringing in pollen. After a week of beautiful, warmish weather, I put away my extra blankets and space heater, which caused the nighttime temperatures to promptly plummet had me shivering confusedly all night. (I wake up, but not enough to process the logic whereby I could get up and get more blankets to not be cold! I just go back and forth from thought A (why am I awake?) to thought B (why am I cold?) and never actually resolve the issue.)

Oh, and I bought new plants to replace the ones that died outside my front door. They died from the night temperatures dropping to right above freezing, so as you can see, I really tempted fate three different ways. In related news, my dad had people come and clean the windows at his place, which explains the rainstorm currently moving through the Bay Area. Don't even ask about the family history of camping.

Sigh --- I need to get back to my piles of papers. Especially since I took a long nap rather than grade my quota yesterday, so I have extras to push through today. This morning's batch was neither particularly good or particularly bad. Which makes me neither particularly interested nor particularly uninterested in coming back to them. Although I guess there will be the relief of crossing that off my to-do list for today. But on the other hand that just means that I will have them back on the to-do list when I wake up tomorrow. Sigh. There are disadvantages to being able to take the long view of things.

I would work much more productively (as in, at all) if I had an appropriate reward for finishing my quota --- got any good suggestions? Maybe you could leave me funny stories in the comments along with ideas for rewards. Or put something lovely and entertaining on your blogs. Or dear god, do something --- I've emptied my bloglines and my emails and I'm going to need something for a short break between essays 3 and 4!

So leave comments, bring chocolate, every little bit helps, people.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fantod Under Glass

I didn't get any more essays graded. (Yet. I didn't get any more essays graded yet. After all, I can still force myself to grade more tonight, right? Right?)

Instead I took a long nap that made me even more tired when I got up from it than before. Too bad I didn't have my camera within easy reach, because my cats piled on me and napped with me, making cute poses and inducing me to further sloth. It was nice.

In the spirit of not doing very much at all (my specialty) I tried to look up what a "fantod" was, as Pseudonymous Grad Student seems to have them. The howling fantods, that is. I was picturing something rather like the Dementors from the last Harry Potter movie ---- a sort of crushing, terrifying despair that completely sucks the life out of you. But the examples listed in the OED (yes, hello, I am a geeky grad student) sounded so unimpressive: the fidgets, or a state of nervous irritability. Well, that hardly sounds worth writing home about. Humpf.

Other synonyms might include the heebie jeebies or the screaming meemies. Ok I like that last one, though it sounds more manic than what PGS was describing. (And heebie jeebies have always sounded like a junkie in need of a fix, even before I really knew what that was. So if I were queen of the world Word, I would officially declare those to be separate ailments, and impose a new, more existentially soul-sucking, definition on fantods, declaring the 19th C meanings of a generalized pissiness to be obsolete.)

Even more interesting, fantods have been mentioned, according to my quick internet search, in Infinite Jest and Gravity's Rainbow, The Pickwick Papers and even in Huckleberry Finn. Huh. I've even read some of those books. Funny thing is I don't remember any mentions of fantods there, and the first thing I thought of when I heard the word was Edward Gorey:

From the same book I scanned in the last time, Mr. Earbrass, in the antique shop, is irritatedly wondering "why anyone should have had a fantod stuffed and placed under a glass bell."

I don't know, it looks kinda cute to me. Maybe that's because I can't hear the howling?

Beware the Ides of Grading

Ok, I'm up; I'm working. Sigh.

I did not do much of anything yesterday besides a couple loads of laundry. Ooh, and naps. I think I took three naps, which were highly important. That was how I celebrated throwing a chapter draft at my advisor on Thurs.

Now, I didn't finish it, not even at the "done is good enough" level; I'm just hoping that since it has a crappy introduction and you have to read about 15 or 16 pages before it starts to break down into some bullets and unfinished sentences, that my advisor will either be reasonably ok with that, considering that most of it is mostly written, or she just will have moved from reading to skimming by that time and not notice. But thanks to everyone who congratulated me. Now all I have to do is write one more chapter from scratch. And have a draft of that in about a month. And many other things. Sigh.

Like grading!!! Joy!!!!! The joy of grading!!!! I cannot tell you how thrilled and excited I am to read dozens of papers badly rehashing the same topic!!!! The excitement here is so thick one could cut it with a spork. Yee.Ha.

Thinking back to my class observation, I could conclude either that I am not pushing them enough to reach for a higher bar (or possibly not modeling the difficult types of moves I want from them) or, more cynically, that pretty much everything a teacher does has little to no effect on students' writing abilities. A lot of the time I fall into the cynicism camp. Ahh, yes ---- Camp Cynicism; I'm there right now, grading essays instead of making little lanyards and writing home to you all who are undoubtedly having a better time. But I'll show you! I will have s'mores with my papers. And then get promptly eaten by bears.

So far I am seeing a marked improvement in clarity in my students' papers ---- but that could be simply because the first paper was designed around a much more interpretive point while this one could be seen as a straightforward plot summary. It's not supposed to be, but I am getting quite a lot of it. They are doing a good job being very specific about what is in which text and using nice specific quotes to illustrate their tedious recapitulations of the obvious. This actually is a huge improvement over paper one and something I have been hammering at them, so I am grading in response to them taking me seriously. In the first paper (they have four texts ---- five, actually ---- that tell basically the same story) I got the vaguest statements possible, of the sort that since something roughly similar happened in one of the other texts, it must support the point the student is making about this one, even though it is completely contradictory.

So, of the papers I have read so far this morning (not that many, I'll admit), everyone is paying very careful attention to the differences between these texts, and all of them are more or less noting how these are very different portraits of the same "character" and that these different representations all tell us something different (for some of the essays, that last bit might as well be a quote from the thesis). However, even my strong students aren't actually asking, much less answering, why. Why would these authors tell the same basic stories in such different fashions? I mean, that's the interesting point, and the whole point of this class and the way it was structured. I can't tell if students are especially afraid of pushing too far in this direction with this kind of material, or if this is a larger, more general student problem. (I've definitely seen it in other classes.)

Is there something about, say, students and the high-stakes mania, with its overemphasis on getting the perfect grades and jumping through all the hoops and seeing college as a certification program, that is training them to not think on the level of why? Is this just one of the differences between "English majors" (or successful English majors) and "non-English majors" ---- that people who are already good at asking "why" in a specifically "English-y" way are the ones to become majors? I don't remember being taught how to see texts like this, for example. And I'm not saying that my students aren't smart, nor even that they can't ask why questions, cause I've talked to some of the bright and lively science majors for this class, and I know they ask lots of good questions in a very scientific-method way. But the idea that an author could have some sort of "intentions" or "tendencies" or even an "agenda" but that this point wouldn't invalidate what they are writing, this baffles them. They baffle me.

I'd say more, but my timer is about to go off. Back to the papers and the chocolate! Eh. Expect more postings with my later breaks.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's in

but it doesn't feel any closer to done.

However, I am taking a momentary respite from dissertating to trank up on some drugs for my cramps and my headache, and take a nap.

The motherfucking essays can wait one day longer. It's not like they can get any worse.

And while I'm at it, here, have a catnap picture:

That reminds me I have more pics on my camera. At some point I need to download them to have more annoying cat posts for you all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Taken from yesterday's post----

Stuff that Has to Happen:
  1. write intro (I got some sketchings)
  2. insert historical refs on page 3 (three spots)
  3. tie swerve off topic to main point on page 8 (3 spots)
  4. streamline/chop long P on page 9
  5. fix center ---- paste in end of pt 1 and finish resoundingly (a big job, requires actual thinking)
  6. cut or fix the framing comments at beginning and end of pt 2 (will take from the intro sketchings)
  7. fix end/conclusion of chapter
  8. footnotes are a mess!
  • read for class
  • prep section (I'm on it inna second)
  • grade cubic fuckload of bad student papers (siiiiiiigh...)
  • get finals, same as above, grade
Righto, I am blazing through my piles of crap to do! As long as we develop a special form of blindness that prevents us from seeing student papers.

Now it is my slump time --- late afternoon. Time to hunt down some caffeine and a salt-delivery system. Aww yeah! I'm off!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A February in Review: To wit, Where the FUCK Did It Go?

Last night, as I was semi-straightening a pile so that I could find things during the next day of revision, my eye glanced upon my big list ---- not the day-to-day to do list, but the Big List, the one enumerating everything I need to get done and every stupid little hoop I need to jump through to graduate in spring as well as conference info. What caught my eye was the line that said I would turn in a draft of chapter 4 "in two weeks (Feb 8???)."

I stared with a sense of slowly-dawning horror as my brain gradually figured out what day it was, then what month it was (you'd think teaching would have me more on top of things, but no) and finally to the hysterical moment of recognition that this deadline was more than a month ago and if I weren't careful, the quarter would end, leaving me with less than a quarter to write another entire chapter from scratch.

Oh, Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck!

Well, crap. Plans must be changed. Noses must be pressed to the grindstone and work habits kicked up into a higher gear. Because I've gotta do this and get this done in time; not graduating on time is not an option and so I need to channel all this hyperventilating into some laser-focused productivity.

So today I worked off and on all day, forcing myself to take a short break and then turn back to pounding some of these recalcitrant paragraphs into submission ---- how can I keep this paragraph from swerving off topic here? What exactly do I need to say to tie it back to my main argument? ---- I don't know! This is hard! Waaaahh! I can't see how to fix this instantly! ---- Just shut up and focus, girl; start freewriting until you come up with a bridge that will bring this back on topic ---- But I don't know, I don't know! I don't --- ooh, hey, that's a pretty good idea...

And so it went on through most of the day, not with fast progress, but there was progress. Unfortunately, I have a lot more to do on this load of crap before it resembles a rough-but- readable chapter draft for my advisor. So, for accountability and general turning up of the heat, here's my list of Stuff that Has to Happen:
  1. write intro
  2. insert historical refs on page 3 (three spots)
  3. tie swerve off topic to main point on page 8 (3 spots)
  4. streamline/chop long P on page 9
  5. fix center ---- paste in end of pt 1 and finish resoundingly (a big job, requires actual thinking) (Waaah!) (Shut up!)
  6. cut or fix the framing comments at beginning and end of pt 2
  7. fix end/conclusion of chapter
  8. footnotes are a mess!
As you might notice, basically the beginning, middle and end of my chapter all suck. But trust me, there are large stretches of "between" parts that only suck very slightly! I promise!

Now, I'm going to go back and pick at some of this stuff tonight and work like a devil as much as I can tomorrow (around teaching stuff) but I don't realistically see all of this getting concluded by the end of tomorrow. If that's the case, I may as well just keep working on this stuff until Thursday since advisor doesn't come on campus until then. We will try not to think of the evilness of dumping a hasty and rough draft of a chapter on our advisor on the very last day of the quarter, when advisor is sure to be getting grad seminar papers and undergrad work and preparing for someone's prospectus exam and might not appreciate the extra work coming right at the beginning of spring break, no we will not. I need it off my plate and in advisor's hands, because I need to grade a cubic fuckload of bad student papers and then finals before cranking through my last chapter. (Aaaaaaah!) (Stop it! No spring break for you, you lazy ass!) (Sniffle.) (Cheer up, me. Stop hyperventilating and stop doing the big-teary-eye -and-trembly-lower-lip thing. Want some ice cream?) (Uh-huh. Sniffle.) (Ok, let's go get some ice cream. Don't forget to bring that chapter section with you.)


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Couch Update

I just wanted to let you all know that I put on pants before leaving the house. Sure, I was kinda overheated while doing all that walking, but when I got to my pleasant place to read and work I was cold even with the jeans and a sweatshirt. So I take back what I said about it being shorts weather.

All of this is to explain that my previous post about Sloth as a Life Philosophy, combined with the lovely weather, inspired --- or perhaps guilted --- me into venturing outside and pretending to do work. I had a lovely walk, though quite long, and after some scrambling over and under a couple things I was not supposed to and taking a variety of public transportation options, I arrived at the beach. Where I did do some writing but mostly just recovered from my long trek.

And what could possibly lure me away from my rightful spot on the couch? I'll tell you: salt. As soon as I got to my planned destination I snarfed down a large order of the saltiest french fries you ever did see, and it was wonderful and delicious. There were also some picnic tables near this little snack stand so I had a comfy place to sit while ingesting food, complaining about my legs and feet, and struggling over my chapter.

The chapter ---- I'll just do what I do best here, and create a bizarre metaphor, because I am the Queen of Bizarre Metaphors (or perhaps, as Sue Who suggested, it is an analogy. I do similes too; don't think I'm not multitalented). This chapter is looking like ... a dress with a very tough pattern on the fabric. I'm trying to piece it together so that the pattern matches across the seams while still being capable of containing a human body. (I got rid of the third armhole awhile ago, if you were wondering.) Right now the two center pieces are meeting but are an inch off, and you don't want your patterns to jump awkwardly right across your belly, do you? But at some point you have to admit that if you want the argument fabric to match up you need to take apart one of the sections at the seams and alter the slant of that section, even though that means going back and undoing and redoing things.

So that was a couple days ago, and now I am stitching back together my things to end up back where I was before I had this discovery, except with everything looking a lot neater. I still have more bolded sentences to fix though. And I added a lot of be sure to tie this back to your main point more explicitly notes to myself on a recent read-through. Eh, sometimes it feels like it will never be done.

But now I am back home, very tired and not at all inclined to deal with my chapter at this time of night. And where do you think I'm sitting right now? Guess.

I am stuck to the couch

And when I say this, I mean something between a literal statement and a deeper, more encompassing life philosophy. Or one of my greatest character flaws. You'll have to talk to my friends and family to figure out the balance.

It is beautiful weather out and has been extraordinary for the past week or so. It is, dare I say just after reading a half dozen "we're snowed in" blog posts, shorts weather. Now shorts weather around here does not mean nice and hot, but a gentle basking warmness that is perfect for wearing shorts around in, except when the sun goes behind a cloud, or a breeze picks up, or a sudden gust brings some fog in, or the astral spheres realign, which means that to really enjoy shorts weather outside here you're going to need to bring along two or three sweatshirts, a blanket and a jacket. But yes, apart from carrying around all one's accoutrements, it really is wonderful outside.

But am I outside enjoying the wonderful weather? No! I am sitting on my couch, doing nothing. I could be writing my chapter. I could be grading. I could do either of those outside in the glorious outdoors, or perhaps something actually recreational and exciting. Instead, I am contemplating all those options and watching the time pass. (In my defense, I did clean a huge pile of dishes and scrub down the apartment this morning. I have no excuse for yesterday, though.)

I should be carpe diem-ing, seize the day, and all that, do all the things I would otherwise regret not having done when on my deathbed, or something. Meh. "carpe diem" doesn't really mesh with Couch Philosophy. Beating oneself up with guilt while not actually doing anything about it might mesh well, though. I wonder if I could claim that as a hobby?

So, not much eventful to report over here. I'm just sitting around, trying to find the energy to do some of my work, or go somewhere, or go somewhere and do my work, or go enjoy wonderful weather. I could go to the beach and grade ... or even go to the beach and nap. And yet, here I am, still on my couch. Would someone bring me some outdoors please? And a coke, while you're up?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Class Observations and Teaching Styles

I haven’t had so much heart for posting lately; depressing stuff is happening and usually I need to work through it in some way before talking about it or writing about it. Often that means I’m already over whatever I’m going through by the time I write it out, or the act of writing a silly post helps me get some distance on whatever’s going on. But this week seems to be a swirling cloud of little things that bother me but in a way I can’t really put my finger on. Thus I seem to be in a sort of general malaise.

I have a lot of things I could mention, but as just one example, I got observed in my class (a phenomenon that supposedly happens to all TAs every quarter but I think has actually happened for me about three times total. Not that I mind getting out of being observed, just like I don’t mind the fact that the instructional development people who filmed me for one department's class evaluation lost the tape).

Now my class, for the most part, went pretty well, and the meeting afterwards went pretty well, and yet I take constructive criticism about as well as anybody, which is to say not well at all. On one level I know that a balanced and evenhanded report looking at my strengths and weaknesses will make me a better teacher, but on another level I know I want the result to be a pure affirmation --- You are so wonderful! You are perfect in every way and we love you! Yay! Don’t ever change! Everything you did in section was brilliant and infallible! --- and just like I can pick at a few balanced or critical evals, I can feel down and pick at an observation meeting that went exactly like it should. What do you mean I have areas where I could grow and improve as a teacher? Who would want to hear that?

So I feel a bit --- bruised. Even though, I admit, I really have no reason to.

None of these areas of improvement were news to me, however, which is a good thing, unless of course you recognize that I have known about and been working on these things for quite a while. But one statement really struck me and I have been meditating on it for a while now. “I think you did a great job of always coming back to the themes of the text and working them through how the lecture had brought this critical article to bear on the text, but I think you could make them work harder to make those connections themselves. Draw them out more.” (Ok, so that’s a paraphrase --- a not very accurate one.)

On the one hand, I think the prof is absolutely right. I have trouble leaving students to twist in their own silence to force them to expand on what I say, or they say. And I have huge troubles with letting go of control of the conversation or with stepping back and not allowing myself to dominate it. The phrase, you could push them, make them work harder, really resonated with me and it’s helping me think through how I could do that through re-structuring section.

On the other hand, I had already made the decision while prepping that I was going to do the bulk of the carrying in that section of my agenda. I could tell they had been totally lost in lecture and just were not thinking at that level in the previous weeks of section. I wanted to make sure those connections got drawn so that they didn’t think the past three weeks of lecture had been a completely unimportant digression when they hit, for example, the final. In short, I didn’t think they could do it.

Now this is interesting to me, how what the prof expects and what I expect are so different. Am I shortchanging the students and underestimating their ability? Is the prof, who only teaches at the senior level when s/he actually has to read and grade papers, out of touch with the thinking quality of most of my students, pretty much all of whom are first- and second-year non majors? Is the prof (like many of the profs who lecture here) assuming that our “R1” level students are at a level of preparedness and smartness that in reality they are lacking? (like the time a prof in another department mentioned “hegemony” “the habitus” and Homi Babha’s theory of dissemination in one lecture and was astounded to hear I spent an entire section on what is the term hegemony, why is it important, and how does it have any relevance to our course? “I am shocked ---- are they not getting a grounding in political theory before they get to college? Have they not read any Weber?” That’s only a slightly exaggerated version of her response.)

Or, are the students “working me” rather than me forcing them to work? I can tell you from the past 7 or 8 weeks that it has been a constant battle, like pulling teeth, to get the students to consistently speak up in class even at the level of plot and theme, just like it usually is at this school; they are just now willing to pipe up and sometimes even answer each other. How much am I training them to speak up and how much are they training me to only push them to answer on the plot-level questions? If I were doing something differently like the various suggestions the prof made, would I be getting them to engage with the texts at this level?

It’s kind of like how I thought I had trained my cats regarding food, and then when my friends came over they saw instead how thoroughly the cats had trained me. And yes, I am comparing my students to my cats. This comparison, I’m sure, could be expanded further.

To be honest, I usually believe scenario 1 ---- that the profs here are a bit out of touch and assume their students are getting much more in lecture than they actually do ---- but the example of the cats and my own blind spots causes me to rethink my position. I have seen many examples of kids outwitting parents back when I worked as a tutor ---- you just wait them out or pretend you don’t get it and parents and teachers often yank it out of your hands and just do it for you out of frustration, leaving you with a very cushy position if you can just use a little patience. To be fair, I think this rarely happens at a conscious, planned level for either party ---- but then again, operant conditioning rarely does.

This all also ties into different approaches to students ---- do you aim above their heads and encourage them to stretch up to reach this higher bar? Or do you get down below them, as it were, and push them up from behind? I’ve consistently done the second, partly because of my structural role as a TA, which I see as a go-between for the student and the professor, and also partly because I agree with the pedagogical approaches that try to build student confidence by starting out with questions they feel they can answer, praising them for answering those low-stakes questions, and then hoping that this increased confidence will encourage them to stretch out and risk answering these more difficult types of thematic or theoretical questions. (This is starting to sound like a statement of teaching philosophy. Fuck.)

The hitch in my system comes with that later push out towards more difficult questions; as I mentioned they still tend to clam up when I encourage them to move beyond brief statements or more thematic answers. And maybe, if my way doesn’t work any particularly better than the other way, I should be teaching from above their heads and beckoning them to reach; it is college, after all, and I have gotten some stinging comments about my teaching method being “too high school” (a long story for another day) that indicate perhaps I do need to rethink my approach. I spent a long time as a tutor for k-12 students for one of those for-profit tutoring centers and probably got more pedagogical training and theory there than in my rather shittily-run comp pedagogy seminar, so there is the possibility that I am applying teaching styles for remedial k-12 kids to smart adult college students and it is not working. Eh ---- I’m hoping that this wasn’t part of my lack of success on the job market.

Hmm. So, in conclusion, I am meditating on these ideas and revisiting my assumptions about teaching and about students. Fuck! I hate learning things when that involves interrogating my weaknesses and growing as a person! And with that, my friends, we can see an important commonality with my students, if not my cats. Or maybe with them too.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dissertation Simultenaeity

I'm trying to edit a different section of my chapter while balancing cats, a clipboard, and a computer in my lap. (Side note: I think I could complete my dissertation much faster if I only had telekinesis, as very often I am unable to dislodge the cats and get up to check a different book or get more caffeine or snacks. Being able to float my laptop or a new can of diet coke over here without getting up would help immensely.)

Unfortunately, I am stuck on a problem that I think most writers struggle with: writing is linear, and some of my concepts are not. I have a couple different passages, all of which need to be given as background to the others, which means, logically, all of them have to go first in the chapter --- like an Escher drawing or the layout of Derrida's Glas.

Unfortunately us mere cogs are not allowed to write our dissertations nonlinearly, in hypertext, multiple columns, visual productions or interpretive dance, and so therefore I need to make some choices about what comes first in my chapter. As I return to the opening section and am fixing phrases, I have an uneasy sense of deja vu: I keep moving these sections and writing next to other sections "is it clear how this passage is going back to my main argument?" with the sinking feeling that I have shuffled these same paragraphs back and forth into the same positions long before, back when I was originally sketching it out. Like trying to put magnets with the same pole together, none of these passages will let the others come before it, and their constant motion suggests that, if one could hook them up to a machine, their constant rotation would produce enough energy to heat one's home or power one's computer. But, alas, I can't get that worked out either.

(My other major problem is that I have a recurring freak-out that none of this is in any way original or worthy of being called an argument and that perhaps the whole chapter needs to be scrapped or rethought, a traumatic idea which drives me to immediately repress it and turn to fixing flow and grammar at the micro level ---- mechanical problems which can be solved but which may be rendered completely moot if said paragraph gets moved or scrapped. So you can see that the churning paragraph process within the chapter is paralleled by a churning thought movement in my brain ---- a movement that does not produce energy but instead threatens to cause my head to explode.)

Likewise, I keep highlighting, on different printouts of the same chapter, the same passages that I need to check against some historical sources, none of which are here with me (see why I need telekinesis?) and all of which, I suspect, I don't really need to check but that I can't just force myself to definitively assert that something happened one way or another, and so I can't take out the little (????) marks and italicizations that are mucking up the sentence flow.

Of course, the truly sad bit is that I can write a long blog post about the whole process (though not edit it) in a fraction of the time it takes me to dither about on this revision shit.

I know, I know, I should just shit or get off the pot ---- unbold things, slap sentences together, cut what I haven't sourced or answered and emphatically decide the direction of my argument rather than let it slap me around like this, and just hand it in to let my advisor deal with, have her say what should stay and what should go, since she's going to want me to rewrite things anyway. But I'm just not able to.

Who knew that the perfect perpetual motion machine would produce only levitation and stasis?