Friday, December 31, 2010

because I couldn't add to the end of the last post

Blogger is annoying in that you can't insert a pic where you want it in the post; you have to insert it up at the top and then manually move it down, which I am too lazy to do. I wrote all of the last post (go ponder that first people!) and then started googling around for short haircuts. There are a bunch I was drawn to that I am ashamed to post --- I like the cut, but it's on Hayden Pannitere, or worse, the Kardashian mom! And also the web sites tell me the "Marilyn inspired" look is back, which is tempting me to grow out the cut more instead of go shorter.

I also worry about whether I like a given cut because of liking the actress or the hair color instead. Hmm. And there's the whole very-round-face-with-a-squarish-jaw thing. Seriously, my mom does look like Jessica Fletcher as well as wears the haircut. Have you seen the few pics of whats-her-face (Oh, Angela Lansbery, that's it) with long hair when she was young? That jaw with big cheeks looks odd with a lot of cuts.

Anyway, more pondering. Something to do to while away the New Year's Eve!

PS my sis in law rejects the short cuts as I have too much curl, and thinks the Jessica Alba bob might not work, as my hair is so thick, but that it is closest to workable.

More hair thought

Ok, you all are giving hair advice that I already know won't work. When I say my hair is wavy, I mean it takes an hour or so with a hairdryer and flatiron to get it reasonably straight, unlike crazy's hair, which I remember as being very thin and straight naturally. Mine is very thick and almost "textured" --- when it was longer, one stylist I had would call in a different stylist to blow dry it always and he mentioned that he used to live in North Africa and if he could blow out North African women's hair, mine was no problem. My most recent hairstylist in Postdoc City would always take one of those special thinning shears through the whole cut to make it thin enough to comb. Naturally my hair never looks like it does when it comes home from the salon because I don't have the patience to blow it dry, then flatiron it, then blow it dry again. I am lazy.

Ok, pretend for a minute I actually look this smokin' hot; this is what my hair does if I scrunch in some curling paste from Aveda, scrunch it, and shake my head to let it air dry:
I actually had this haircut back in the 90s; I remember it took touching up with a curling iron to get actual spiral curls instead of waves.

For a while I had a version of this cut (again, it takes some straightening and then a curling iron to get it to flip a bit at the back, but my hair in general likes to do this thing), but since no one was filming me with a fisheye lens while I did cute things, it didn't seem quite to fit.

Actually, my most recent cut has been a shorter, more angled version of this --- although, alas, not this awesome color. (I wish I was settled in a job and could go back to my manic panic! I looked surprisingly good in teal. Although that was its own level of work.)
Anyway, I was thinking that maybe I've done the angled thing enough? That cut doesn't really look like anything in particular when I just scrunch-and-airdry, anyway, and I've been too busy and beat down to go at my hair in the mornings.
So ... angle the other way to be short in front and longer behind? Ugh, that sounds suspciously like a mullet. Go shorter? I'm worried that without the weight pulling it down it will be curling out in weird ways.

Hair pondering

Before the semester was over I had time to dye my hair again, but didn't have a moment of spare breathing room to call for a haircut appointment. I was looking pretty shaggy and grown out by then already, and so now you can imagine what it looks like. It has gone from a short cut to something so long that I could probably grow it out to a shoulder length bob pretty easily. But I'm not really into that these days --- my hair is very wavy and it does look more straight and "regular" when it is long, but straight hair all around down to the shoulders is a pretty boring look and I would just be tempted to pull it into a ponytail all the time, which looks very meh on me. I guess I really took to heart all those makeover transformation shows that point out hair hanging straight down looks so undone and not smartly put together compared to a "cut."

But then the question is, what cut to get? I can't go too short or else I will look like my mother, which I reject. (For her face shape (and cut too) go here). I've been doing about ear-length stuff, but I am ambivalent about that cut now. Is it too boring if I just stick with the same haircut as "my thing" for years, even if it is a fancy style? Another thing is that I've gotten my hair cut exactly once in Postdoc City, and she put tons of layering in the front and squared off the back, which I had thought was more interesting and stylish doing all sorts of tapering/layering things. The result was a cute cut, but it seemed to be designed to look best like this:

Which as you can see is not very wearable for when putting one's head down and grading. Actually, there's a stereo company pic I need to find that gets at the whole hair-blown-in-your-face look much better, but I can't find it right now. I'm tempted to go back to "my" hairstylist in GradSchoolLand, but, sigh, I don't live there any more and I need to accept the fact and find my replacement people in Postdoc City. Cut the ties, Sisyphus!

Back to the picture, I have troubles with cuts that need to be blow-dried forward into my face, because I need to see to teach and read. Oh, and I hate bangs, which seem to be all the rage right now. The really long wispy ones. They are terrible because I only want to get my hair cut every 4-6 weeks, and long bangs cover my eyes at a week and a half in, and I either have to hack at them myself in the mirror (and get yelled at by the stylist later) or go back more often. Pffft! That is the sound of me blowing the bangs out of my eyes with annoyance.

Anyway, I will continue to ponder this deeply important question. But first I must spend my time at the coffeeshop for what I was supposed to do: work on my Fruit Studies syllabus. Sigh. Any hair suggestions? (and no, shaving it bald will not do, not since I have to go back to chilly Postdoc City for the rest of the winter.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Job App Meh

Not in the mood to work today. I'm at the coffee shop closest to my parents' house, though it's not one I particularly like (ah, the unforseen problems with flying out instead of driving my little car up to their place! I am trapped carless in a city that lays out intersections every half mile!) and not really able to concentrate.

So far I have done one application and looked on the college web site a lot for a second. But it is noisy and hot in here and I may walk back home instead of continuing on. Sigh. I notice that the CA cc jobs are starting to be listed already. They have changed the HR wording to be the most annoying thing possible --- literally pages and pages on the Chronicle of all the "required" activities that I am not going to highlight in my cover letter ---- like ability to work a computer, sit in meetings, and lift 20 pounds ---- and almost nothing about the specifics of the job that would let me know if I should apply to it (do they want straight-up comp or developmental stuff? Is this a reading specialist position? One of those cross-listed thingies with CA high schools and I need a valid credential to supervise? Why do you not put the relevant job requirements in the front of the ad, people? Ability to type or sit in on curriculum meetings should be such a given you shouldn't have to even ask for it.

Grumble. I wish someone would do all these apps for me. Or help me carry my stuff home. Or set up a wireless network at home so I don't have to nag my parents to get off the computer or wake them up from a nap every time I want to use the internet. I haven't decided how much longer I'm sticking around here, but the lack of computer time-wasting is always a factor.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Break reviews

So, I have been reading and watching and thinking things, in a lovely relaxing way, so far over break. I have also been eating things, but probably won't give reviews of that form of consumption. (except to note that I don't care that Chevy's Mexican food is not authentic or healthy; it is exactly what I needed and I wish it were in Postdoc City, alas. But it's probably not good to eat all those piles of food every day, so I guess it all works out.)

I have watched more children's movies --- Brother Bear and How to Train Your Dragon while in the car, (BB was nice, forgettable; Dragon very cute and enjoyable --- and the klutzy, persistent, fuckup main character (with some strong ADD signs) is my loveable nephew to an absolute T, so I have a very soft spot in my heart for the film and may end up watching it with him again) Tangled in the theaters (ahhh! Watch out for films labelled 3D because they will charge you an extra 4 bucks per ticket and not allow matinee prices and it didn't really add much to my enjoyment of the film at all), and Despicable Me at home, which I absolutely loved and I can't wait to collect my own set of minions and create nefarious plans for taking over the world. I think I may have found my true calling if the whole professor thing doesn't work out. Tangled and Despicable Me share themes of critical, controlling mothers, funnily enough --- I mentioned to my sister that the mother in Despicable, with her shrug and "eh" comment to every achievement evil Grue made, reminded me of our mother, but she was too busy obsessing over her own daughter who she misses very much and how closely she resembles the "mother" in Tangled and how unfairly they have maligned her in the movie presentation. I countered that she was a pretty weak villain and the film could have used more of a climactic confrontation fight scene, perhaps one where the mother turns into a giant dragon like in Sleeping Beauty, but I was ignored. It was a week of psychological movie-identifications for our family, that's for sure.

I'm a bit worried about my sister, who has been going on and on about her daughter having moved out. She seems to be talking/obsessing about it more now than when it happened, which was March. And I should add that my niece lived at home with my sister through all of undergrad and her teaching credential year, so it's not like this is early or sudden or whatnot. And she has moved 2 miles away into a studio apartment with her boyfriend and is not at all disconnected from my sister's life. Something is weird here. I will continue to ponder.

I also, uh ... watched? Heavy Rain, or rather, watched my brother play the game Heavy Rain on his my nephew's PS3. I'm definitely not a gamer but I do have a soft spot for the puzzle/mystery/adventure games, because we used to play them all as a family back when I was young. Mainly thriller or murder mystery games. They were so old they had no sound (think Deadline or Witness), and a lot of what I loved was that we'd all be gathered around the computer narrating the story, each of us voicing a character, and that allowed for a lot of hamming it up and hilarious fun when someone misread or didn't understand some line. We'd all bring our powers of analysis on the puzzles (my brother is especially good at having the persistence to chart out mazes or write down and then try every combination to a puzzle) and it was more fun than simply watching a murder mystery movie, although my family loves to watch those too.

So Heavy Rain was ok. I was going to post this review and gush about how great and realistic the people looked (the detail on the skin of the PI, is amazing) but then after my bro made it to the end he watched the "making of" videos and I became entirely unimpressed. They aren't created faces and bodies, but video footage of each of the actors that has then been digitized, which doesn't seem nearly as impressive. After watching the casting readings the computer characters seem incredibly flat and wooden, like the life has been Botoxed out of them.

The game itself was decent --- a nice thread of atmospheric noir music ran though it --- although there was this incredibly long and involved prologue sequence where my brother was being tutored in how to work the controls, and it involved him maneuvering his character through rooms and showering and shaving and all sorts of picayune stuff. I like playing the Sims, but when you give me a game with the hook that there is a serial killer and then make me focus on how to hold a button just right to shave or eat breakfast or whatnot, I am annoyed. And looking for serial killers around every doorframe. And making uncharitable comments about which of the annoying family members needs to be hauled off and whacked first. My brother made a comment during one break that having his sisters around making sarcastic comments was what got him to play through the boring start. Of course at another break he took he mentioned that the time he kept turning in circles and banging the character into the doorway actually wasn't because he couldn't do it but because I was on the couch bouncing up and down screaming, "Nooo! Nooo, turn that way, THAT WAY! He's getting away from you! Ohmigod!" while alternately tearing my hair and clutching my fists to my mouth. He finds amusement in the strangest places.

Ah, family. Mine at least seems to involve amusing ourselves by bugging the hell out of each other and then needing to take family avoidance breaks. Also, I think you can have characters use the toilet in Heavy Rain, but me and my sister would not allow my bro to try it and went into absolute fits of disgust every time he walked a character near one. And then "can you pee on it?" became a refrain every time we found an object to interact with. In short, I would say that Heavy Rain was pretty good and had a lot of nice story elements, and the ability to interact with objects on such a detailed level was amazing (though not exciting), but you might need people in the room with you to make the experience truly interesting and enjoyable. My brother got through the whole game and saved the kid, but let all the other people get killed (well, failed to save them, let's say), and I don't think I will go over and watch him replay it to find all the alternate endings.

I also read Bharati Mukherjee's Desirable Daughters on the plane out to California and just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven (this break's theme is women writers with plucky and determined female characters), both of which I found enjoyable but, eh, uneven, I guess. Strong and interesting characters who veered off into unbelievability or stereotype at odd moments. And a weakness in plotting, though both books brought up a lot of different interesting ideas. I could say more about each if you ask but I am getting tired, so I will leave it at that. I will go off and read and consume more things and also laze about a bit more. Mmmm.

What have you been reading?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Addendum to the previous post

Ok, I forgot to actually write about the details I wanted to write about in the previous post. See what comes of trying to watch the tv through an open doorway to the next room while writing a blog post?

Go read the entire previous post and commit it to memory before moving on to this one. Then build me a shrine. Just kidding about all the commands! Maybe.

Ok, the other part of making plans is that, not only do I have my articles accepted and coming out the pipeline, but I was accepted to a conference on some new crazy topic, not really in my discipline. I'm going with friends, who are in the discipline. (Acephalous would know what this is. I'm not telling.) That's the good news. The bad news is that I also sent the abstract out to a call for papers for an edited collection and it was rejected. No big deal, but now I need to figure out what my "plan" is --- is this a one-off to keep something on the cv, or do I want to actually work this thingy up into something that could then be published? It's not my field and there is going to be an edited collection appearing studying this artifact, so it might be hard to place it somewhere. Because, you know, there's "writing a conference paper" and then there's "writing and researching an article with a deadline of a conference paper midway through it," which will affect what else I can/should do in spring.

I was thinking that I need to figure out if I should use this as a new publishing venture or go back to that very old abandoned half-written article, or (and???) go off onto a new author/topic, and if so, what would that new topic be, but then I got distracted by the larger question of whether I should be pushing for publishing at all or I should do something else wonderful for job applications. So ok, go paste this back into the middle of the previous post and ponder the whole thing and then give me some advice.

Going back to Cali

And I'm back...

It's been nice, not doing anything in particular. I'm resting up, reading a little, and picking away at next semester's syllabi --- but not in any serious or commited way. I've also been watching some movies ---- though since they are from my brother's/nephew's movie collection, they are utter crap. I managed to avoid Transformers and The Transporter 3, but watched Iron Man. 'sallright. I also finally watched Toy Story 3, which made me tear up a little bit but nowhere the way Up did. I never thought much of the Toy Story series compared to their other films. Will continue catching up from the past year or so, but, as I said, not any quality movies. and my sister has gotten my mom hooked on Lost (which I never bothered to get into), so both of their Netflix listings are stocked up on that.

I still haven't decided what I'm doing about MLA yet. Ok, no I think that by default I've decided to avoid MLA and drive back to Utter Suburbia with my parents right after Christmas, but I'm not sure how long I'm going to stay before going back to Postdoc City. Stick to the original date and get back a couple days before class starts, or go back a bit earlier. Eh. Dunno.

I also don't know what my "next plan" is going to be --- and of course, a zillion different people are asking me that right now, since I have at least four different family households out here, each getting different bits of info and bits of understanding of what "I have no MLA interviews" means, so that is stressing me out. I've had to explain the situation a zillion different times already, and have had to answer "I don't know yet" to the "next plan" questions.

What do I do if I haven't gotten any MLA interviews this season? I feel like my comp-teaching-heavy postdoc position would make me look less attractive to research institutions (esp. if they are like my PhD place and the prestige of the previous workplaces/degree places matters a lot). I also think that all that fresh comp experience would make me look like a better fit for the teaching-focused, 4-4 type institutions. But I applied to both kinds, with no results. Now I'm trying to figure out what to be doing in spring to improve my chances ... but what? I have some publications now; do I do more, or would more pubs be off-putting to the teaching places? Or is there something I should be doing instead that would be impressive to those teaching places, with more of a benefit than more publishing? Or do I assume that this means I will never get a professor job and use the remaining year and a half of the postdoc to just push into some new sort of field? Having said that, I don't really like that idea. Or think it will work --- remember my unemployed-and-giving-up-on-academia period?

Yeah, that's me --- planning obsessively ahead rather than looking at the next immediate step. Part of this break is about making a plan for what I want to accomplish over spring semester, but I also have to remind myself to stay in the moment and really enjoy my relaxing and really work on spending quality time with my family. I'm never good at that. Particularly when my family is so often annoying and hard to put up with. But I don't want to waste my family time with my planning/worrying time (which is a pleasure of its own, in my own weird way).

At some point I also want to do all those end of the year reflection posts everyone does, too, but first and most important is to hang out with family members until they are sick of me and shove me on a plane. :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In which I don't feel like grading finals...

and I am in the midst of having a cold. We have progressed from scratchy throat to bad sore throat and coughing up nasty stuff. Blah. I should drink some tea and honey, but I think I have one packet of hot chocolate left. I might make that instead, even though it won't make my throat feel as good.

I'm watching those "buy a home! now!" shows, but they are nowhere near as fun to watch as the "I'm going to make millions by flipping a house even though I don't know the first thing about construction!" shows ---- the ones where they crash and burn and suddenly have no money and a white elephant house on their hands. Yeah, I go by the shadenfreude model of tv entertainment. I have my limits, though: I see that "Jackass" is back on, but will have nothing to do with that one.

The home-buying shows don't make me want to buy a house, but they do make me want to illegally paint my place. At least I am lazy --- that will keep me out of trouble. Renovation trouble, at least --- I have grading laziness as well. I should get on that.




See me not getting on that? Ah well. The finals will get better if I wait until tomorrow, right? Once they are aged they will be better quality? I can hope.

I had a couple nice comments on the lit finals, thanking me for the class and saying they enjoyed it. One person wrote that he couldn't say everything about Evil Poet because there was so much in the language and Evil Poet was so cool! And another person wrote that he really hated Evil Poet but that I made him like the Evil! Which is awesome in multiple ways, because, as you can tell from the name, I actually don't like Evil Poet much. I managed to find things I liked about Evil Poet and came to actually kinda like the poetry --- and I must have hidden the dislike well, and really "sell" what I did find, which is cool. And the grades were much more weighted around the C range, which made me feel much more confident. And the really super low Fs were the same people as last time, which makes me think it is about them, not me.

And I looked on the wiki and all the places I did manage to apply to --- remember that I got out the Nov. 1 deadlines but not much after that, I was so bogged down --- have contacted people for MLA. So now I am considering switching my plane ticket --- either to hang out with my fam instead or to come back here early. I could hang out, plan my classes at leisure, and I am already worried about leaving my cats for so long (with a pet-watcher, but still). But I am torn. I know many many of my friends from over the years will be at MLA, since it is in California. I would like to see people. Eh. Still pondering that whole thing.

What sort of winter break plans do people have? Any suggestions for fun things I should do? Good movie suggestions etc.?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Random updates

First, when I woke up I had a scratchy, tickly throat. Arrrgh! And no cough drops or spray in the house. ... which is weird. I could have sworn that I had two shoeboxes worth of medicine when I moved, and just the other day tore apart my closets looking for the second, wondering where the aspirin was. Did I not move it? Did I throw away a whole box of OTC medicine??? Is it somewhere else in my place and I just put it away in the wrong spot? Grumble. I have fifty-seven million boxes of Sudafed and Benadryl because of the habit of getting sick and not being able to find the old box. (Maybe I should make meth and supplement my income that way? And then I would have the money to replace my cough drops and aspirin. Too bad I only use green, nontoxic household cleaners!)

In other news, I was sitting around thinking of the huge wealth of interesting films I wanted to show (and I haven't even really scratched the surface of documentaries), and was stuck deciding between everything. But then I thought, watching films is a very passive form of education, and do I want it to be a more active, hands-on form of learning? (And I may want passivity, depending on how the classes go, I know. But I think it would be better to use short, like half-hour documentaries, followed by discussion or activities, than every entire class session filled by a film. Remind me of this when I am pulling out my hair in classes next semester.)

So anyway, I am working on a film analysis project to be the final assignment of the class. (plus a final? a take-home or in-class final? Weigh in if you choose. I'm still thinking about the "how to force students to read regularly" conundrum.) And of course that means I am neck deep in issues of representation.

Not just representations, but the "voting" side of representation. As in, how do I choose a slate of texts that is properly representative? Especially considering that my classroom will likely not be diverse and will be quite resistant to learning about the experiences of people not like them (as my officemate has complained all semester), how much do I want to push them out of their comfort zones? And pretty much everything will be out of their comfort zones, so do I pick stuff that will be slightly more accessible, or really really unfamiliar?

So on the one hand, if you do the "it's a small world" one-representative-from-everywhere- approach, you get a fair amount of inclusion, but at the expense of any sort of depth or context. On the other hand, that "representative" method runs up against the "don't show our dirty laundry" complaint that people within these groups often have. If you're only going to have one text "representing" an entire group, there's an enormous pressure to avoid stereotype yet at the same time not show anything true that is bad --- the kinda boring, uplifting, Hallmark-card style of stories. And yet, the best literature and film is that which resists the easy stories and pushes boundaries. Furthermore, I want my films for the film assignment to connect to some of the Serious Issues introduced in the class! But then it becomes dangerous in that students may write a paper arguing that Group X is violent or Group Y is lazy or everyone who believes Z is a misogynist asshole. Hmm. The textbook brings up many issues but critiquing representations that are themselves critiques of the groups they represent is not really covered.

Sigh. I guess I'm asking a lot. I just don't want this to become a situation where a student can use the project to smugly rant about Those People and have it be in any way supported by the text. Which means I think I'll need to require drafts or proposals or outlines. Sigh sigh. Which messes up with my system of having a series of writing/exploration projects across the semester. I think. More tinkering for me.

And I haven't even talked about (or considered) some of the other forms of diversity ---- for example, I am woefully unversed in disability studies (interesting film recommendations, anyone?). But when you add more types of diversity into a list you have even less space to spend on each example and how they fit together.

At the least, I've decided on following the Bechdel test as well as self-representation, so I'm checking my preliminary list. And then maybe I'll need to sleep on it.

Oh, and I still haven't gotten my actual book copy yet! Tried looking it up online to finish the reading list and the table of contents I could find were not correct. Bleah.

Oh, and I'm going to need to hit up some people for documentary copies ...any of my friends at the Junior Farm want to take a visit to the library for me? *sheepish grin*

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winding down

This is the end, this is the end my friend...

Ok, the day started off well: I graded 6 essays and cleaned up the kitchen. Then I graded 6 more essays. The plan is to alternate between essays and cleaning until I get an entire class-worth of essays graded. The hitch in this plan is that I have kitties napping on me now and have no motivation to move or think.

My end of semester grading hideousness:

class 1 peer review 4
class 2 peer review 4
class 3 peer review 4
essay 4
essay 4 (just barely started these)
essay 4
lit essays
figure out all attendance/participation grades for 4 classes

to arrive next week:

class 1 comp final
class 2 comp final
class 3 comp final
lit finals

submit final grades.

(cleaning, packing, running off to California and leaving my poor cats here with a cat-sitter...)

Bleah! I'm tired.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Has everyone heard back about MLA things already?

Haven't heard a thing from any of the jobs I managed to apply for. Some affirmative action forms, yes, but no writing sample requests and no calls for MLA interviews. And the wiki, and reports from the grad students I know, seem to indicate that this week was the week for interview calls.

Sigh. One of the other postdocs asked me the other day if I had thought about what would happen if we didn't get anything this year or next year in the postdoc? I said I hadn't, because having the option of extending the postdoc for a second year was supposed to give us peace of mind to carry on, and hey, maybe they would extend the postdoc longer if we didn't get jobs. But she said no, she has already talked to the chair about that and this is not possible, with the way the postdoc was created. Sigh.

Doesn't anyone want a small cat hiding behind poststructuralist theory? I'm quite well-trained. I can even teach Fruit Studies!

Ok, I guess I'll go back to grading enormous piles of rhetorical analysis papers. That'll cheer me up! Eh, not even the typo "ethos, pathos, and legos" got me to crack a smile. Though it did give me some ideas for children's educational toys. Hmm, maybe I should go be a toy entrepreneur instead.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Procrastination Excitement!!!!

Aha! I am in the magic space --- I am done with classes, yet do not have any grading to do yet. It is a magic space full of joy and wonderfulness, and I also have a new course to plan for next semester, which is similarly in a magic space of possibility and rosy hues. Mmm! So naturally I am getting all excited and starting preliminary planning for this new course, which is the best kind of planning ---- planning stuff that goes perfectly well in your head and does not have to run up against the limitations of your actual students and their levels of grumpiness and unpreparedness, or have to throw something together in the next hour before class actually starts. And furthermore, while the random class I was given (Stripey Class) had nothing to do with my academic specialty, I am more familiar with this one: Introduction to Fruit Studies.*

Now, introducing students to Fruit Studies is actually rather difficult, because everyone thinks they already know about fruit and want to talk about what fruit means to them, or why it is so delicious. They are much less interested in discussing why pineapples are an oppressed group. In fact, because pineapples, like other fruit, are usually not separated off in their own specific community but form connections with many other aspects of dinner, it is much harder to recognize that they are in fact on the bottom of a hierarchy and systematically discriminated against. And just as students tend to see fruit in the context of individual dinners, so too do they have difficulties recognizing the similarities between, say, apples, and papayas, and lychees, and pomegranates, and kiwi fruit, in a way that does not erase the very real differences in habitat between them. They are both similar and different, and no, I am not going to accept that as your thesis for your essays.

Starting an Introduction to Fruit Studies class also reminds me of the difficulties in starting freshman composition, because all the parts of an essay are stuck together and what do you teach first? Do you start with classification? Deconstructing the very idea of fruit? Rinds? Muddling and Fruit Salad, aka Intersectional Fruit Analysis? Representations of Fruit? Theories of Difference, as in vs. Vegetables? Global Fruit Systems? Grafting and Reproduction? Why oranges are not the only fruit? The trouble is that each of these areas of study has some essential tools and concepts that we need for the other areas of study, and whatever I start with will be frustrating because I will want to use some term that I haven't explained yet. Sigh. And yet it is so fun at the preliminary stages!

And I have tons of ideas for films!!!! I love Fruit Studies films --- they can be very accessible for students and really create an "aha" moment about fruit experience in a way that readings and statistics often don't. Should I have some sort of film analysis assignment, or presentations on films? I can't decide! It doesn't help that I know of a lot of great fruity films and am sorely tempted to just show the films in all of the class sessions. That would make prep easy and fun! But, probably not what is expected of me. So I'll have to do the hard work of pairing films with the readings and selecting only a few, the most exciting and important.

I haven't done anything besides lay out the dates of the next semester. Oh, and finally track down a copy of the book, which still has not even been ordered for me. Luckily my officemate is teaching Intro to Fruit Studies this semester, and now that she is done with the book I have borrowed it for the day. (I won't get in to all of her frustrations with students being horrible people and/or not doing the reading, but I was taking note all semester and I hope I remember how to get around this stuff in my own class.)

So, how to set up the course? Easy first, or hard? The "accessible" fruity desserts first, or start with the less tasty yet antioxidant-rich dishes? Do I alternate between the fun and the depressing issues, or group them to end the course on either a saddening or uplifting note? How to balance all of the important concepts and histories of the discipline, mentioned above, with being inclusive of all the different fruit varieties? I wouldn't want to slight the berries, or the stone fruit, but really, you could have an entire class on the intricacies of each! And what sort of assignments do I want to include? The course is designed to be a writing-intensive class in the course catalog, but I love the fun and creativity of alternative-type assignments traditional to Fruit Studies. And clearly I need to put quizzes into the syllabus and really hammer students with them regularly, as I saw with my officemate's class. I'm not really big on reading journals, and I like the idea of some sort of big activist project or proposal, though I don't have any experience in setting those up. Really, though, I think one of the best ways to get students excited about Fruit Studies is through wacky and off-beat assignments that really push students to explore their creativity and originality.

Kind of like this post.

* clearly, a pseudonym.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Victor Hugo would write naked..."

There are so many great quotes in this article I had to post it up.

Later: What We can Learn from Procrastination

Akerlof, who became one of the central figures in behavioral economics, came to the realization that procrastination might be more than just a bad habit. He argued that it revealed something important about the limits of rational thinking.
What's fascinating is that I actually rarely procrastinate, if you define procrastination as this guy does:

Piers Steel defines procrastination as willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off. In other words, if you’re simply saying “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” you’re not really procrastinating. Knowingly delaying because you think that’s the most efficient use of your time doesn’t count, either. The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing, a mental contortion that surely accounts for the great psychic toll the habit takes on people.

Sure, I procrastinate a lot, but I also do a lot of "aww, fuckit," which seems to go with the eat, drink and be merry bit. I often do the whole "staring at the stack of essays and suffering while changing tv channels, one eye on the essays and one on the tv," (and I am completely miserable), but I also often go, "no, I did one essay and I need a mental health break and I will now refuse to acknowledge the fact that they exist." Then I, I dunno, live in the moment, only focusing on the nap or food or pleasant activity I'm taking part in. But, yeah, there's definite benefits to just being unapologetically bad rather than beating oneself up about what one is not doing. It's like what Yoda said: "Do or not do. There is no procrastination."
Viewed this way, procrastination starts to look less like a question of mere ignorance than like a complex mixture of weakness, ambition, and inner conflict. ... Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves not as unified selves but as different beings, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control.... Similarly, Otto von Bismarck said, “Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” In that sense, the first step to dealing with procrastination isn’t admitting that you have a problem. It’s admitting that your “you”s have a problem.

"My yous have a problem" would also make a nice post title. Will save it for when needed.

The essay also has an explanation why we, as teachers, exist, and why our ability to set limits for students is vital even at the college level:

Instead, we should rely on what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, in their essay in “The Thief of Time,” call “the extended will”—external tools and techniques to help the parts of our selves that want to work.
And finally, the story that starts my post:
(Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.)

At some point I should get up and cook some dinner, but I'm enjoying myself here, reading stuff, watching a Dave Brubeck documentary on tv, relaxing. Tomorrow is another day? Nope, I'm just gonna seize the now.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Hey, it's snowing! The cats do not approve. First Loquito was staring out the window with his ears flattened, watching the flakes come down. Then he tried hissing at it. Then he scratched at the window the same way he buries things in his litterbox or "covers up" his food. Now he is at the bargaining stage, meowing at me for more food because the stuff in his bowl is a whole hour old. I am not moved.

Timido watched the flakes for a little while but then I raised the blinds more to get a nice view and that scared him. He came back later to watch from more of a distance but the wind changed and some flakes flew against the window and now he is completely in hiding.

And I hear Loquito eating now. Cats --- they are quite predictable, aren't they?

So anyway it's a nice day and I don't have to go anywhere, so I am watching the snow fall but not stick. I see my car, which is quite covered. My plan was, as it is every Saturday, to go to the next town over and eat a breakfast bagel sandwich and drink a fancy coffee while grading, as a nice way of getting out of the house and motivating my work. But I decided not to bother with the car and potential driving difficulties today.

Of course, you see me working hard on those essays right now, don't you? Heh. It helps to have a productive routine --- when I am at the coffee place I associate it with working, while I associate this couch with being comfy and lazy --- and it helps a lot too to only have the essays with me, so that I can't check the internet for distractions even if the wifi is working.

If you remember, a while back I posted about making an emergency kit and having supplies and stuff around the house. Well, as part of that project, I got some of that Starbucks instant coffee, both the hot and the cold versions. I totally don't want to sound like some sort of testimonial or whatnot, but I am drinking the instant stuff right now, and it is pretty good. So soon I will be nicely caffeinated and hopefully that will prompt some good work habits. And the cold stuff you can make with cold water, so even if we were to have a power outage I could have my coffee ... and probably grade all day by the light of a lantern. Wow. Suddenly my life sounds very 19th-century prison, or maybe like the 10-year-old pieceworkers who would bring home sewing for while they watched all their younger siblings. Ok, it's totally not like that. It's just depressing that my teaching load is so high I have no time off grading and even if I were to be snowed in and with no power I'd still have to try and keep caught up.

My scaredy-cat just came out of hiding. Loquito jumped him and they wrestled for a minute, then when Loquito won, Timido ran off and went into hiding in a different place. So funny.

And now the snow appears to have slackened. Does this mean I have to start grading? Oh, coffee, let me prolong your sweet liquor just a little longer!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grading Guilt

Well, I did not get the essays back to all of my classes this week. Sigh. This makes me anxious, and I hate dealing with the aggro responses of students who are anxious and whiny about not getting their essays back yet --- especially the ones who think they are being cute but are really coming across somewhere between obnoxious and threatening. So this means I don't have a weekend to catch up on life before I get the final set of drafts. Ugh.

And while deciding not to do a grading marathon made life easier in certain ways, it didn't lighten my to-do load much. And I am teaching a set of readings and a type of essay that I don't really have prior experience with, and prepping some sort of brainstorming/peer review worksheet for it sucked up a lot of my time and energy. I just can't half-ass teaching prep when it means a potential shitty class is on the line. Sigh. I wish I could. And the past few days have involved me snapping at my students because the lesson plan wasn't going quite as well as it should and on top of that they were being totally disruptive assholes. I'm torn about whether to scrap this last essay sequence and try a different set of readings in the crappy anthology next semester or try to tweak them into something more workable. On the one hand, more work, but on the other hand, I might get a sequence together that I don't hate and that doesn't suck to teach. And I'm just worn out and grumpy by the end of the semester anyway.

You know, when I taught at a place that did portfolios I didn't like it, especially because all the TAs/lecturers had to meet and pass or fail each others' student portfolios in a multi-day grading anxiety nightmare, but looking at that now, I do like the way I kinda stopped teaching new stuff after Thanksgiving and just taught portfolio revision instead. It was easier to plan, and you could throw in some pretty easy days (today we pick which of your essays you will revise!), although I don't remember how I managed to squeeze in four essays and portfolio revision. So maybe it would be worth trying again somewhere else.

Here, however, we don't do portfolios, but an in-class final and evaluate those. Blearrrrrrgh! So one of the things I've been thinking about the past couple days is what sort of short little article I could grab to have them respond to it in a final exam's amount of time. I do not like this system. I know it's to test students in an unplagiarizable environment, and I guess that there's a problem here that students get so much "help" and do so much guided revision to get passing essays that they are still unable to write a coherent sentence or complete an in-class essay without help, but still. Ugh. I've spent the entire semester trying to break my students of writing glib, seemingly presentable, yet completely stream-of-consciousness unsourced essays, which they can already do. (I presume because of all the timed essay tests from the SAT and No Child Left Behind?) This assignment will just undo all the training I did.

And all you profs in other departments will regret it when you get my students producing an essay on, say, the causes of the civil war, that starts off by asserting a lot of common wisdom that they already knew, never once refers to any of the textbooks, veers off into a discussion of the student's favorite cat and closes by returning to some of the causes introduced in the beginning, but this time directly contradicting the earlier assertions! Ahhhhhh! See, a portfolio project, maybe one where they have to go find a good outside source or two as part of the revision process, would reinforce the principles I have been teaching all semester: how to organize, how to revise, how to construct a logical and consistent argument, how to back up one's claims with support from other texts instead of pulling random generalizations out of one's ass, how to introduce and analyze that support properly. And the students have learned a bunch --- although I haven't gotten them beyond a very basic argument to an actual sophisticated argument --- but I fear that a timed in-class essay will bring out all their old bad habits. Sigh.

So I have to plan that --- pick an article, write some instructions, consider how much I'm going to nag them to do some brainstorming and outlining before writing (do I put that explicitly in the instructions?) and how much practice/prep I want to do for it next week. Meh. I mean, I have tons and tons and tons of other stuff to do, too (go back to job apps? piles of grading? making the lit final for stripey class? laundry?) --- but if you have any suggestions for how to reconcile my pedagogical goals with the department's goals and requirements, please have at it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

End of the Semester

I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.
I will not kill my students.

Sigh. I have so many freakin' essays left to grade!

Maybe I could just kill the ones whose essays I haven't graded yet...?