Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ew ew ew ew ew...

On what PLANET is it considered appropriate to chew tobacco in class???

It took me a while to notice it was happening, as the student in question was using a Pepsi bottle as a spittoon, and I don't particularly mind if students have Pepsi in class. I do mind if the level of liquid in the bottle ... appears to be steadily increasing rather than decreasing. Ick!

If I never work in this profession again, I am not going to miss freshman comp at ALL.

On a more cheerful note, thanks to somebody-or-other at the Chronicle forums for linking to what is now my new favorite piece of medieval art. I adore the fact that those two back rows of students have not changed in the slightest in 600-odd years.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Woo hoo!

One of the students in my Shakespeare class wants to write her Honors thesis on Henry V! I am soooo excited!

I would, of course, be even happier and more excited if I were going to be around to direct the thesis, but still, it's a good feeling. Made better by the fact that the student in question is very bright, very conservative and Catholic, and, at the beginning of the semester, struck me as a bit of a black-and-white thinker. And a big part of what I'm trying to teach, when I teach Shakespeare in general and the history plays in particular, is the joy of embracing shades of grey.

And she is getting it. The final paper that started off as an attempt to prove that Prince Hal Is Really A Great Guy And An Ideal Monarch-To-Be is turning into a much subtler exploration of the ambiguities in the text, the things that pull for and against that reading, and the reasons why Shakespeare might have wanted to have it both ways. I admit that I did nudge her in this direction, and gave her a copy of the classic Norman Rabkin article on the topic, but I didn't push. She came to it on her own.

And it looks like I will be getting a whole slew of papers about The Merchant of Venice from the other students in the class, and again, I'm really pleased -- it makes me happy that they're seeking out the thorny, knotty, and uncomfortable texts. I wish I hadn't dropped Measure for Measure from my original reading list, because I think some of them would have done a fabulous job with it. Ah well. There will, I hope, be other Shakespeare classes -- at least, I have to trust that there will.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Approximate 444th Birthday to Mr. William Shakespeare

In celebration, I post the most 4-filled passage of Shakespeare I could find:

Speak, sirs; how was it?

We four set upon some dozen--

Sixteen at least, my lord.

And bound them.

No, no, they were not bound.

You rogue, they were bound, every man of them; or I am a Jew else, an Ebrew Jew.

As we were sharing, some six or seven fresh men set upon us--

And unbound the rest, and then come in the other.

What, fought you with them all?

All! I know not what you call all; but if I fought not with fifty of them, I am a bunch of radish: if there were not two or three and fifty upon poor old Jack, then am I no two-legged creature.

Pray God you have not murdered some of them.

Nay, that's past praying for: I have peppered two of them; two I am sure I have paid, two rogues in buckram suits. I tell thee what, Hal, if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face, call me horse. Thou knowest my old ward; here I lay and thus I bore my point. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me--

What, four? thou saidst but two even now.

Four, Hal; I told thee four.

Ay, ay, he said four.

These four came all a-front, and mainly thrust at me. I made me no more ado but took all their seven points in my target, thus.

Seven? why, there were but four even now.

In buckram?

Ay, four, in buckram suits.

Seven, by these hilts, or I am a villain else.

Prithee, let him alone; we shall have more anon.

Dost thou hear me, Hal?

Ay, and mark thee too, Jack.

Do so, for it is worth the listening to. These nine in buckram that I told thee of--

So, two more already.

Their points being broken,--

Down fell their hose.

Began to give me ground: but I followed me close, came in foot and hand; and with a thought seven of the eleven I paid.

O monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two!

But, as the devil would have it, three misbegotten knaves in Kendal green came at my back and let drive at me; for it was so dark, Hal, that thou couldst not see thy hand.

These lies are like their father that begets them; gross as a mountain, open, palpable. Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson, obscene, grease tallow-catch,--

What, art thou mad? art thou mad? is not the truth the truth?

Why, how couldst thou know these men in Kendal green, when it was so dark thou couldst not see thy hand? come, tell us your reason: what sayest thou to this?

Come, your reason, Jack, your reason.

What, upon compulsion? 'Zounds, an I were at the strappado, or all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion! If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I.

I'll be no longer guilty of this sin; this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh,--

'Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck,--

Well, breathe awhile, and then to it again: and when thou hast tired thyself in base comparisons, hear me speak but this.

Mark, Jack.

We two saw you four set on four and bound them, and were masters of their wealth. Mark now, how a plain tale shall put you down. Then did we two set on you four; and, with a word, out-faced you from your prize, and have it; yea, and can show it you here in the house: and, Falstaff, you carried your guts away as nimbly, with as quick dexterity, and roared for mercy and still run and roared, as ever I heard bull-calf. What a slave art thou, to hack thy sword as thou hast done, and then say it was in fight! What trick, what device, what starting-hole, canst thou now find out to hide thee from this open and apparent shame?

Come, let's hear, Jack; what trick hast thou now?

By the Lord, I knew ye as well as he that made ye. Why, hear you, my masters: was it for me to kill the heir-apparent? should I turn upon the true prince? why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules: but beware instinct; the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was now a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself and thee during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince. But, by the Lord, lads, I am glad you have the money. Hostess, clap to the doors: watch to-night, pray to-morrow. Gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellowship come to you! What, shall we be merry? shall we have a play extempore?

Content; and the argument shall be thy running away.

Ah, no more of that, Hal, an thou lovest me!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Working hard, or hardly working?

That's what my grandfather used to say when he came into the bagel bakery where I had my first job. It drove me nuts at the time, and I think the fact that I have used the phrase is a sign that I am Officially Getting Old, but I couldn't think of a better title for this post.

So I decided a month ago to keep a log of how much time I spent doing work, mainly because of this article and all the discussion it inspired. Because in spite of all the angry reactions -- and in spite of the fact that Bauerlein seems clueless about the fact that the majority of faculty have 4-4 or 5-5 teaching loads, I thought that he might sorta kinda have a point. I thought, well, I'm teaching four classes. Fourteen hours a week, actually, since we have these four-credit comp courses from hell. I admit that I don't have the service requirements that a tenure-track person would, but I am on the job market, which is a time sink in its own right. And I'm pretty sure I don't work 60+ hours a week. In fact, I bet I don't even work forty hours a week. Or do I? What the heck is "work," anyway?

So I started writing down exactly what I did and how much time I spent doing it on the day after spring break, exactly five weeks ago, and I stopped yesterday. During that time, I had two phone interviews and one campus interview (I counted job-seeking as work), attended one (local) conference, and accompanied a bunch of students to Nearest Big Metropolis for a weekend of theater- and museum-going. Here is what I learned from the experiment:

Conclusion #1: I was pretty much right about the amount of time I spent working -- an average of around 31 hours a week, as it turned out. In my busiest week -- which FELT very busy -- I spent 36 1/2 hours on work. So yeah, I'm a lazy slob. I'm OK with that.

Conclusion #2: These figures may skew wildly high or low, depending on what you think counts as work. Unlike the estimable Dr. Crazy, I did not think to lay out ground rules before I started, so I found myself constantly trying to make decisions: Does watching Shakespeare videos on YouTube count as class prep? (Yes, as long as I really planned to use them in the class.) Do office hours count, even if I usually spend them reading blogs and playing Word Sandwich? (No, I decided, office hours only counted if I was actively meeting with a student or doing something else work-related at the time.) Does random and idle reading about academic topics count, or attending other people's conference presentations? (Yes.) Should I count the whole weekend when I went to Metropolis with students? (No, only the time when I was actively engaged in watching Shakespeare, or in ferrying students to and from the train station ... and I felt kind of guilty about counting those parts, because the whole weekend felt more like a perk than a duty.) How about the fifteen minutes I spent helping the theater tech move my guest-room bed out of the apartment so it could star in the campus production of Brighton Beach Memoirs? (Sure, campus citizenship is part of the job. I counted the time I spent at random campus events, too.)

It's possible that if I were at a different type of school, I would find it easier to make these calls. The thing about New SLAC is, there are SO many unwritten expectations about showing up for stuff and "being a part of the life of the college," as they put it at new faculty orientation. I spent a lot more time at these events when I still cherished hopes of being tenure-track, but I still show up to a few of them, either because they're things I enjoy or because I owe someone a favor. So it's mostly-voluntary work, now, but it wouldn't be if I'd been hired for the t-t position, so I decided to count it.

I didn't count things like checking out the latest calls for papers or dashing off a five-minute e-mail to a student while engaged in otherwise recreational Internet browsing. Perhaps I should have, but honestly, most of the time I don't even notice that I'm technically working when I do stuff like that.

And then there was the time I went to see a play by New-To-Me Playwright, was totally blown away, and decided that the sophomore Honors seminar really needed a field trip to see a different play by New-To-Me Playwright. After debating with myself at some length, I counted the time I spent researching New-To-Me Playwright and organizing the field trip, but not the original afternoon at the theater, which was meant to be entirely recreational.

So anyway, this whole exercise has brought home to me just how fluid the boundaries between professional and non-professional activities are in academia. I think that's both a blessing and a curse. When there are no clear boundaries, it's easy to feel like you're working All. The. Damn. Time (or, more insidiously, to be working all the damn time without actually realizing you're doing so). On the other hand ... it's kind of cool that so many of the things I like doing are, in fact, professionally useful.

Conclusion #3: I don't spend nearly as much time grading papers as I thought I did. Maybe I have a tendency to confuse time spent grumbling about grading with time spent grading. Or maybe I'm saving it all up for the end of the semester. Oh dear.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

boring job getting old

Heu Mihi asks: Has anyone yet written a story (or poem) entirely in Google searches?

Um. I have now?

boring job getting old
beginning the semester+high school
Teaching poetry to lazy AP students
norton anthology, robert herrick, the vine
examples of comments on student papers
“end of the honeymoon”
what is “wanwood leafmeal”
“dreadful people”

4 kinds of jobs job boring as hell;
chronicle careers columnist
ghost hollins college
robin hood the pinner of wakefield

inconsequential job for a fifty year old
subconsciously seeing a cat in my office
pirates in bed and body works
drunk angels
making him a maid
maid becomes mistress

back in real life
what was magic like in shakespeare’s time
what difficulties did oscar wilde have to encounter
how did shakespeare feel about the chain of being
why didnt oscar wilde like the upper class
what kind of job did shakespeare like to do
oscar wilde explode

freaking out about MLA interviews
i hate christmas

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

on mad leaps of faith

So a couple of months back, I was e-mailing Freshman Shakespeare Prof about the Fraught Political Situation at the Beloved Alma Mater (which now seems to have settled down), and he somehow talked me into sending him the entire dissertation. This was a rather scary thing to do, scarier than the defense, really, since the general culture of my graduate program is very Southern and polite, and Freshman Shakespeare Prof is like pure, unreconstructed Essence of Brooklyn; he does not mince words or tolerate lousy writing.

For about two weeks, I was on the verge of writing again to say "no, on second thought, DON'T bother reading this, it's a piece of crap and anyhow, I don't have the slightest reason to think I'll be employed after this semester, and I don't want to waste your time." Which I didn't do, because of course, that would be the very definition of an e-mail that wastes time.

Finally heard back from him yesterday. The verdict (I'm condensing a page-and-a-half-long e-mail into its essence, here): 1) Needs a whole lot more work with primary source material; 2) For God's sake, stop shying away from talking about the Big Name Canonical Texts, because people want to hear about those; 3) This is really a pretty impressive diss, and could be a rockin' book.

Oh yeah. It will. Because if I'm going to make an undergrad prof who volunteered out of pure disinterested generosity spend a month and a half reading the damn thing, I've sort of committed myself to turning it into a rockin' book, haven't I?

Never mind that I still don't have the slightest reason to think I'll still be employed after this summer, and thinking in terms of long-range scholarly projects feels like a mad leap of faith. I think I might just need a mad leap of faith at the moment.

Friday, April 11, 2008

to love that well which thou must leave ere long

"Have I told you this before?"

"No, we only met about half an hour ago."

"So little time to pass?" said Merlyn, and a big tear ran down to the end of his nose.

-- T. H. White

So it is April again. A chillier sort of April than the ones they have at home, with barer trees, but recognizably spring.

Three weeks of classes left. Two and a half, actually, since I have another campus interview coming up (apparently the phone interview on Tuesday did not go as badly as I thought it did), but at this point I have had SO many unsuccessful campus interviews that I'm not holding out a lot of hope. There is still a possibility of good news from the Last Chance Saloon (now the Second-Last-Chance Saloon, I guess), or I might be able to score a VAP or lecturer position somewhere. I was, after all, in exactly the same position this time last year. Late-season miracles seem to be my specialty.

If not -- well, I have a tentative offer of a summer adjunct position back in Parental City; the pay is peanuts, but the class sounds interesting, and it will, at least, delay my unceremonious exit from the profession by a couple of months. This is starting to seem like a good enough reason to take it.

For some reason, all the uncertainty seems to remind me, all too sharply, of how many things I love and value about this profession. I remember feeling this way last year, as well. I ought to know better. I know by now that the system is badly screwed up, that it's a lot of work for little reward, and that the compulsion that keeps desperate jobseekers checking the MLA list is not so very different from a gambling addiction. I know, also, that I'm not a particularly brilliant or inspiring teacher, although I hope I'm at least competent, and I have never cherished the illusion that anyone is interested in my scholarship except myself (and that's on a good day).

But, but, but. An uncertain and precarious future sharpens your focus. You notice the here and now, even in April (and I am used to April being a blur of paperwork and imperatives). Three students from the Honors seminar talking excitedly about their final project. Clusters of violets along the paths, and mornings that begin late enough to notice them. Showing Branagh's rendition of the St. Crispin's Day speech to students who have never seen it. If I never work in academia again, I want to remember these things.

If I never work in academia again, I'll be glad I had them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

post o' random opinions

1) Two-hour freshman comp classes are the worst idea ever. I completely suck at teaching them, but even if I didn't, they would still be a lousy idea. I don't think I have an attention span that long, at least not for freshman comp.

2) Phone interviews after four hours of teaching two-hour freshman comp classes are also a bad idea. And I really wanted that job, too. :(

3) It is April. There should be leaves on the trees already. I COMMAND YOU TO LEAF, DAMMIT.

4) Going to see a Shakespeare play with your students = awesome. Traveling six hours to see a Shakespeare play and assorted other Big City Things with your students = completely exhausting. Grading papers while away for the weekend with your students = SO not happening.

5) It is a really, really good thing that I can teach Henry V from memory. It is also good that I have lots of beer in the house. I think I may start drinking before class by the end of this week. I wish you could get Duck-Rabbit beer in this part of the country, because that would be completely appropriate.

6) If you type "appropirate" by mistake, you have probably already had too much to drink. And an unhealthy fixation on pirates in Renaissance drama.

7) If a student refers to a character named "Mistress Dollhouse" in the proposal for the final Shakespeare paper, or proposes to compare Shakespeare to soap operas, this cannot end well.