Sunday, July 29, 2007


Went out for drinks with some of my former grad school cohort last night. Turns out I'm not the only one who's moving over the next few weeks. Would have been a pleasant night out -- beer gardens in the summer are always good -- except I had this is it, this is the last time running through my head all evening.

Also had my first anxiety dream of the season, which is a sure sign that the new academic year and the job market are only a few weeks away. In this one, one of my committee members flatly refused to approve my dissertation, only I'd somehow managed to graduate and take a new job without noticing that she hadn't signed off on it, and consequently landed in a great deal of trouble for academic fraud. It wasn't quite as good as the one last year where I was offered a job in a religious studies department and begged off because I didn't know anything about the subject matter, and then my mother, my advisor, my Impossibly Polished and Perfect Colleage, and (for some reason) J.R.R. Tolkien all came over to chew me out for turning down a perfectly good tenure-track job. That one was something of a lifetime high for my subconscious.

Ah well. Back to packing.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I am SO not cut out for this moving business

Step 1: Decide what kind of music you want to have on as you pack. This is an important decision, and should not be made too hastily.

Step 2: Decide what kind of beer you want. See above.

Step 3: What to pack? How about some plates and glasses? These will have to be wrapped up in paper, and packed in the box that says FRAGILE -- THIS SIDE UP. Unfortunately this box is crammed full of paper. Spend five minutes transfering all the paper to another box, then drag both boxes out to the kitchen. (Note that writing "FRAGILE -- THIS SIDE UP" on the second box would be cheating.)

Step 4: Wrap up some dishes in paper, put them in the box.

Step 5: Discover that seldom-used wine glasses have some kind of nasty sticky residue on them. Wash wine glasses.

Step 6: Notice that it is probably a bad idea to wrap them up in paper while they're still drying; also, have made tactical error because one of the glasses that should eventually be packed still has half a beer in it. Decide to sift through papers instead.

Step 7: Notice unpaid traffic ticket and incomplete mail-forwarding form among papers. Take care of these things.

Step 8: On way to mailbox, notice that it is raining. Stand on back patio and watch rain for a while.

Step 9: Back to papers. Discover notes and handouts from job talks last time graduate department hired Ren lit person, five years ago. Become seized with inexplicably strong desire to know what happened to unsuccessful candidates.

Step 10: Google candidates. (They both got good jobs. Also, one of them has the same name as a football player.) Also Google bottle of Italian dessert liqueur that you found in the fridge, to discover whether it would be a bad idea to drink it when it's more than three years old. Type up blog post while you're here.

Oh, this is more or less how I wrote my dissertation, too. No wonder it took four years.

Monday, July 23, 2007

thinking about old term papers

Have started to clear out some of the great big piles of paper in the apartment. Threw away most of the old bank statements and car insurance policies. Could not bring myself to throw away the undergraduate term papers, or even the incredibly unwelcome letter from a former boyfriend that I'm glad I never answered.

Looking through my old academic work has confirmed something I've always suspected: I'm really a pretty lousy student. My class notes, such as they are, tend to consist of observations like "I NEVER EVER want to hear the phrase 'discourse of the body' again," and, in one case, a stick-man version of Hamlet; I seem to have recycled a bunch of paper topics from undergrad and used them again in grad school (one even ended up as a dissertation chapter); my papers were filled with snarky asides, random thoughts, and extended references to Monty Python and the Reduced Shakespeare Company; and I clearly hadn't mastered the finer points of MLA documentation by the time I was a senior in college. Most of my profs never called me on this stuff. This bothers me a little, because I do tend to call my own students on it, and I'm wondering if I'm being too harsh. I'm not sure I would have liked to have me as a professor. I liked the old guys with tenure and a perpetual attitude of amused tolerance. It's usually the young, female professors who are strict about such things, and while I liked a lot of them, too, and learned a great deal in their classes, they were never who I wanted to be.

I'm in two minds about what this means. On the one hand, nudging a student toward a more formal and less flippant writing style is a sign of respect -- it shows you're thinking of her not as a cute, precocious kid but a knowlegeable professional. We're toughest on students when we believe in them. On the other hand, I suspect that the underlying message -- and I do believe it is a message most often directed by female instructors towards female students -- is that successful academic writing involves suppressing humor and idiosyncrasy and character, and that isn't what I want to tell my students at all.

I don't really know which is the best way. I do think I want to change my classroom persona a bit now that I have a doctorate and a place to make a fresh start -- you know, joke around a bit more, put my hair up in a bun less often -- but I'm not sure how, or whether, I want to change my ways of commenting on written work. (As a side note, I was also struck by how much more I write on papers than most of my undergrad profs did -- granted, this is more true for comp than lit, and I never took comp. Do the comments do any good, I wonder, or do they just get glossed over and thrown away?)

So, yeah, random thoughts 'r' us.

Friday, July 20, 2007

obligatory Harry Potter post

You know what's great about finishing a Ph.D.? They give you wizard's robes. I'm so excited about having a ready-made costume. (Why yes, I am a geek. How did you ever guess?)

Have been re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince so I can remember where we left off, and I have come to the following conclusion: Lord Voldemort is my academic job-search hero. I mean, how great would it be just to walk into somebody's office and demand the professorship that you want -- and then when they don't give it to you, curse it so all your rivals meet nasty fates? Dude, that's some serious job-search badassery. Unfortunately, I'm starting to think that may be what it takes to land a tenure-track position in English.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer reading: George a Green, the Pinner of Wakefield

This play makes me happy. First of all, it is short. Secondly, it has Robin Hood, a 103-year-old guy kicking some ass, and a shoemaker saying "None shall pass!"

Stuff that happens: The Earl of Kendall and his troops come to Bradford, leading a rebellion against King Edward, ostensibly "to relieve the poore." Actually, they intend to make an alliance with the Scots and "make havoucke of those countrey Swaynes: / For so will the rest tremble and be afraid." Kendall sends Sir Nicholas Mannering to Wakefield to demand food. The Justice and townsmen of Wakefield refuse. George a Green tears up Kendall's commission and forces Mannnering to eat the seals. Old Musgrove argues with his son Cuddy about whether Musgrove is too old to do battle with the Scots (he is 103). Grime tries to marry his daughter Bettris to one of the rebels, Lord Bonfild, but she protests that she loves only George a Green, though he is poor. The King of Scots falls in love with a married woman, Jane a Barley; she turns him down, and then Old Musgrove comes along and takes him prisoner. Kendall and his men put their horses to pasture in George's wheatfield. George has words with Kendall and eventually strikes him when Kendall says he will be King Edward's beter within a month. Kendall tries to arrest him, and George defends himself: "Why my Lord, measure me but by your selfe: / Had you a man had serv'd you long, / And heard your foe misuse you behinde your backe, / And would not draw his sword in your defence / You would cashere him. / Much more, King Edward is my king: / And before Ile heare him so wrong'd / Ile die within this place."

Impressed with this, Kendall pardons George and offers to make him a captain. George asks if Kendall has any hope of winning, and Kendall tells him there has been a prophecy that says he and King James will defeat King Edward. George says he'll join Kendall if the local prophet, an old man who dwells in a cave, can also promise victory. George dresses his young servant Willy as a girl and sends him with a message for Bettris. Bettris's father falls in love with Willy and welcomes him into the house. George, meanwhile, disguises himself as the old prophet in the forest and prophesizes that Kendall and his men will be defeated by George a Green. He fights them, slays one of them, and takes Kendall and Lord Bonfild prisoner. He turns them over to the Justice and meets Bettris, who has sneaked out of her house.

King Edward shows up, pardons the rebels at George's request, and reconciles with King James. Maid Marian, who is jealous of Bettris, makes Robin Hood promise to beat him, so they go to Wakefield with Scarlet and Much the Miller's Son. Jenkin the Clown comes to Wakefield with a staff on his shoulders, and a shoemaker informs him that "here is a custome held, / That none shall passe with his staffe on his shoulders, / But he must have a bout with me." Jenkin doesn't feel like fighting, so they all go off to the alehouse instead. George defeats Scarlet and Much, fights Robin Hood, and finally makes a truce when he finds out who his opponent is. ("Robin Hood? next to king Edward / Art thou leefe to me.") King Edward and King James go to Wakefield in disguise and confront the shoemaker, who makes them trail their staves behind them. George calls them base-minded peasants and fights all the shoemakers in town. They recognize him after he beats them down and invite him to join them for a pot of ale. The Earl of Warwick brings out the king's garments, and everyone falls to their knees. "Come, masters, all fellowes," says the king. "Nay, Robin, you are the best man at the boord to day. / Rise up George." The king asks George if he can do anything for him, and George says he wants to marry Grime's daughter Bettris. Grime agrees, as long as he can marry the disguised Willy. Willy reveals that he is a boy, but Grime says he is content for George to have his daughter and his lands. King Edward offers to make George a knight, but George replies, "Then let me live and die a yeoman still: / So was my father, so must live his sonne. / For tis more credite to men of base degree, / To do great deeds, than men of dignitie."

Thoughts: This one dates from 1599, which makes it almost exactly contemporary with The Shoemaker's Holiday, Henry V, and Heywood's Edward IV plays, and I'm seeing a lot of common threads -- though George a Green is more of a feel-good play than any of the above, even TSH. The disguised-king scenes here are mostly warm and fuzzy -- in contrast to the far more problematic sequences in Heywood and Shakespeare. George's refusal of a knighthood reminds me of Matthew Shore's in 1 Edward IV, but without the baggage of future betrayal that makes the scene so painful in Heywood. This is a tale of loyalty rewarded, and all of the royal and noble characters are essentially decent (including Kendall, or George's request that Kendall judge him by his own measure wouldn't work). Kendall's claim that he "rise[s] not against king Edward / But for the poore that is opprest by wrong" is manifestly hypocritical (in fact, he's the one doing the oppressing), which makes for a nice tidy homily against rebellion -- but at the same time, we've got a pinner striking an earl and calling the king a coward, and getting away with it. The underlying debate, I think, is "do we judge a man by his birth or by his deeds" -- and interestingly, George makes the argument at the end that birth does matter, at least to a degree.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I have arranged movers, a full fifteen days before I have to be out of here. This makes me very happy because ordinarily I don't do this whole Planning and Organization thing very well at all. Now all I have to do is get everything boxed up before the movers turn up. I've almost started.

I don't think it's really sunk in that I'm leaving University of Basketball Town, which has been home for more than a quarter of my life. I was sixteen when I came here for the first time -- my It's Academic coach was a U. of Basketball graduate and we were going to a tournament in Next City Over, with lots of time left over to explore. Well, I was a sheltered kid from the suburbs, and it was my first time on my own in a real college town in all its quirky glory, and I bought a copy of Rolling Stone from 1975 in one of the used book shops and had Indian food for the first time, and thought, "This is the kind of place where I want to live." And so it was. That particular bookshop is long gone, and I know now that there are many better places to get Indian food around here, but I was right about the part that mattered.

New SLAC is in a much smaller town -- one with a certain amount of historic charm and a real honest-to-God soda fountain, so I'm sure there will be compensations. But then, I went to undergrad in a town that is pretty much synonymous with historic charm, and the truth is that there isn't much to do there (it was better in my day, when we had a cool art-house movie theater right off campus, but even that has turned into a business targeting the tourist crowd). We found stuff to do, as I'm sure the kids at New SLAC probably do -- much of it illegal or downright loony (grits wrestling in a kiddie wading pool, anyone?), but professors don't get invited to that sort of thing.

Um. Not really sure where this post is going, except that writing it is a nice alternative to putting things in boxes, but anyway, I hope I like the new place as much as I like where I live now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer reading: The Garland of Good Will and Strange Histories, by Thomas Deloney

These are some pretty strange histories, all right. I mean, how often do you get to read a collection of ballads that includes "The murthering of King Edward the second, being killed with a hot burning spit," the travails of the Duchess of Suffolk as she flees from the evil Catholics, and a prose dialogue between ladies disguised as shepherds because they're hiding from Wat Tyler? "Eclectic" doesn't begin to cover it, really. Deloney seems to have a particular interest in the reigns of Henry II and Edward II, but otherwise, anything goes.

This is a version of history where women matter. Out of 38 ballads in the two collections, women are the speakers, heroines, or major supporting figures in at least 21. A striking number of them are the objects of a king's illicit desire. Most of the time, there's a definite division between Good and Bad women. Victims command sympathy, and those with historical and political agency are stigmatized; Deloney is much harder on Mistress Shore, who confesses, "Like a Queene I raigned / And many poore mens suits / By me was obtained*" than he is on Rosamund, who just hangs out in her labyrinth until she's poisoned. Nevertheless, there are some interesting exceptions: Deloney's longest ballad is on the subject of Judith and Holofernes. Queen Eleanor in Strange Histories," though Deloney blames her for fomenting wars and poisoning Rosamund, redeems herself by ruling wisely and well while her son is in Jerusalem: "And while she had this charge in hand, / her care was great in government. / And many a prisoner then in holde, / she set at large from yrons colde." (Although this section is in third person, Eleanor herself is the speaker for much of this ballad -- Deloney seems to reserve this voice for the repentant sinner most of the time. Mistress Shore and Gurney and Matrevers are also first-person narrators.)

Deloney experiments with a couple of different characterizations of Queen Isabella. A ballad in The Garland of Good Will emphasizes the "griefes and injuries" of "our noble Queene" (she is definitely an active heroine here, but she's forgiven for it because she weeps very prettily). On the other hand, the "dissembling Queene" of Strange Histories is cruel and vengeful, qualities that are tied to her femininity: "such is a womans deadly hate: / When fickle fancie follows change, / and lustfull thoughts delight to range."

All in all, an interesting read -- I'm not quite sure what I want to do with this stuff, but I'm glad to have read it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The "Eight Random Things About Me" meme

Because it's Sunday and I'm bored. If you want to be tagged for this, consider yourself tagged.

1) When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian ... specializing in bugs. I hadn't really worked out that nobody wants to pay a veterinarian to treat bugs.

2) I discovered Shakespeare at the age of ten, when my father went on a business trip to England and came back with a book called Stories from Shakespeare. I was hooked, and started bullying my younger brother to act out scenes with me. He wouldn't do it unless he got to be Hamlet, and he generally insisted on rising from the dead at the end.

3) I was not a straight-A student. In fact, until I hit junior year of high school, I was so very very far from being a straight-A student that my mother despaired of me. I sometimes think grad school is a lot easier on the ego for people who are not used to being straight-A students.

4) I was a card-carrying Marxist for a while in college. I think I still have the card somewhere.

5) My great-grandmother lived to be 105, but since she's technically a step-great-grandmother, I don't get any of her genes.

6) I am a packrat. I can't stand to throw things away if there is a chance, however remote, that they might be useful someday. Moving is going to be traumatic.

7) I worked at a children's bookstore for a while after I moved here to start my MA. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published that summer, so I read the whole thing under the counter, a week or so before the official release date. I kind of wish I still had that job right now.

8) I've never worn makeup, except once or twice at Halloween. Actually, I'm not sure how you apply makeup; I seem to have missed learning all those little girly skills most people pick up in adolescence.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

OK, one last quote from the Undergraduate Diaries, because I just couldn't resist. This one comes from the middle of a completely loony but extensively-worked-out theory that The Graduate is basically an updated medieval romance. (Among other things, Mrs. Robinson is apparently an evil sorceress, and the bourbon she offers Ben is really a love potion.)

... and oh, by the way, the car fulfills the same functions as a knight's horse*...

* Means of transit, status symbol, and occasional extension of the penis.


Unrelated, but awesome, is this YouTube clip: The Lego Trojan War.

It will be inferred from this that I have been doing absolutely none of the things I swore I was going to do this week, like keeping up with the summer reading and figuring out how the hell I am going to move all my stuff a third of the way across the country. Eee.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

How Not to Be a Professor, by F. Porpentine, Age 20 and 1/2

I've been dipping into my undergraduate diaries on and off, these last few months. It's a slightly narcissistic thing to do, but they make for entertaining and sometimes painful reading, and I figure I have something to learn (or rather, re-learn) from the bits where I talk about classes and professors. (There are a lot of those bits, since I was starting to think about grad school, and I was surprisingly attuned to some aspects of the profession -- enough to figure out what was going on when my favorite history profs had a fairly spectacular meltdown just prior to going up for tenure, for example. Evidently I knew more or less how academic hierarchies worked, although I seem to have had some peculiar ideas about what they actually meant: about an English professor with whom I'd taken a class a few semesters earlier, I commented, "I'm surprised he remembered me - but then, he is an associate professor, so I guess that means he's only half senile." Then again, maybe that isn't so far off base, after all...)

Anyway, among other things, I came across two lists entitled "Rules for Professors" and "How to Drive Your Students Crazy, Part 2." (Part 1, sadly, seems to have been lost.) I reproduce them here, adding my editorial comments in brackets and italicizing all the ways I've already failed to live up to my own standards. Maybe I'll collect the full set by the time I get tenure.

Rules for Professors (REMEMBER these -- the day will come when they don't seem so obvious!) [Indeed it will, kid. Indeed it will.]

1) If nobody talks in class, you're doing something wrong. 9 times out of 10, the questions aren't specific enough.

2) Please treat us like intelligent, rational people. [I regret to say that I have failed to do this on occasion, though I am sincerely sorry for it.]

3) Don't ever, ever tell your students how much you hate reading papers / teaching freshman survey classes / undergrads in general. [Well, one out of three's not bad.]

4) If you have to make your classes read something truly awful, bake cookies for them (H----'s Law). [H---- was the aforementioned history professor. She was awesome. Sadly, I don't have time to bake cookies every time we read something that some students might consider awful.]

5) Encourage disagreement, but don't insult students to their faces.

6) For God's sake, throw out a few questions you don't already have an answer for. If you do have an answer in mind, don't assume it's the only one possible. [Heh. At least I'll never break this one -- some days I feel like I don't have ANY of the answers!]

7) Never make lists of paper topics. [As in, I think, "you may only write your paper on one of these topics" -- I don't think I've ever done that, although I've been known to give examples.]

8) You don't do your students any favors by going light on the written work. [No, but sometimes you do yourself a favor.]

9) Just because you're young, female, and untenured, it doesn't mean you have to act like a bitch. [Whoo. A lot of anger there. I don't even remember what triggered it.]

10) The gods gave us sarcasm so that the powerless would have a sharp, subtle, defensive weapon against their alleged superiors. It is neither fair nor elegant to use it the other way around.

How to Drive Your Students Crazy, Part 2

-- Say absolutely nothing about the requirements for the class or basis for grading until two weeks before the end of the semester. Then tell your students that the entire grade for the class will be based on a 5-minute oral exam (in a language not their own). Ask everyone 3 questions, the answers to which are buried in the notes from the first 3 weeks of class, none of which have anything to do with the actual reading assignments. Give out grades as the spirit moves you. [I encountered the prof who perpetrated this one when I was studying abroad in Spain -- cultural differences much?]

-- Attempt to relate English Renaissance drama to a) Indonesian contributions to the Clinton campaign; b) the O.J. Simpson trial; c) the fact that one of your students happened to be wearing a propellor beanie today. [Italicizing this one because I'm sure I'm guilty of some equally bizarre analogies, if not these specific ones; the prof responsible for b) and c) was in fact one of my favorites, and I catch myself imitating him on occasion. I hated Prof a), but I've also found myself imitating him, at least in one particular thing.]

-- Do nothing in class except repeat and explain the readings. Explain them wrong.

-- Try to spark class discussion -- invariably -- with the phrase "What do you make of this?" or "Would anybody care to comment on that?" Wonder why the class is so quiet.. [OK, not guilty of the "invariably" part, but I'm sure I've used both of those phrases more often than I should.]

-- Pick a favorite word -- say, "articulate" or "figuring." Use this word at least once every ten minutes, usually in a context where it doesn't make sense: "Michelangelo's painting articulates the power of the male nude." "What did you make of the figuring of the two families in Wuthering Heights? [OK, kid, let's hear you speak extempore for two hours straight without falling back on pet words!]

-- Base your class on discussion to show your students what a modern, up-to-date guy you are, but refuse to listen to any interpretation you din't think of thirty years ago. Neither seek nor accept written comments on the course evaluation forms. [This was Professor Indonesian Campaign Contributions.]

-- Tell your class all about your home repairs, which consist of proofing your house against the twentieth century: "My wife and I nailed boards over the central heating vents, and we've been healthier ever since." [This was ALSO Professor Indonesian Campaign Contributions.]

-- Constantly change your syllabus so that assigments are due earlier. [I haven't a clue who this is, though I can identify the profs who inspired all the other items on the list. Apparently I blotted it out.]

-- Call everything a "discourse," including movie posters and documented historical events. Attempt to read all of these things as if they were fictional texts. [Apparently I hadn't figured out yet that "documented" historical events are by definition documented by people who make choices and have agendas, or else I was being deliberately perverse. Huh.]

Monday, July 2, 2007

"Highbrows. Intellectuals. You're always trying to find hidden meanings in things. Why? A cigarette is a cigarette. A piece of silk is a piece of silk. Why not leave it at that?"

"When they're represented they acquire additional meanings," said Robyn. "Signs are never innocent. Semiotics teaches us that."


"Semiotics. The study of signs."

"It teaches us to have dirty minds, if you ask me."

-- David Lodge, Nice Work (the bit that I always assign in the first few weeks of freshman comp)

"Maybe I just have a dirty mind," said one of the students this morning, "but..."

"It's ALWAYS useful to look at advertisements with a dirty mind," I said. I should have added that it would also be a great asset if she wanted to major in English, but I thought it better not to blow their minds all at once.

We also talked about why ads for men's and women's clothing generally feature half-naked women, though come to think of it, I'm not sure I know the answer to that one myself.

All in all, a pretty good class, even though I didn't get to show any YouTube clips after all. (Note to self: never ever put yourself in a position where you depend on technology. You will regret it.) And I've learned that I can just walk into somebody else's class and teach, without getting butterflies in the stomach or wanting to disappear. When did that happen? I think it has something to do with the job market -- after you've been through the Dreaded Teaching Demo four or five times, you pretty much get inured to everything else.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I'm substitute-teaching for one of the instructors in our summer program tomorrow. I'm really pleased. It'll be my last class at the University of Basketball, and I do want to say goodbye, especially since I was a writing tutor with this program for five years. It was a lovely job -- sixty incoming freshmen here for seven weeks, usually their first time away from home, most of them first-generation college students. You get to see them grow up right in front of your eyes, and that's magic. Tutors spend evenings in the dorm, and everybody pitches in and helps the kids move in on the first day, so you get to see a lot of the students. I don't want to lose touch with that; I remember wondering, when I was an undergrad, whether any of my professors had ever been inside any of the dorms on campus, and it's nice to be able to say that I have been, and I've even carried TVs and microwave ovens up the stairs in 90-degree heat. And the closing ceremony is lovely, with all the parents coming down to collect their long-lost children.

Apparently I'm supposed to be teaching about gender and advertising, which should be ... interesting. (I've spent most of the afternoon trying to educate myself about gender and advertising. Oh well, sometimes the best classes are the ones where I don't have a clue. Incidentally, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that YouTube is the best teaching tool ever, and I'm looking forward to using it more often. There are even 11,200 Shakespeare videos on it, although some of them are very weird. Oh, and a little searching on YouTube reveals that the current crop of undergraduates at my alma mater have recently written and staged a musical-comedy version of Titus Andronicus. I can scarcely express how proud this makes me.)

Right, that has nothing whatsoever to do with gender and advertising, does it? Back to planning.