Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I've really been a neglectful blogger lately, I know. (Somehow, one's third year on the tenure track is not fraught with the level of drama that the job search was, or even the first year. And that is probably just as well.)

But! It is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday today, so that seems a fine occasion for a gratuitous music-spam post. (And this IS SO related to the ostensible subject matter of this blog; you see, the thing that blows me away about Dylan is the same thing that blows me away about Shakespeare. It's the sheer variety, and versatility, and the ability to twist a phrase that is both unexpected and just right.) So: eight favorite songs, in no particular order.

1) Love Minus Zero / No Limit. Bringing It All Back Home was the first album I ever bought. (On cassette tape, for $4.99, from the bargain bin at Sam Goody's. And God, I'm starting to feel old.) I loved it all, but especially this track, which seemed to speak of this whole grown-up world (out in New York City or somewhere, before I was born) that I wanted so much to have been a part of.

2) One Too Many Mornings. Another song that takes me straight back to high school: a snow day this time, flakes drifting slowly down over the concrete-block buildings of a suburb built in the '70s, and cigarette smoke curling upward.

3) Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts. (Can't find the original version from Blood on the Tracks, but this cover by Joan Baez is nice.) Love the surreal Old West feel of this one, as well as the fact that it seems to be a sort of revenge tragedy.

4) Shooting Star. This song always makes me think of a boy named Caleb who I knew in high school. He was one of those kids who had that certain air of cool about them, so I don't think he and I exchanged more than a dozen words, but I noticed him because he loved Dylan and the Dead, and went about in tie-dyes and dreadlocks, and was reassuring proof that you could be cool and still be your own person.

He died a few years after we graduated. Suicide, apparently triggered by schizophrenia. I wish I had told him that I admired him, that he was one of the people who gave me hope that adult life would be better.

5) Chimes of Freedom. (Again, a cover version since I couldn't find the original, but the Byrds' version absolutely soars, for all that I regret the loss of the middle verses.) Possibly one of the most gorgeous songs ever written.

6) Jokerman. Because no list like this is complete without one full-on apocalypse song.

7) Every Grain of Sand. Emmylou Harris's version, which was the one I fell in love with first. (Godless, secular humanist that I am, I'm not sure why I love this one so much, but there's something about the idea of taking stock, of weighing what one's life has been and meant, that always gets to me.)

8) Mississippi. This is rapidly becoming the theme song to my life. Which is probably not so good, as I think it's a song about getting older and realizing how many choices you've closed off for yourself; but it is also a song about making the best of the ones you've got left, and that's something.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

graduation blogging

-- One of the stranger aftereffects of having been a Girl Scout is that you can never resist singing "My reindeer flies sideways, yours flies upside down / My reindeer is pea-gree-en, your reindeer is brown" under your breath whenever anyone plays "Pomp and Circumstance." Goodness, I hope I wasn't audible.

-- The guy next to me certainly was audible. Dude, I get it, you have a very nice tenor voice, but you don't need to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" five times louder than everyone else. Also, I'm pretty sure it is not appropriate to put on a British accent for that particular song.

-- Dear State Commissioner of Higher Education, I appreciate your efforts to keep things short, but a graduation speech should consist of something slightly more inspirational than information about the university cribbed straight from the website and statistics about how much your median earnings go up if you have a bachelor's degree. Especially if a significant number of your own faculty are making roughly $5,000 less than the average for people with bachelor's degrees. This is called adding insult to injury.

-- "To whom much is given, much is expected" is not actually grammatical. I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be an "of those" at the beginning of that sentence.

-- Wow, one of my former students looks almost exactly like the actor who plays Berowne in the Globe Love's Labour's Lost. I didn't realize it until I saw him in his graduation gown. (He kind of has the Berowne attitude, too.)

-- People who cheer, shriek, and shout out graduates' names when they've already been told to hold their applause need to be suppressed like guinea pigs. Yes, I get that you're proud of your son / daughter / other relative / friend, but they are not so much more special than all the other graduates that you get to interrupt the ceremony. (Also, on a catty note, I couldn't help noticing that these are hardly ever people who are graduating cum laude, and I wonder if there's a certain subtext of "congratulations, we can't believe you finally made it through" behind some of the noisier celebrations.)

For all that, I kind of like graduation. There's something special about all the ceremony, and the ridiculously archaic costumes, and the way the faculty line of march starts off totally confused and then turns dignified, somewhere between the Humanities building and the auditorium.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Exam week bullets

-- Exam week schedules always discombobulate me, and I think I am degenerating into the stereotypical absent-minded professor at an alarming rate. I almost gave an exam to the wrong freaking class today. I walked into the room at what I thought was the correct time, and was surprised to see that the seats were filled with about twice as many students as I was expecting, and they were (mostly) the wrong ones. Fortunately, it turns out that the actual exam time for my class is tomorrow and not yesterday. Whew. Now I just have to get through the next two days, which will include giving the real exam for that class, proctoring a different exam for one of my colleague's classes, and keeping appointments for two students to take make-up exams. Oh, and taking my car in for repairs. I'm going to be so confused.

-- I had a dream last night in which I was teaching Northanger Abbey in Brit Lit II, and then I woke up and read this, and now I really want to teach Northanger Abbey. I can't do it in the fall because I already ordered North and South, but maybe the next semester after that? Would it be bad to go way out of chronological sequence and read Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story" first, since that strikes me as a way better introduction to what Gothic fiction is all about than the two tiny, out-of-context slivers of Radcliffe in the Norton Anthology? And as long as I'm going crazy with the sequence, should I follow it all up with Stoppard's Arcadia?

-- It's a gorgeous day, clear and crisp and faintly magnolia-scented, and I so don't want to grade. I don't even want to grade the three remaining Shakespeare papers, which are probably all going to be quite good, and I REALLY don't want to grade the rest of the comp papers, which almost all suck. (Seriously, did it occur to any of these students that the reason why we did annotated bibliographies right before the final papers is that they would be expected to, you know, cite sources? Or that if I suggest a change after reading a draft, it would be a good idea to MAKE that change before they turn in the final version? Based on the papers I have read so far, I think the answers are "no" and "no.")