Sunday, December 30, 2007


So, I'm home. And trying to catch up on four days of Internet deprivation. Random bits 'n' bobs of MLA commentary, in no particular order:

-- First off, it was great meeting so many other bloggers, although I'm a little intimidated at how smart and witty and charismatic y'all are in person (I always worry that I am not really interesting enough to have a blog, but I'm pretty sure no one else at the table had this problem). Many thanks to Dr. Crazy for organizing the meet-up, and I'm sorry I couldn't stay later, because it was quite fun.

-- I did not go to any panel sessions this year. I feel kind of guilty about this, but they all seemed to be taking place while I had interviews, or too early in the morning, or during the blogger meet-up or my grad department's party.

-- Interviews. Tolerably OK for the most part, except for the Catholic SLAC where one of the search committee members grilled me for half an hour with highly specific and argumentative questions about my dissertation description, and then moved on after he had reduced me to a gibbering wreck but before I had managed to produce an adequate response to his latest objection to something I said, and I had to keep glancing at my watch the whole time because I had another interview an hour later, so I probably came across as horribly disinterested. Those Jesuits, man, they're tricky. Actually, this was the first year where a significant number of interviewers wanted to talk about research in any depth, and I don't think I talk about research nearly as well as I talk about teaching (I've had more practice at the latter), but it was kind of flattering to meet people who seemed to be interested in my work, even when they were a shade too interested.

... Oh yeah, and there was the one where I knocked on the door too early and they were still finishing up with the last candidate, who happened to be an AP scoring buddy of mine. I think I handled it reasonably well ("He's a great guy, and if you don't hire me, you should hire him"), but it was still kind of awkward.

... And the one where I went to the wrong hotel. I mean, seriously, who the hell puts TWO Embassy Suiteses (Embassies Suite?) right around the corner from each other, and THEN calls them the "Embassy Suites Downtown" and the "Embassy Suites Downtown - Lakefront?) That's just asking for trouble, especially when only one of them is marked on the map that comes with the conference brochure, and it is the wrong one.

Apart from that, they were OK, and I don't think I really choked on any of them, although my energy was definitely running low for the late-afternoon ones.

-- I can't believe they put the interview area in an actual pit! Really, going down that second escalator was like descending into Hades. Whose idea was that?

-- Yay for deep-discounted and free books! And free wine. The book exhibit is the Best Amenity Ever. Pretty good haul this year -- I splurged on my own copy of Deloney's The Gentle Craft and Approaches to Teaching Renaissance Drama, which looks really awesome. And the freebies included advance proofs of the new Ursula LeGuin, as well as something called How Not to Write a Novel, which was hilarious (and gives me hope that my own unfinished magnum opus might not be too awful, after all).

-- The University of Basketball had its usual crowded hotel-room party (this time in a room with a mini-fridge, which feels like a step up in the world; usually they keep the beer in the bathtub). A bunch of the current grad students were there, as well as 3/5 of my dissertation committee (and let me tell you, it is weird being hugged by former committee members, especially if they are male). It's also kind of weird being asked over and over when you're going to turn the dissertation into a book, and told it would make a great book, when you don't actually have the slightest inclination to do anything of the sort. I mean yeah, it's good that they think well of my work, but I had the hardest time explaining to Committee Member Hosting the Party that I like having a job with a 4-3 teaching load and no expectation that I will ever write a book unless I feel like it, and I consider this lack-of-expectation a perk. I get the sense that they do understand I'm happy with the new job, and they're happy for me, but still slightly bemused.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

and so this is Christmas...

So, yeah. Another year, another big family Christmas. I hate watching my grandparents get older and frailer, especially since there are no new babies or children to counterbalance things. My younger cousins are all in college now, here for a flying visit before running off to pursue their own interests, and I keep feeling like I ought to get married and have a baby, or ought to have done so years ago. This is a stupid idea for an almost infinite number of reasons, but I miss having kids around, and I miss all the silly things you only do at Christmas if there are kids, such as having a big tree with garish felt ornaments and waking up early in the morning to watch them turn the stockings inside out. I miss the noise and the cheerful chaos of my childhood Christmases. I miss Aunt Anna's pierogi (she has been dead for eleven years, and I never learned to make them very well; I stick to cookies and fudge). I miss not being aware of aging and mortality; I miss taking it for granted that I will have children of my own someday, and not wondering and worrying about whether it will ever happen. Sigh. Early-thirties terminally-single angst, I guess.

Another MLA. This will be my third, and some of the excitement has worn off, although it is nice to know what to expect (mostly, that no one I meet there will ever call me again). All the same, I have to admit I kind of like the MLA, even though nobody else does. (My mom brought me to a cocktail party there when I was seven months old and she was a desperate jobseeker; I think this experience warped me for life.) Anyway, the book exhibit always throws me into paroxysms of geeky joy, and, I dunno, there's just something cool about being surrounded by thousands and thousands of English professors. I'm like, hey, these are my people. And I get to say hello to the ones from the Beloved Alma Mater, which is nice.

Uh, yeah. Warped. For life, I tell you. Mothers, don't take your babies to the MLA.

Hope to see some of y'all there!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things I have learned from the sitemeter...

First of all, it's really easy to freak yourself out. (Oh no! Somebody from Next Town Over where a bunch of New SLAC faculty live keeps visiting this site! They must be associated with New SLAC! Oh, crap, what if they're on the search committee? Uh, wait, it's ... um, me. Never mind.

In order not to look like a complete idiot, I hasten to add that I don't live in Next Town Over, and up until a couple of weeks ago, hits from my home computer registered as coming from Other Town Farther Out.)

Secondly, I seem to be getting hits from an extraordinary number of students looking for analysis of either Herrick's poetry or "Lady Windermere's Fan." The first group will almost certainly come away disappointed; as for the second ... well, I'd LOVE to see someone plagiarize my composite essay on Oscar Wilde. Go on, lazy AP English students. I dare you. (On the other hand, those of you who are seriously interested in learning more about this play should definitely check out this fine collection of YouTube videos.)

Search strings on this topic range from the mundane to the bizarre: oscar wilde nature society passage; how does the play lady windermere's fan by oscar wilde reveal the values of the charachters and the nature of their society; odd trick lady windermere’s fan; oscar wilde highlights of life; tea orwell oscar wilde; Lady Windermere’s AP essay; SOMETHING YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT OSCAR WILDE; and, my personal favorite, farting lord windermere.

Other search strings: st. lucy with a quill; MLA interview "haven't heard" (aw, whoever you are, I'm sorry and I hope you've had better luck since then); making him a maid; harry potter custom robes; petruchio's views on marriage; the pirates have dealth with me like thieves of mercy mean; fun facts Jane Goodall blog; and, most intriguingly, research paper on lipstick.

All in all, this is quite intriguing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Well, that was ... original?

Me: Can you tell me a little about your research process for this paper?

Student: Oh, I didn't really do any research, I just wrote it.

Me: Are you sure?

Student: Yes.

Me: I'm asking because a number of passages in your essay are identical with an essay that can be downloaded from multiple web sites. Would you take a look and compare these two paragraphs?

Student: ...

Me: How do you explain this?

Student: I have a file-sharing program installed on my computer ... maybe it took a file off the computer without me knowing about it, and then installed it on all those sites?

(Damn, if only all that ingenuity had been applied to the assignment in the first place...)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Translations, Part II

It's been a while since I've done a job market post. The news is mostly good, but unbloggable. So, in lieu of actual information, have some pointless snark.

The MLA or phone interview:

"Tell us about your dissertation."

I don't remember which one you are, and I can't look it up because my daughter used the cover letters to line the birdcage.

"What attracts you to Podunk Land-Grant University?"

Are you fleeing a scandal, or are you just very fond of mud flats?

"Oh, I think mud flats are fascinating!"

I want a job, dammit. I don't care where.

"What are your greatest weaknesses as a teacher and as a scholar?"

Please eviscerate yourself for the search committee's amusement.

"I'm a perfectionist."

I'm a bullshitter.

"Here at Malcolm X College, we are very interested in diversity. How would you support this important value of ours?"

Do you freak out around black people?

"Here at Lars Oleson and Olaf Larson College of Minnesota, we are very interested in diversity. How would you support this important value of ours?"

Please don't be white. If you have to be white, please don't be Lutheran.

"I think diversity comes in many forms. You can have geographic diversity, socioeconomic diversity, diversity of interests and experiences. At a college in Minnesota, to take a hypothetical example, a Southern person might be very diverse..."

I am a heterosexual white person. I cannot help you. But I do know how to make red velvet cake!

"How do you see yourself fitting in with the mission and values of our college?"

Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?

"How would you teach an Intro to the Humanities lecture course, covering art, music, literature, and theater from 800 BCE to the present, incorporating multicultural perspectives, to a group of 50 to 75 remedial students who don't want to be there?"

Are YOU Jesus Christ and our personal savior?

"With a population like that, my philosophy is that you meet the students where they are, and take them where they need to be."

I'd show a lot of movies.

"Do you think all English majors should be required to take a Shakespeare class?"

The other committee members and I are on opposite sides of a bitter dispute about this. Whatever you say, it will offend at least one of us.

"What do you like to do for fun?"

Are you a weirdo?

"I do a bit of creative writing."

I write fanfiction. About my dissertation texts.

"Have you got any questions for us?"

You MUST MUST MUST ask a question! Otherwise, you will never find the Holy Grail! But it must be a safe question. Oh, and you don't get to find out which questions the safe ones are until after you're hired, but don't let that stop you.

"Tell me about your students."

I am boring, but at least I won't embarrass you in public.

"You can expect to hear from us by the second week in January."

You will never hear from us again.

Friday, December 7, 2007

because posting is SO much better than grading

Neophyte asks:

For those of you working in early periods: So. How do you feel about the Past? What does it mean to you to encounter things that are old? Do you fall on a particular side of the irreparable-alterity/abiding-familiarity debate? Do you think that debate is nonsense? Especially if you work on something not obviously, blatantly political: how do you think about the political value of what you do? When did you first discover History? What drew you to it?

Honestly? I feel like I'm going to be booted out of the academy for admitting this, but I'm ALL about the abiding familiarity.

I think part of it is the fact that I do Shakespeare & co., and if I hadn't decided in my second semester of grad school that I was not going to make it as a medievalist, I would probably be doing Arthurian lit. And I find this stuff cool because it's living literature; people are still telling and retelling these stories and making movies of them and finding their own meanings in them. And I think the fact that these texts still speak to us is important. I don't want to say that what they say to us is necessarily more important than what they would have said to the original audiences, but the fact remains that the latter set of meanings are at best only partially recoverable.

And part of it is just how my mind works. I tend to zero in on the familiar. I remember reading the Iliad in the snack bar in my second semester of college. I don't think I particularly wanted to read the Iliad at that point. I signed on for the Epic and Romance course because it was taught by my freshman Shakespeare professor, who was abrasive and subversive and hilarious and generally awesome, but I don't think I had any inherent interest in the subject matter. So yeah, there I am eating fried mozzarella sticks and reading Book Fifteen of the Iliad, and thinking, "What the hell is this?" And then I come to this bit about the Trojans kicking the shit out of the Greeks as when a little boy piles sand by the sea-shore / when in his innocent play he makes sand towers to amuse him / and then still playing, with hands and feet ruins them and wrecks them.

And then, right then, I knew what I was doing in Epic and Romance. Wow. That little Greek boy by some distant seashore was doing exactly what kids do when they play at the beach today, and some poet who may or may not have been named Homer thought it was worth writing about, and by some miracle his words survived. It was probably a silly thing to have an epiphany about, but nevertheless it did hit nineteen-year-old me with the force of an epiphany.

So I read on a few more pages, up to the point where Ajax says, Do you expect, if our ships fall to helm-shining Hektor / that you will walk each of you back dryshod to the land of your fathers? / Do you not hear how Hektor is stirring up all of his people, / how he is raging to set fire to our ships? He is not / inviting you to come to a dance." And I turned to my friends and said, "Hey, did you know that Homer invented sarcasm?" (He probably didn't. I suspect sarcasm has always been with us. But I read that bit out loud to them, and they laughed, and it just blew my mind that a 2,800-year-old joke would translate.)

It still blows my mind. It goes on blowing my mind all the time. And I think that's a big part of why I do what I do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

you know it's the end of the semester when...

... your entire lesson plan consists of the sentence "I am the Priest."

(The one in Act V, Scene i of Twelfth Night, that is, which my students will be performing and I will be helping. This is not quite the entire class, because we have a peer-review session for the final paper, but it's about the extent of my responsibilities for the day.)

I AM the Priest. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

seven quite random facts about me

A meme that Dance tagged me for. If you want to be tagged, too, consider yourself tagged. (At this point, I think everyone has probably done it.)

1) I really, really wanted to be Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall when I was nine or ten. I'm not sure how I ended up in a sedentary profession without great apes. Nowadays I just go to the zoo a lot, although I do want to go to Africa and see some mountain gorillas in the wild someday, assuming there are still mountain gorillas left in the wild by the time I can afford it, which may, sadly, not turn out to be the case.

2) My brother has the same birthday as Harry Potter (month, day, and year) and Juliet Capulet (month and day). I find both of these facts far more interesting than he does.

3) I would much rather travel alone than with somebody else, because (among other things), if you take the wrong bus when you're alone you can sit back and enjoy the ride, rather than worrying about spoiling somebody else's day by getting them lost.

4) The oldest of my second cousins on my father's side (of the same generation as me, none of this "removed" business) was born in the 1940s. The (probable) youngest will be born in 2008.

5) The closest I ever came to the corporate world was a one-semester stint as business manager of our student-run coffeehouse when I was a sophomore in college. Both I and the coffeehouse survived, but I consider this something of a miracle, and have not been tempted to repeat the experiment.

6) I find many of the villains in Renaissance drama oddly sexy. Richard III, Edmund, Bosola, Angelo. Yow.

7) When I was a kid, my father traveled a lot on business, and he was something of a dabbler in languages -- the sort of person who would check out a bunch of teach-yourself-Hebrew tapes at the first hint that he might be going to Israel, and so on. I have inherited this tendency, but I usually end up trying to learn the language after I've visited the place, which doesn't work as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

All hail the sitemeter!

So I got one o' them sitemeter thingys. I've always been a little wary of doing that, because it feels a little like spying, but Sisyphus' post about weird Google search strings amused me so much that I couldn't resist.

Thus far, I have learned two things: having a sitemeter makes you click on your own site a great deal more often than you normally would; and this blog is on the first page of results if you Google "The Woman's Prize." (Just as an experiment, I then Googled the title and author of the Work That Is the Subject of Huge Chunks of My Dissertation, My Forthcoming Article, and Multiple Conference Papers, and this site doesn't come up until page 3. Which is a little ironic, as I've only read "The Woman's Prize" once and have no plans to revisit it, but I guess it's as things should be, as I'm trying not to make my RL identity too obvious.)

In other news: One more week of classes to go! (And then a whole hell of a lot of grading, but I'm trying not to think about that.) Also, both of my lit classes said they wanted to have a peer editing day for the final papers when I asked them, so yay -- thirty minutes of instant lesson plan! Plus, there will be film clips.