Saturday, December 1, 2012

Whoo. Or: why I haven't been around much lately

So, yeah. This chasing-tenure thing. It feels a bit like chasing one's tail, or what I imagine that would feel like if I actually had a tail.

This has been, pretty much, the Semester from Hell (which I knew was going to be the case going in, and one of the reasons why I went to Europe for six weeks this summer was that I wanted to fortify myself). I hadn't anticipated being appointed to a search committee, nor being contacted by a journal out of the blue to review a book (which was gratifying, especially since the book turned out to cite both of my published articles, so I wasn't about to say no). But pretty much everything else was predictable, and stuff that I voluntarily let myself in for, including the other book review, the QEP committee, revisions to two different essays for two different edited collections, chairing a panel at the annual writers' conference, interviews for prospective honors students, thirteen credits' worth of teaching, three honors thesis committees, etc., etc., etc.)

I think I really need to learn how to start saying no to things, but I find it really hard to decline things that might involve a) free books; b) money; or c) tenure. (Actually, I'm still close enough to grad school that I'm a sucker for free food. Pathetic.)

The teaching gods are merciful, and sent me mostly good classes. (Even in freaking Basic. I had a grand total of eight students, all of whom came to class on time, turned all the assignments in, mostly followed directions, and are all, accordingly, going to pass the class. If you have never taught Basic Comp, you have no idea how much of a miracle this is. Maybe they are actually teaching them something useful in the Academic Success Center or whatever it's called this year, or maybe I just got insanely lucky.)

Whew. Last class taught yesterday; second book review sent off today; time to raise a glass and chill out for a bit.

... Oh yeah. Grading.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ENOUGH with the tragedy!

Just once, I want Hamlet to live. Maybe he could run away with the players and spend the rest of his life writing plays in imitation of Seneca, because that is clearly what he really wants to do. Or he could go back to Wittenburg before Horatio has a chance to tell him about the ghost, and end his days as a professor. Or the pirates could refuse to let him go, and Claudius could refuse to ransom him, leaving him with no choice but to pursue a career on the high seas. Or the mountebank who sold Laertes the poison could turn out to be Cornelius from Cymbeline, so everybody lives, and Hamlet gets to be an awesomely eccentric philosopher-king, with Horatio to save his neck every time he gets into trouble. There could be a whole sitcom about King Hamlet. I'd totally watch it.

Just once, I want Edmund to have his big moment of redemption while there is still time for it to do some good. I like Edmund, dammit. I like Cordelia too.

Just once, I want Othello and Desdemona to have a pleasant and wholly uneventful honeymoon in Cyprus, and Emilia to get a divorce.

Just once, I want Antony's last throw of the dice to succeed, so he and Cleopatra can be emperor and empress of Rome. They could introduce the Romans to heavy drinking, long lazy fishing expeditions, and cross-dressed revelry, and Charmian and Iras could come with them, because Charmian and Iras would totally enjoy Rome. Enobarbus could show them around and flirt with them both at once. It would be great fun.

(Coriolanus, however, can totally die, since he's a jerk anyway and he doesn't take anyone else down with him. Besides, this semester is the first time I've taught this play, so I'm not sick of it yet.)

Can you tell this is SO not my genre? Yeah. The Late Shakespeare class is a bit of a trial.

Two more weeks 'til The Winter's Tale...

Friday, September 28, 2012

WTF Hamlet


The Soldiers: Hey, did you hear about the ghost?
Horatio: I am a university man. I don't believe in ghosts.
Ghost appears.
Horatio: WTF?
Marcellus: Look, cannon!
Horatio: I can tell you all about that. [Horatio explains for forty lines all about Fortinbras, who is obviously going to be a major character in this narrative.]
Ghost reappears
Horatio: WTF?
Marcellus: I hear ghosts don't walk at Advent. Just sayin'.

Claudius: Hi, everyone. I've just married my sister-in-law. I'm sure you'll all agree that under the circumstances, it was a perfectly obvious thing to do. Also, I took care of the Fortinbras problem. So much for him.
The Danish Court: WTF?
All exit. Hamlet is left alone.
Hamlet: I can't believe Mom married that jerk. WTF?
Enter Horatio.
Hamlet: Hey, what are you doing here?
Horatio: I came for the funeral.
Hamlet: You're a little late, but luckily you're just in time for the wedding. Hey, I think I see my Dad.
Horatio: WTF?!?!?
Hamlet: In my mind's eye.
Horatio: Oh. Speaking of your dad, his ghost has been walking the ramparts.
Hamlet: WTF?

Polonius: Ophelia, you need to break up with Hamlet.
Ophelia: OK, Dad.

Ghost: Your uncle murdered me and married your mother. You need to avenge me.
Hamlet: OK. I shall run around and pretend to be crazy!
Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost: WTF?


Polonius: Reynaldo, go to Paris and spy on my son. I shall explain how at great length, just so everyone will know what a good spymaster I am.
Ophelia: I'm very frightened. Prince Hamlet is acting weird. I think he's gone crazy.
Polonius: Have you given him any hard words of late?
Ophelia: No, I only broke up with him.
Polonius: Well, WTF did you do that for?

Claudius: I talked Fortinbras into invading Poland instead. This is an excellent plan, because people who invade Poland always stop with Poland. They never go on to invade Denmark later.
Gertrude: Hamlet is acting pretty weird lately.
Polonius: I know why! He's in love with my daughter.
Gertrude: It may be, very like.
Hamlet: Hi there, Mr. Fishmonger!
Polonius: WTF?
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Let's explain all about the war of the theaters, since nobody goes to see plays any more if they don't have any stuff about the war of the theaters in them.
Enter Actors
Hamlet: Why don't you recite a speech? Maybe a really long one about Hecuba! On second thought, maybe I will recite a really long speech about Hecuba. On third thought ... you do it.
Actors: WTF?


Polonius: Ophelia, go and spy on Hamlet. Pretend you're reading this book.
Hamlet: Get thee to a nunnery!
Ophelia: WTF?
Hamlet: Did you hear me? To a nunnery! GO!

Hamlet: Sorry about this afternoon, Ophelia. Can I put my head in my lap and talk dirty to you?
Ophelia: OK.
Players perform an extremely suggestive dumb show.
Ophelia: WTF? What was that all about?
Hamlet: Never mind.
First Player is murdered by his nephew.
Claudius: WTF!!!!!

Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
Hamlet: Oh yeah? What about YOU?
Polonius: Help!
Hamlet: Aha! A Rodent Of Unusual Size! A talking one!
Hamlet stabs Polonius through the arras
Gertrude: WTF? That wasn't a R.O.U.S., that was Polonius. You killed him!
Hamlet: Oh, crap. Well, I had a pretty good lecture all thought out, so I'm going to pretend this didn't happen and deliver it to you anyway.
Ghost enters
Gertrude: WTF? Why are you talking to empty air?
Hamlet: By the way, I'm not really crazy.
Gertrude: Yeah, right.
Hamlet: Sorry about Polonius. Now I shall drag him off and dissect him.
Gertrude: WTF?


Claudius: Hamlet, I think you had better go to England. Denmark is getting a little hot to hold you.
Hamlet: 'Bye, Mom!
Claudius: WTF?

Fortinbras: Hi! Remember me? I'm invading Poland, but for some reason I'm doing it in Denmark.

Ophelia: I have gone mad. They say the owl was a baker's daughter.
Claudius and Gertrude: WTF?

Pirates: We are the Plot Device Pirates! Arrr!!!
Hamlet: Pirates! Just what I was looking for! Please abduct me and take me aboard your ship!
Pirates: WTF?

Gertrude: I'm sorry about your sister, Laertes, but she drowned. At least it was very poetical.
Claudius: I'm sure you can see this is all Hamlet's fault. Go and kill him.


Hamlet: Hey, here's a skull! Let me talk to it for a while.
Gravedigger: WTF?
Funeral procession enters
Laertes: I wanted my sister to have a really nice funeral, but the mean priest wouldn't let me. Well, at least I can give her a memorable funeral.
Leaps into the grave.
Hamlet: I loved her more than you did!
Leaps into the grave.
Mourners: WTF?
Hamlet: Oh, and just in case you happened to be thinking of eating a crocodile, I'll do that, too.

Laertes: Let's have a fencing-match, bro. I totally don't hate you any more.
Hamlet: OK. Sorry about what happened at the funeral, man. I guess I got a little carried away.
The foils are poisoned. So is the wine. Everybody dies, except Horatio and Osric.
Fortinbras: Hi, I'm back from invading Poland. WTF? Why is everyone dead?
Horatio: It's a long story.
The English Ambassadors: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, too. Remember them?
Horatio: Sorry, no one's going to thank you for that.
Fortinbras: I guess I might as well be king, since I'm the only person with royal blood left alive.
Horatio: Sigh. I guess you might as well. Hamlet would have wanted it, anyway.
The entire court: WTF?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can one desire too much of a good thing?

What do you MEAN, I might have gone slightly overboard?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Travelogue, part 3: On Shakespeare and Travel

So, my last travel post got me as far as the Greek islands -- Rhodes, to be exact. There was another continent right across the sea, one that looked temptingly near and tantalizingly new and strange. So I got on a boat and went there.

I paid my 15 Euros for a visa, and went outside the ferry terminal trying to get my bearings, and went to an ATM to get some Turkish money. More or less immediately, a man approached me and asked me if I needed a place to stay. I said no, I already had a reservation. Then he asked, "Are you Fretful?" and for a moment I felt as if I had come to a very weird place, and he said "There are two ways to get there, you can walk twenty minutes that way or you can take a taxi." And then I worked out that he was, in fact, the owner of the pension where I had a reservation, which also happened to be the most popular backpacker-type place in town, and there was nothing weird about it at all. But for half a minute, it was all very uncanny and disorienting, and I really understood what Antipholus of Syracuse is feeling when he thinks the town is full of witches. And I hadn't even gotten to Ephesus yet.

(I went to Ephesus the next day. It was pretty amazing.)

This is what's left of the temple of Diana. (You know, the place where long-lost children go to be reunited with their mothers. Because when you've been separated from your husband and kids through a maritime calamity, becoming a priestess of Diana or an abbess or something is The Thing To Do.)

What I hadn't known is that it is quite a way from the ancient city of Ephesus, easily a mile or more down the road. I walked. It was very hot and there were goats. It was fun to imagine the whole pack of them -- Antipholus and Antipholus and Dromio and Dromio, and Adriana and Luciana and the goldsmith and the courtesan -- running pell-mell down the road.

You might have gathered that I like traveling to places that appear in Shakespeare's plays. Actually, I kind of want to travel to all of them, and maybe take one of those plush Shakespeare dolls with me, only Pentapolis poses a problem, since it's apparently in Libya.

The first time I went to Venice (OK, sadly, so far it's the only time I've been to Venice), I wrote this in my travel journal: Walked through the old Jewish ghetto, trying to imagine Jessica throwing down a casket of jewels from a seventh-story window. (I've come to the conclusion that I read too much fiction and not enough history; I keep thinking: that is the sort of palace Brabantio would build; would Othello have walked here?)

Eight years later, I'm not sure I care that I don't read enough history. Fiction is fun. And sometimes you learn unexpected stuff, as I did when I went to Windsor three years ago and realized how incredibly imposing Windsor Castle is, and how the whole town is pretty much in its shadow. And how much you don't get that feeling from reading Merry Wives, where it's just this place in the background, and people talk about the court every now and again, generally in not-especially-flattering terms. (Which, actually, totally tied in with the argument I made in my dissertation chapter about that play, only I hadn't gotten it on a gut level before.)

So if I'd had a little more time to explore, I think I would have liked to go to Mytilene and Tarsus and Antioch and Philippi. (Sadly, I didn't. I went to Istanbul instead, by the overnight bus, which was a little surreal, especially the part where they put the bus on a boat to go from Asia to Europe.) But then, you always have to save something for next time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


OK, here's a silly question for anyone who teaches Shakespeare classes with lots of theater majors: what do you do with students who are Afraid To Speak Macbeth's Name? Do you call them on it, or do you just ignore it and let them use whatever silly circumlocutions they like? (I have been doing the latter, but I'm starting to think it might not be a good idea. I mean, this is an English class, and surely they can act not-superstitious for fifty minutes in order to conform to the norms of professional discourse in literary studies.)

Also, is there any way to get them to call a play a play instead of a "show" without sounding ridiculously nitpicky?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

travelogue, part 2

My dad went back to the US, and I took a plane to a much hotter and sunnier country. The hostel in the capital had a rooftop bar with quite a view.

Here there were many ancient ruins.

I took the overnight ferry to an island:

I went to visit King Minos, but he wasn't in. His interior decorator had done some pretty impressive stuff, though.

I continued on to another island, this one more medieval than ancient.

Monday, August 6, 2012

travelogue, part 1

So, first I went to a cool and rainy country.

It had fences.

And there were many cliffs.

(My dad was with me for this part of the trip, so we did quite a lot of hiking, and even tried to climb a mountain; which, however, was not a great success as it was entirely covered in bog.)

We traveled north, across the border, and found some murals.

There were also a whole bunch of hexagons.

And a puffin. (With Dad along, you do a lot of birdwatching as well.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Well, I'm back...

Six weeks. Five countries. Four different types of currency. Three languages that I do not speak AT ALL, not even to say hello and thank you. Two completely new alphabets to learn. One lost-backpack incident (the backpack was retrieved; a few other items, such as the backpack cover, my bottle of Dr. Bronner's, and the hairbrush I bought at the one-Euro store, were not so lucky).

I shall try to do a more substantive travel post later, with photos and everything; for now, I will say only that I have a new appreciation for air conditioning and cold water, and that I really want to do it all over again, only going to different places this time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer meme, from Sisyphus

1. What is your favorite part of summer?

Travel! Woo hoo!

2. What's your favorite quintessentially summer food? Least favorite?

Peaches! Or better yet, blue crabs with lots of Old Bay.

Least favorite: Probably potato salad, which strikes me as a waste of perfectly good potatoes. (Unless it is the German kind with vinegar and no mayo, which is fine.)

3. Best beverage to beat the summer heat:

Sam Adams Noble Pils.

4. Least favorite/most annoying thing related to summer?

Centipedes and millipedes. Ugh.

5. Pick one: the lake /the beach. Why?

The beach! Because dude, WAVES. And that salty, seaweedy ocean smell.

6. Most amusing summer vacation trip you've ever taken?

I don't know if I can think of too many amusing trips I've taken, so I will tell you about the time I went to Bosnia, because I'm fairly sure this one is at least interesting. I was sitting in a restaurant in Croatia, and I thought "hey, you can totally take a bus to Bosnia from here," so I did. I went to Mostar when they were rebuilding the bridge, and fortunately I ment a nice woman at the bus station who spoke English and rented out rooms for 10 Euros, so I spent the evening sitting on her patio eating cherries with her family and frustrating her three-year-old son, who couldn't understand why I couldn't read to him in Bosnian. Then I went to Sarajevo, where they had an actual youth hostel, and one of my roommates was a Canadian guy who wanted to look for this park where they had pickup soccer games (which I think continued all through the war). Which we eventually found, so I cheered while he played soccer with the locals. Soccer is, pretty much, the universal language.

7. Most ridiculous/cringe-inducing/blush-provoking summer outfit you have seen? (Bonus points if you yourself were wearing it!)

Not a clue. I'm lucky if I notice my own clothes; anyone else's are a lost cause.

8. Your absolute dream summer afternoon would be:

Exploring a new city, preferably somewhere with twisty medieval streets and lots of wine and olives and sun. (Which I will totally be doing this July! Woo hoo again!)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A five-year-old job market story

Once upon a time, way back in my last year of grad school, I had a campus interview at the American University of Foreign Parts. (Not its real name, obviously.) I don't know what I said or did in the phone interview to luck into a campus visit, apart from mentioning that I had been to a couple of countries that don't quite border Foreign Parts but are in the same general corner of the world, so I guess they figured I was at least halfway serious about the job. Which I was. But anyway, for some reason they paid my way to fly all the way out to Foreign Parts.

It was in the dead of winter and the air was hazy with smoke. I remember rows and rows of communist-era concrete apartment blocks, and old women selling sacks of potatoes and apples out of their cars by the roadside. And brightly colored frescoes in the porticoes of the church across the street from my hotel.

The student guide who showed me around the city asked me if I thought I could live there. I think I said yes, by which I meant I don't know, but I'd like to try.

As you've probably gathered already, I didn't get the chance; the department secretary told me they had an inside candidate, so I figured my odds were not good. It's probably just as well that I didn't, since it was a three-year contract position, so I would have been looking for work two years ago at the height of the job market crash. But I do wonder, now and again, what my life would have looked like if I had gotten the offer.

I think I might make it back to Foreign Parts this summer. (At any rate, I will certainly travel to at least one bordering country -- where I have never been, and always wanted to go; one of the big draws of the job in Foreign Parts was that Other Country was only a train ride away.) So I've been thinking a lot, these last few days, about what almost was, and wondering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Two things that fall into the general category of mixed blessings

1) Discovering that the edited collection you sent an abstract off to and then forgot about has, in fact, found a publisher. And oh yeah, the deadline to submit the final version of the essay is in six weeks...

2) Learning that the QEP proposal you wrote six months ago has, in fact, won your university's QEP competition, and you are cordially invited (read: obligated) to join the committee that is supposed to figure out how to execute it. (There is, thank God, a small amount of cash involved. Otherwise, I might be inclined to think of this one as an unmixed curse.)

I am not sure whether I should be celebrating or hiding under the bed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Full circle

Wow. Some of the students who were freshmen in my very first freshman comp courses at Misnomer U. have just graduated.

I feel old.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Translations, Part IV: A Short Guide to Damning With Faint Praise

"This essay is about an interesting and important topic."

That does not mean you, personally, have anything interesting or important to say about it.

"There are some promising ideas here..."

Too bad they don't deliver on that promise.

"... especially in the third paragraph on page 6."

That paragraph was almost coherent; the rest of the essay was ten pages of mush.

"This is certainly an original interpretation, but it needs more supporting evidence from the text."

Wow, that's the first time I've ever heard anyone argue that Macbeth is secretly gay and he kills Duncan because he can't verbalize his love for him. I hope it is the last.

"Proofread carefully; the many sentence-level errors in the paper distract the reader from the quality of your ideas."

Note that I'm not actually saying the quality of your ideas is GOOD, just that it exists.

"You have several well-chosen quotations and examples from the text, but this essay needs a clearer central argument."

I've already freaking READ Beowulf, thankyouverymuch. Please SAY something about it already.

"You have clearly been paying attention during class discussion, but this essay would benefit from closer attention to the text itself."

The fact that you think Titus is friends with a character named "Ronicus" kind of tipped me off that you haven't done the reading.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

SAA 2012 roundup

So, another SAA come and gone. I got to see Bardiac and Flavia, whom I've met before, and I also met Fie Upon This Quiet Life and Moria (briefly). So, yay.

My seminar was kind of odd, as people spent most of the time debating the merits of one particular National Theatre production that I hadn't seen, and nobody really had much to say about my paper. Well, at least that means nobody had much bad to say about my paper, which is always a relief.

I went to a session today that had a really good paper about doublets in Othello. (In the rhetorical sense, I mean, not in the sense of what fashionable Renaissance dudes like Mike Cassio are wearing.) I hope I can remember some of the examples when I teach Othello in the fall, because the whole paper was an incredibly sharp demonstration of why close reading matters, and how words shape character and vice versa. (I always feel like I'm swimming against the stream when I try to teach close attention to language; most of my colleagues apparently don't, and the students sure as heck are not getting it in high school like I did. I've been having students memorize and recite passages in the Shakespeare class these last few semesters, which seems to help a bit. At least that way they have to look at every word.)

I saw a rather weird film of Pericles being acted out with toys, and a very enjoyable production of A King and No King (which wasn't actually part of the conference, but the student group performing it wisely timed it for this weekend). I remembered only three things about AKANK from grad school: that it was about a king who falls in love with his sister but she turns out not to be his real sister (accurate); that there was a joke about someone confusing "peace" with "peas" (also accurate); and that it wasn't very good (this turned out to be quite wrong -- I mean, I won't say it's a particularly deep play, and it certainly isn't a plausible one, but it is a heck of a fun romp).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day of Higher Ed blogging, plus some random musings about the nature of work

Ah, what the hey. I don't know that this project will actually do any good, but it's kind of nice to have an excuse to post about something completely mundane.

So: a day in the life of an assistant professor at a small state university with a 4/4 teaching load.

8:00-8:30: Arrive on campus, do some class prep (photocopies, setting up tech equipment, cuing up film clips and web pages).

8:30-9:00: Down time, pretty much.

9:00-9:50: Basic (i.e., remedial) Comp. This is a peer workshop day, so technically I'm not "on," just responsible for keeping everyone on task. Two students show up on time. Two more eventually drift in; one of them has left her draft in her car, and spends more than half of the class period "going to get it." The other one is pregnant, and decides that this would be a good time to organize her several dozen ultrasound photos, and then drops them on the floor. Of the other two students, one of them breezes through everything and the other takes ten minutes to write a sentence. Eventually, with much coaxing and cajoling, everyone both gives and gets some workshop comments. I decide to pretend this is a success.

9:50-10:00: Shakespeare students start to drift in. I return some papers and show them the April Fool's Day post at the British library blog, just for the heck of it.

10:00-10:50: Shakespeare class. St. Crispin's Day speech, yay! Also, my awesome honors student comes by to talk to the class about her project, which results in all sorts of interesting questions about things like the Great Vowel Shift, so I pull up some Chaucer on the computer and do my best Wife of Bath imitation.

10:50-12:00: Talk to a couple of Shakespeare students about topics for the final paper, return tech equipment to office, hold office hours. One student comes to talk about final papers in more detail; otherwise, some of this is down time.

12:00-1:20: Go home, have lunch, do laundry.

1:20-2:10: Grade the four papers I didn't get to over the weekend. (This feels like it takes longer than it actually does.)

2:25-3:25: After a short break, prep for tomorrow's classes: read and make notes on some seventeenth-century poems, and pick out a sample draft from a previous semester to look at in Advanced Comp.

3:25-5:50: Down time, including a very early dinner.

5:50-7:00: Join a colleague who is coaching some students who are giving presentations at an upcoming conference. (They are both student-teaching this semester, so this has to be done after hours.) The students run through their talks, which are shaping up very well indeed, and we give them feedback and talk a little about how conferences work.

7:15-8:20: Attend guest lecture from visiting art history professor.

So: about 7 1/2 hours of actual work, maybe more like 7 if you don't count the parts of office hours when I'm not actually talking to students or dealing with work-related e-mail. And the last 2 1/2 hours were technically optional. Which might, theoretically, seem to support the Hypothesis of Professorial Laziness. But honestly? I doubt most people with nine-to-five office jobs really do more than seven hours of work a day, once you knock out breaks and faffing around on the Internet, and they usually don't have to grade over the weekends.

Also, doing this has made me think about the fluid nature of academic labor; it's not always easy to tell what counts as work. (That lecture, for example. It was fun. I enjoyed learning random things about medieval and early modern iconography. It's vaguely possible I might use some of that knowledge in my courses, somehow, but I can teach them just fine without it. And I was under no particular obligation to go, except that it's generally expected on my campus that you show up to some of these things, some of the time. Is it still "work"? Beats me.) Are office hours "work" because you have to be there, even if you spend the whole time reading blogs? Are course prep and grading somehow less work-like because they're invisible (like a lot of profs, I do them at home) and can be done, within reason, whenever you feel like it? Is Basic Comp more "work" than the Shakespeare class because every goddamn second of it feels like work, even though the latter actually took up more of my time today?

Not that I think any of these questions has anything to do with the reason why the Lazy Professor has suddenly become a focus of public disapproval; I generally concur with the analysis at Easily Distracted. To which I would like to add that a former colleague, when challenged to explain what our university did that the Big Box Mega-University Down The Road doesn't do, replied with a simple and brilliant line: "We hand-craft our students." (And this is why we come together in an empty classroom while normal people are having dinner, and coach our students through their very first conference presentations, even though we don't have to. This is who we are.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Idle observations of mid-semester

-- Doing a class read-through of the Pardoner's Tale is not as much fun as the Nun's Priest's Tale, as it has Death instead of chickens. (But skipping the NPT did allow me to shave a day off the syllabus, so that's something.)

-- People who don't do organization and planning very well (such as me) probably shouldn't try to have field trips in their classes.

-- In particular, they shouldn't have field trips in their classes four days before SAA papers are due, and then commit to traveling two hours to the state capital for a fancy awards-banquet thingy the next day after the field trip. AARGHH. (It is, for the record, not me who is getting the award.)

-- Why are this year's SAA seminar topics always perfect for last year's paper, anyway?

-- I was going to try and see if I could go a whole three weeks without getting Thai takeaway, but it is SO not happening. (What did I ever do before the Thai restaurant came to Deep South Town? I can't remember.)

-- The new Norton Anthologies came yesterday. I got the package versions with the three smaller paperback volumes banded together, and the new covers are extremely pretty. There is something very nice about getting free books in the mail, even if one remains deeply skeptical about whether the world actually needs a new edition of the Norton Anthology

-- As You Like It this week. It is about right, I think, for the season when red buds are starting to come out on the trees, and the first blossoms are showing on the Bradford pear outside my office window.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From the Porpentine Archives: In Which My 20-Year-Old Self is Anxious About Grad School

We're doing job and grad school applications in Advanced Comp, so I was just having a look through my applying-to-grad-school notebook from college and trying to get back into the headspace of someone struggling to write a statement of purpose. Well, apparently my approach to writing such a statement was to get drunk a lot and ramble at great length about my personal life in a little black notebook, which probably isn't a tip that I'm going to pass along to my class. But I came across the following List Of Anxieties, which I thought was amusing.

Questions so stupid that I don't dare ask my professors

1) How do you pronounce "prolegomena"? What's the difference between one and an introduction?

2) How important are clothes, styling gel, etc. for females in the academic world? Is it just me, or do a lot of young female profs dress to intimidate? (I could never, ever, in a million years look so polished; it's not my style. Will this matter?)

3) Do admissions committees really expect applicants to have developed specific research interests? How is this possible when you usually spend a couple of years figuring out what you want to study and a third getting your bearings? If you can't tell them specifics and you don't want to lie, what else can you say in a personal statement? (So far, we've established that they don't want to hear about your love of [field of study], your unrelated extracurricular activities, or your personal life unless you've overcome major hardships, which I haven't.)

4) Will there be a lot of boring, snotty people whose idea of good conversation is making everyone else (ok, specifically, me) feel like an idiot? What about uptight individuals who discuss Anselm's Proslogion at breakfast and still worry that they're not good enough to pass all their classes?

5) Is the [Beloved Alma Mater] English department a) really, really easy; b) out of touch and 30 years behind the times; and / or c) so stunningly good I'll be spoiled for anything else? At different times I have suspected all of the above.

6) Must applications be typed? Who the hell has a typewriter nowadays?

7) If they want to interview me, do I have to say yes? What would be the best excuse?

(In case anybody's wondering, the correct answers are: 1) Hell if I know; 2) They probably do matter, but you'll get by without them; 3) No, they don't, and in a couple of months you will get a summer tutoring job that will enable you to write a kick-ass personal statement, so don't worry about that. Oh, and you don't actually want to be a medievalist, so any research interests you make up now will be moot; 4) No, there will be really cool people who give good parties, and you will like them a lot; 5) None of the above; 6) No, your mother has given you a complex about your handwriting. Filling them in by hand will be fine; 7) YES, for God's sake, YES.)

Monday, January 23, 2012


So, slightly crappy used bookstores in towns where there is a Big Box MegaUniversity? It turns out that they are GREAT if you are collecting secondhand copies of texts that have been assigned many, many times at the Big Box MegaUniversity over the years. I'm now the proud owner of nineteen copies of The Tempest, assorted editions, at an average cost of around $1.50 a pop. Nice.

(And yes, the books are for my students, and no, I don't usually buy their textbooks myself! But I am directing a really exciting Honors project involving The Tempest in performance, and I realized rather late in the game, too late to order textbooks through the usual channels, that it would be a great opportunity to get her and her actors into the Brit Lit I classroom. The fact that the play is apparently subversive enough to be banned in Arizona is a nice little side bonus, although I didn't know about that at the time.)

Plus, I get to show them Helen Mirren as Prospero/a! This is going to be so much fun!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

so it goes like it goes...

So, it's another new semester around here, and new semesters have begun to feel less like an exciting new adventure and more like an endless loop. (This is why I'm such a lousy blogger these days, by the way: it feels like I've said it all before.)

Some notes on the first three days:

-- I'm teaching Brit Lit I for the first time in more than two years. Wow, it's a LOT easier to get people to drop this class than Brit Lit II. Show 'em some examples of Middle English on the first day and have them read 1,250 lines of Beowulf for homework, and a third of the class vanishes. I think I like it. (I now think I need a new strategy for Brit Lit II. Maybe I should hit them with a whopping big chunk of the Prelude?)

-- I'm really liking my Shakespeare class, so far. There are a whole lot of them -- 19, up from 13 last semester -- and they are talkers. I hope they keep up this level of energy.

-- I have seven students in Basic Comp. Six of them failed it last semester. I feel really sorry for the other one, who seems like a nice, responsible kid, and I'm already starting to regret my decision to move toward more peer workshopping in that class. OTOH, I'm glad that we're starting over with fresh assignments.

-- This will probably be my last time teaching Advanced Comp, as we're replacing it with a two-semester freshman comp sequence. I think it'll be a good class. I've got a whole slew of theater majors (they seem to clump together and register for their gen ed courses in bunches), and I always enjoy the theater kids; they are not always the best students, but they're quirky and passionate and interesting, and they tend to genuinely like being in college, unlike the business / pre-nursing / occupational therapy / culinary arts crowd, who are usually just in it for the piece of paper. (I feel a little guilty about stereotyping students based on majors, and there are always ones who defy the stereotypes, but on the whole they hold true.)