Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Auuugh Scooped!



This is terrible! I've been scooped! How the hell did I not see this article before??? It came out in April 2011; I started my article in April 2011. It's like it oozed into me via osmosis or transfer through the ether before the citation began to show in the MLA biblio. To repeat: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm not even going to look at it right now. I can't. I can't deal with this.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy New Academic Year!

I should make new (school) year's resolutions! Except I can't think of any at the moment.

I am reasonably ready for the first day of school. I packed my lunch and put all my bags together and laid out clothes like I am still a seven year old, but I really find that doing that kind of prep helps, even if it feels silly.

As part of this silliness I have to leave postit notes in various places reminding me that there is a lunch packed in the fridge, or else I always forget it. Yes, I leave them up all year, only taking them down sometimes when that in fact is not true and there is no food in the house.

Another nice thing about doing all that silly prep the night before is that my brain melts into a puddle of goo at some point in the evening, making actual work impossible, and this way I still get some stuff done. That's why I said "reasonably" ready. I have the syllabus copied and stuff together and the start of a class to do list --- lesson plan? well, it's nowhere near as fleshed out as a lesson plan. whatevs. --- but my brain rebelled when I was planning out the details of the first assignments after "read the syllabus together and yell at them for various stupid stuff they are bound to do anyway." And I'll need to get together more stuff for Tuesday's classes too. Luckily I have time tomorrow morning and will do a whole bunch of prep then while I am fresh and alert.

I feel like I should make resolutions. What sort of resolutions should I make? Am I so perfect I can't find anything to improve about myself, or maybe so damn egotistical I can't see all sorts of obvious things I need to change? Hmm. I have been quite good about keeping my "exercise regularly" and "go have fun with friends more" resolutions. The two cancel each other out at the weight-loss level, though.

If not resolutions, maybe I should be planning my Fall Goals? Hmm. I need to a) finish the article and send it out, b) do all my job market work, and c) do just enough teaching and grading that my classes hold together without giving them more priority than a and b. (Sorry, school --- if you wanted it you should have put a ring on it, or at least extended the postdoc.) I shall have to make a to do list for those items soon, but I can't think straight tonight.

What about everybody else? Does anybody else have any good new resolutions, goals, or funky new things to try? I would love to start a new hobby or some sort of new creative endeavor, but I just won't be able to manage it this semester.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Like the swish of the conductor's baton right before the downbeat, or the rumble of bass filling the movie theater just before you are thrown into cinematic battle --- or is it the chewy little amuse-bouche before the meal that makes you say: what the hell is this? I think I might like it? Is it intriguing? Will it go well with the rest of the meal ... or will the meal at least wipe this taste from my mouth?

I am talking, of course, about epigraphs and their function.

Still working on my introduction, and having come up with, if not a title, at least some semi-related keywords that I can plop down at the front of my essay and hope it would come up in a search engine, I turned my attention to the space where the first line needs to go ---- you know, the one that needs to be gripping and brilliant and completely captivate the readers with delight and suspense ---- and I thought to myself, maybe I need an epigraph here first. At least if I take the time to choose someone else's words and arrange them here I would be able to postpone coming up with my own. Or perhaps they set the scene, like the rows of trumpeters who play fanfares and announce the approach of the Douglas Fairbanks-esque hero in all those old-timey movies. With my luck, however, the more apt description is the beginning of Duck Soup when they have all that fancy fanfaring and Groucho Marx comes out and farts on them. On the other hand, I would kinda love an article that did that.

But I digress.

I have looked around here and there and haven't really seen anything in my theory or scholarship or my primary text that jumps out at me and goes yes! This would be a great epigraph! Some of my grad school papers and one article have epigraphs, so maybe it's just that some articles need epigraphs and others don't want them, kinda like how some outfits really need a hat and others just don't.

But then I thought, well, what are epigraphs for, anyway? Maybe I have some sort of function that an epigraph would fulfill for me that I am not aware of!

So I went and googled the point of the epigraph, because clearly I need to digress!

I found this interesting little piece in the New York Times about the current trend of obsessive epigraph-using (epigraphocity?) in contemporary poetry --- yes, it is an old article and I am sorry I am so behind the times on my procrastination and sharing of random interesting things --- and I found all the rationales the author mentions for using lots of epigraphs to be plausible. But then, none of them seem really apt for an academic article. Unless you think we're all trying to show how we've read Marx and Wittgenstein and want to be TS Eliot? (I can't really see Eliot coming out into the ballroom and singing Oh Freedonia and farting and grabbing some lady's bum ---- oh wait, I have successfully created that mental image. That made my day.)

And the real reason I wanted to link to the article was this cool little graphic:

Look, a zipper made of citations! Yes, I think quotes from other people are about all that's holding my essay together right now! Probably not as cute as this little picture though, aww.

So: epigraphs! What functions do they (or should they) serve in scholarly articles? What is the best metaphor you can think of for what an epigraph does? And is it just me, or is "anarchic comedy film" the best description ever for what is happening with all my arguments in this article and why I can't finish it? I think right now it feels more like a performance of "Who's on First" with a few "nyuk"s and an eyeball poke thrown in.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Call Me Ishmael. Call Me Floyd?

I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to figure out the opening sentence of my article. Openers are tough, because you want to be attention-grabbing and also clear and informative. Today I wrote up part of an intro and I am going back and forth on whether my opening sentence is grabbing in the right way or not. And then, suddenly, I decided it was time to stop writing. I hope that means I am "stopping on the downhill slope" as Boice or one of those other writing coaching books advises, and not simply stopping because it is hard. I do have a couple pages of writing, though. Oh, that's handwritten, so don't be too impressed --- it will shrink down to a paragraph, maybe, once it is typed up.

So now I am trying to figure out what to do. I kinda want to either go out somewhere or take a nap. But probably I should work on my assignments and finish off the syllabi instead. Eh. Any advice for getting me to do all my work? I want to have everything for school prepped by the end of this week (unless you count Sunday as the previous week, in which case it is "next week") and I also want to rewrite the entire first section of my article by the end of this (next?) week. Clearly a nap is not in my options here, although I had lots of trouble sleeping last night. And that just means that I need to not nap in order to reset my internal clock.

Did I mention that I not only have, but requested, 8 am classes? That'll be a fun one to adjust to. But this way I will have my classes back to back instead of a mid-morning class and a nighttime class, which sounded extra hellish. I'd rather get the teaching over with and then collapse, with the possibility of a nap, than fumble my way through the afternoon in a fog and have to re-energize for an evening appearance. I know from experience that I end up waiting out the clock instead of getting a lot of work done when I am sitting there waiting for the next class to start.

Hmm. Since I'm feeling a bit stir-crazy, I just might drive out to the *$ in the next town and get coffee and work on my class stuff. That would cover a lot of requirements at once.

Am I the most boring blogger in the world? Well, I hope I am the best at something, so I will take what I can get. Remind me to take some more cute cat pictures, at least, and I will have something to post.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back to the grind

Hmm. I have coffee, and I am sitting here on the couch, and I do not feel motivated to tackle anything yet. Perhaps that is partly because I got a new yoga dvd, and tried it yesterday. My reaction at first was "wow, I did the whole hour workout! Hmm, it doesn't feel so bad and I do not feel too overwhelmed. Clearly that means it was too easy!" No. Noooooooo no no no. Let me tell you, I am feeling it today. There are aching muscles in my legs in places I didn't know muscles existed.

I have done my comp classes syllabi, and done the Fruit Studies class, and my Stripy syllabus is mostly done except for finalizing some readings and getting accurate page numbers in. All this is good, and it means I can go back to my article Floyd ---- which, I admit, I have been actively procrastinating from. Sigh. I need to finish this and send it out and be able to update my cv! And there is so much work left to do on it! And there will be no time at all once I get going on the semester! No wonder I feel like prepping my assignments and uploading additional readings instead of tackling the Floydster.

Maybe I will read this ILL I ordered as a way of easing myself back into the project gradually. This person wrote the biography on my author and the title suggests that there is a reading of my text in there, but I'm not sure. Don't wanna be scooped or leave holes that the Author scholar type people would instantly notice. (As a side note, this scholar has published 17 things! Nine full-length books! I don't know how old she is, but I am totally impressed and overwhelmed. And it goes to show you that people do not lose their productivity after tenure, but increase it!)

Ugh. My cat Loquito has just hwarked up some foam on my pile of scrap recycle paper. At least it wasn't a pile of teaching materials, I guess. I suppose I need to deal with that next. Ew.

Monday, August 15, 2011

You know what makes everything better?


Those first few still images have no sound, so do not adjust your set.

The sound quality/singing-in-tune-ness isn't so strong at the beginning, but, it is a great show in terms of energy and silliness. Go watch.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Arrrrgh Party Foul!

I just got back from a party --- yes, it's 5 in the morning --- and am still seething over a stupid argument I had with a postdoc, one I haven't mentioned much yet. I now officially don't like him: he's confrontational in ways I am not, his deadpan humor does not mesh well with mine, so we are constantly offending each other or having to explain that we are kidding, and he is, as one of the other postdocs says, a bit of a "shit-stirrer." I think I shall call him the Agent Provocateur. I would totally post my question to facebook if it didn't mean I had to block it from the people who are here in Postdoc City.

In the middle of a looping, random discussion of vaguely Marxist leanings, Provocateur said that, when you look at history, fundamental change has never happened and never would. I jumped in immediately and said, "of course things have changed, in lots of fundamental ways. Look at slavery; the US had slavery and now it doesn't." He totally took me to task for this: you can't say that anything fundamental has changed and blacks are any better off now; look at poverty, look at racism, look at all the economic fundamentals.

Well, yes, but --- things did change. We have the 14th Amendment; it was once legal to own another person and now it is not legal. They gained civil rights, they didn't have the right to own anything, to marry, to name themselves or move freely about the countryside. These are huge; they are on the books, they are there in law if not always followed scrupulously on the ground in this country, and they used to not exist.

-You really think black people can live where they want, move where they want, have the money to do anything? Have you seen the south? By now several people are involved in this argument and it has gotten heated and I am the only person on my side.

(And then Provocateur asked about incarceration, and yeah, he has a really good point there if we consider the numbers of black men locked up, but then he also mentioned the spring African American diversity festival, at which there were not white attendees, and I was like, really? You are going to declare segregated --- unofficially segregated --- attendance at a state fair type thing to being forced to work in the cotton fields for 14 hours a day?)

I was also trying to explain how wage slavery --- even in the shitty, dirty, repetitive jobs we have today, like floor-mopping and chicken-gutting --- is just not the same as slave labor, but this change is almost more about advances in technology than social activism and everything was getting muddled.

And despite my repeated shoutings that this was not a light-switch situation where the only options are everything is great vs. nothing has changed, we got to the point where I got called a racist and an apologist for slaveowners ---- and it is interesting that this is the point where the actual southerner was joining in ---- and also I'm not sure how this person went from racism is terrible and endemic to the south today to that means it is worse than under slavery to that means I am apologizing for slavery.

Instead of having an interesting conversation about whether you count change by the top, middle, or bottom members of a social group (meaning: do you measure progress by the lucky and wealthy few, like the fact that we have Obama as president or I have some friends in my grad program who are going off to become professors, the plight of a (still, barely) emerging black middle class, or the most exploited and weak of people from the ghetto or the prison system), it devolved into a shouting match where I was being challenged on my stats for how many black people were lynched during Reconstruction.

And I kept thinking about my grad school friends who are black --- true, it's not a large number! --- and thinking, you have got to be kidding; surely they would not let you claim that black life today is fundamentally no different from that under slavery. And then I thought of my sociology friend: what would he do? Would he punch him in the face? Because I really want to punch him in the face. And finally someone --- a friend of the host, so someone I don't even know --- managed to intervene on my side forcefully enough that the conversation ended, if not really ever resolved. We also went down to crazytown through the whole "comparative oppression" thing where women's progress and gay liberation progress get compared to black progress and since other groups have come so far, so fast in comparison to black rights that this shows there really hasn't been enough movement past slavery, and I wanted to point out how making this argument slides the terms of the debate as well as directly contradicts our first sticking point but also got sidetracked by my point that "women" and "gay" can very well overlap with the category "black" so how well can you compare these experiences really?

Arrrrgh. Also this guy kept weaseling on what he had said and hadn't and even what we were arguing about, which he has done before on less volatile subjects, and this pissed me off.

Okay. Exhaustion has set in. You can weigh in down in the comments. Or simply vote on the face-punching.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Damn, I wish I lived closer to New York!

The Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met is closing tomorrow. And I think the collection is being scattered rather than going on tour. Sigh. I often think I don't like high fashion, because it is too weird, and then I see his stuff ---- and a few other select designers ---- and I realize that most runway fashion is not weird enough. He pushed beyond couture into real art.

PS his assistant has replaced him as chief designer and her stuff is good too, as you can see from the fall collection:

The trick of fashion is to follow the old rules and yet say something new and original, to make a connection to all that's been said in the past and still speak to our time. And to say something more than just the-rich-are-always-with-us-and-have-shitloads-of-money. In that way, McQueen reminds me of avant-garde poetry.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Floyd the article and the dilemma of the forest or the trees

I am so freakin' frustrated right now I am going to procrastinate by ranting here on the blog. Argh! Aroough! Grarrg!

Anyway, to back up a bit, I watched at National Geographic show all about Big Sur last night (which I probably shouldn't do while I am homesick for California, but oh well...) and was struck, once again, by how appropriate my metaphor of Floyd the article really is:

I mean, look at it. It's big, ungainly, and slow ---- slow to grow up, slow to reproduce, and have I mentioned kinda stupid? --- but also kinda awesome and amazing in its own ugly way. And endangered, because it keeps flying into power lines and crash landing when learning to fly. (As do the red-tailed hawks we heard about on the program, but they lay more eggs and lay them more often.) And currently the released condors fly right by naturally-existing carrion because they still rely so heavily on caretaking from human scientists. I mean, if that's not a great metaphor for me and my writing, what is?

Check that out. Don't you just want Floyd to finally be able to spread his wings and fly? That's so cool. And he has tags and a GPS! Because that is just how we roll in a state so up on our technology, even the birds have techno-bling. Either that or I need to make a crack about navigating all the damn freeways.

But, ok. I have a very long draft. I also just read over my main section and it's just --- a bunch of paragraphs. I think I have been so busy writing paragraphs --- or actually, motivating myself to get past stuck spots in the article by allowing myself to have tunnel vision and just focus on fixing one sentence or integrating one critic --- that I haven't been able to create a coherent throughline or direction from one end of the section to another. It's a mess and I don't know what to do with it. There are paragraphs that I no longer know why they are here, paragraphs with the topic sentence buried in the middle (ok, easily fixable), paragraphs that I have this vague dissatisfied feeling of "that doesn't belong there" but I don't know where it does go, and one of my main argument terms drops out halfway through the section because a lot of the examples I use don't really technically consist of the main term I am arguing about.

That is to say nothing of the paragraphs that go on and on at length explicating every single instance of my pattern (like the repetition of the color green, for example) because the language is just so pretty. Sigh. I know I need to be ruthless about that, but it kills me.

There is just so much wrong with this section --- and I'm not even looking at the whole article at the moment --- that I don't really know what to do. I'm overwhelmed. Where do I start? I think I need to go back through it and ask, after every sentence and paragraph, the dreaded teacher question, "so what?"

I went through and reverse outlined it, then I went through and wrote out keywords next to each paragraph, and I still don't really know what to do. I still can't even really articulate what is going wrong in some places, much less how to fix it. It's just a bunch of discrete paragraphs instead of an arrow shooting through the heart of an argument and dragging the reader after. Hmh.

I'm so tempted to just procrastinate more and go fix some word choice and citation problems, since I know how to fix those things, but that's just going back to fixing individual trees when the problem is there's no path through the forest. Have I used up my entire allotment of metaphors yet? This blog might explode from an overload of metaphors. Anyway.

You know, I hope the academy has room for people like me in its ecosystem --- that it hasn't become so competitive only one type of scholar, the fast-writing quick-thinking least-publishable -unit scholar, can get a job and tenure. Because I think there is value in a diversity of approaches, of methodologies, of writing styles, in the academy, even though I can't really justify why at the moment. Just like when people ask, why do we need even condors when turkey buzzards fill the same niche? I dunno. We just do. Something is impoverished when we're all the same. Even if some of us have an unfortunate tendency to eat tractor parts and fly into power lines.

Monday, August 8, 2011

More comp postings: Analysis or Argument? Or Clothes?

Thanks peeps for all your comments on my previous posts. I was good and graded one set of a stack of assignments already today and am taking a break for blogging before turning back to my article. Which still needs so much work. Sigh.

Anyway, to respond to several people's suggestions, everyone in the department who teaches comp will now be using this textbook, so it's not really optional. And I'm a postdoc which isn't the same as being tt and being able to draw some sort of line in the sand over it. And while last time I supplemented with other readings, I really don't want to put in the extra work to do that again (which is why, despite your flattery, I'm not creating a textbook anytime soon! Even if I did have the time, it doesn't count for squat on a cv.)

An added consideration is that when you bring in supplemental readings students a) wonder why then they spent 80 bucks on a damn textbook they aren't using (good question) and b) think that the articles you bring in from outside count "extra," as in, they are your "real" beliefs that they must then pretend to agree with if they want to get a good grade. Not all of them feel that way, it is true, but I don't want them to be able to figure out my beliefs with ease anyway. The point is for them to evaluate the argument's merits, which is why it's so nice to have all the articles weighted equally.

And now that I think about it, why do we even have standardized textbooks at all? My old one was 700 pages; this one, more than 800. They are bricks. And I certainly don't assign even half of all these readings --- does anyone? The point isn't to have enough readings to cover in a semester, but to have enough choices so that many instructors can pick and choose what they want and still have a standard textbook.

But I got a bunch of ads once, years ago, for an online, customizable textbook company --- you could pick and choose whatever you wanted, with whatever intro material you liked, for the surveys, and also upload your syllabus and other documents to have them bound in there too. Of course, it was for the lit surveys and 90 percent of that stuff is out of copyright and thus cheap. I forget the name of this co. But wouldn't it be nice if your dept chose a "textbook" and then each instructor went and picked all the readings and instructional material they wanted and then only that was printed and supplied to the students! It wouldn't really cut down on costs, I think --- and it would make re-sale for the students impossible, which the textbook companies would actually like --- but it at least would mean that students would use the entire textbook they were assigned. Hm. Someone should get on that.

But I was interested by Contingent Cassandra's comment that "most actual academic writing is analytical, with perhaps an underlying persuasive edge/agenda, while much of what is in comp readers is explicitly persuasive, with, if you're lucky, analytical support for the argument." Hmm. That's sorta true, and yet I feel like a lot of the academic writing I read has a pretty significant "scholar X says this, but he's wrong" to it. And I find ---- and I have generally taught comp to weaker students at cc and other less-selective schools, which might be part of it ---- that when I try to teach something as subtle as analysis I get weird empty platitudes and what passes for "common sense thinking." But teaching argument ---- particularly my style of argument, which first and foremost claims that real debates always have more than two sides ---- at least gets students to recognize and make some nice clear strong claims. Then I pass them along into their disciplines --- it's you guys's job to get them from clarity to subtlety. ;)

Or am I totally wrong and I should chuck aside the emphasis on argument? I was just reading some discussions on the Chronicle forums the other day that were working through the difficulties of teaching Toulmin argument (which I have troubles with) and had been convinced I need to go back and refocus the class even more consistently on argument. You see, I often skip "warrants" because they are hard and often teach argument without using official names for things. And when your reader is completely personal narrative, you don't have any framework to reinforce it for them. But, this reader has two chapters at the beginning where the terms are defined and given as examples, so I feel like now it is time to actually learn how to teach argument the official way.

And to make a long post even longer, I will go off here on some fun stuff for a minute. A couple other bloggers were bemoaning that the grad student/fashion bloggers Academichic are closing down their blog. Which is sad, but to be expected (I was surprised they were always in such good moods all the time, but it turns out they hadn't hit the "going on the market" stage yet). Where will we get fashion that is combined with some nice, thoughtful analysis, people cried?

This made me think, what fun it would be to use a dress and society reader for comp! Unfortunately, no such things exist. But think about it: you could have plenty of sections thinking through dress and class, dress and race, dress and gender, the debates over school uniforms (and how they are used to police along race and class lines), debates over the wearing of the hijab in France or the Supreme Court rulings for and against t-shirts as venues for personal expression, you could get some nice reflections on dress and luxury and consumerism and some good rants against consumerism or wearing labels or conformity, plus all of the more analytical pieces on what does clothing mean and how clothing is a major intersection point between the personal and the social --- which means you start somewhere very accessible to all students and encourage them to grow out into a more sociological way of thinking. And if you get a good range of fashions represented in there, I bet you could have both male and female students interested. Maybe, in deference to Cassandra, I would split it and have a range of both argumentative and analytical articles. Heh. (For getting students' dander up, there is nothing like a good ranty "kids these days!" kind of article attacking how they dress and arguing how they should dress.) Fun! I'm kinda tired of using tv/movies/media analysis, and this would be the same thing in a cool new venue. Ooh, and I forgot the whole debate about sweatshops/ethics/sustainability, which makes for great arguments and makes students suddenly conscious of their impact on the world.

I couldn't use such a reader right now anyway, since I can't pick my book. I did find this one book, for fashion majors, it says, called The Fashion Reader, but even though the entire book is on one topic, it still isn't working well to make nice connections. Which is probably because it tries to have "coverage" and thus only has one article about each topic, time, or place, and I want articles that directly contradict each other on the same topic, so students can practice critiquing and comparing arguments and choosing one over the other. I think a text more focused on the USA rather than all fashions in all times and places would allow for more range of analyses and arguments.

So someone go out and build this for me, ok? And be sure to put in lots of pictures for me to look at, cause I like pictures.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Checking out the new comp reader, of course, makes me question everything about my comp knowledge

The new reader has a lot going for it that the old reader did not ---- most importantly, two intro chapters that lay out the writing process and the argument process. The readings themselves, are, of course, a mixed bag.

But first --- have any of you read Edward T Hall, "The Arab World"? I am suspicious. It is an interesting comparison of how "Arabs" and "Westerners" think of their bodies and use public space, but ... something about how it is written makes me think that my students would all read it and go, oh, how weird the Arabs are and we are totally justified in killing them.

Actually, quite a lot of the articles in the last reader reinforced my students' worst assumptions rather than making them question them, and I hate having to really push against that myself. This is why I like having a range of arguments on a very focused topic. The last reader, for example, had a lone article about why unions suck and libertarianism is good without any hey-unions-are-good counterargument articles. This one annoys me because it has a short piece about teen mothers that argues how useless it is to try to educate impulsive young people about contraceptives and no article about why contraceptives and sex ed are good to pair it against. And one "suggested writing" prompt elsewhere that asks students to make an argument against abortion. Hey, editorial committee: fuck you!

While it might not be great on the pro-choice angle, it has surprisingly liberal readings about the wars we have going on in the Middle East, terrorism, Abu Ghraib scandal, etc. A lot of which are so clearly holding a left position that I don't really feel comfortable teaching them. Like I said, if I had a chapter labeled "arguments about the Iraq/Afghanistan/etc. war here" and I could teach students to pick apart a range of analyses and prescriptions for the future, I'd be happier.

Instead, the chapters are loosely grouped by "disciplines," but not really. For example, most of the readings in the "society and world culture" chapter are not sociology or anthropology, but, once again, personal memoirs. Damn you editorial committees! Annie Dillard is, indeed, a great writer, but she does not ever make an explicit thesis or use any textual evidence ---- she is a subtle and complex model and not at all a model of good social science writing. And in all honesty, a nice clear social science article with a hypothesis and methods section is soooo much easier for inexperienced students to analyze for structure and argument. So once again I will be trying to teach academic essays when the models in the book are largely people walking around in the forest and thinking about things and then writing about it, which my students all think they can already do and then don't understand why they are not allowed to just ramble about whatever friggin crosses their mind at any moment. Argh.

Luckily there are more articles that I can point to as having a thesis and making an argument than there were in the last one. But I am still kinda stumped on how to do "sequences," if not my topic approach. Was no one else taught to teach essay sequences? Am I doing something wrong and backward? Do you just assign 10 or so completely unrelated essays and have students make up arguments in response to one or none of them? (This is not what we actually do when we write in the disciplines, I will point out.)

I also notice that the questions/prompts/writing suggestions at the end of the articles and chapters mostly ask students to respond to one text at most or none at all, which confuses me. Especially when the prompt asks for a full-on official essay of three or four pages "analyzing" a reading that was itself only two pages. How are they supposed to keep that up for so long, I wonder. It's not like it's a Shakespearean sonnet; it's an NYT article on cyberbullying. I mean, there's not that much there really to close read! A lot of the other prompts ask students to read and respond to one text or maybe at most compare and contrast a couple. Which I guess means you can assign whatever readings you want and then have students pick one to analyze for that "sequence," but then I don't see how it is a sequence. And it doesn't help them practice the idea of joining an academic conversation.

I mean, you're studying Bleak House or American dating practices or public protests in Cairo or whatever, the first thing you do is go read what a whole bunch of other experts say about your topic. Then you synthesize these all together, explain how you agree or disagree with these arguments, and present your own take on the issue, which may involve collecting data, or may involve thinking about something really hard and coming up with a new interpretation. You don't usually read some lit crit on Dickens and then a bunch of content analysis about The Bachelor and stats on American teenagers and an ethnography of Egyptian protest movements --- or if you do, you're making some really complex arguments to justify tying them all together. And I imagine some really heavy-duty theory too. So why don't we have comp anthologies built up this way?

I suppose that by combing back through all these chapters once again I can get some more focused topics, but then I am confused about what the students should be doing with the articles. So it would be more like that lit article on how Dickens uses the conventions of melodrama, a history bit about the Irish Famine, The Communist Manifesto, and an overview of how Darwin's discoveries prompted a crisis in late-Victorian religious thinking. So, ok: we have a more focused time and place for our articles, but they are all from wildly divergent disciplines and don't really talk "to" each other in any direct way. (I think my students are not the strongest academically and need a lot of guidance to make obvious connections like "The Internet: Good or Bad" with "Why Facebook is Beneficial.") I don't think they could do much with my imaginary articles. Unless there is some way to structure an essay prompt that could get them there? Do you have the magic answer?

I can see pairings in the essays but nothing in terms of larger "clusters" that get at the same topic and argument areas. And I don't want to only teach comparison-contrast level essays. Stumped stumped stumped. I will continue to ponder this, and hope that my comp orientation will somehow resolve how I should structure essay sequences and prompts. I would rather knock this all out now than later, but, eh.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


So I went out and got food and cat food and toilet paper and all sorts of the stuff you need to stock up on when getting ready to start back in to the new school year craziness, and got totally derailed when I walked past the clothes section of Target. They have a lot of cute new dresses out if you are interested! Of course, I already stocked up on cute dresses over the spring and summer and really shouldn't be continuing with more, sigh. And I already had a bunch of skirts, but they had cute skirts too, like a lovely gray pencil skirt that looked great on the hanger, but, alas, did not work well on my short frame. (Mid-calf skirts are not my friend.)

I did, however, cave and get a cute tan colored a-line skirt and pair of shorts. There were also a bunch of really funky patterned cardigans that I thought would look nice with the fairly plain dresses and skirts I already own --- or they will once it's not four million degrees outside.

I know I need to not spend all my money, but I am so tempted to go back and get these dresses. Luckily if I'm all stocked up on everything I won't need to go out and be tempted by the stores. Of course, there is always the internet. Damn internet! You temptress!

I know, I know ---- think of the million extra books I could read every year if I just didn't spend all that time window shopping on the internet. And I haven't even done the deep cleaning the place needs after having been away for so long. But I haven't been back for those shoes I wanted! Can't I get the shoes, pretty please? Sigh.

What are other people buying to spruce up their teaching wardrobes?

The new definition of "sisyphean"

Le sigh.