Thursday, October 24, 2013

Courseblogging: mid-semester update

So, we're already more than halfway through. Edward II this week, The Duchess of Malfi before that. (They pair amazingly well, what with all the prison / torture stuff, and the ways the protagonists find this incredible level of dignity and wisdom when they're stripped of their temporal power and brought about as low as they can possibly go, and the way that Bosola -- I've only just realized this in retrospect -- refuses to play along with the disposable-hired-assassin script. Which Lightborn, as awesomely creepy as he is, never manages to transcend. One of my students said that she was disappointed to discover that Lightborn could be killed, and killed in such an anticlimactic way at that. She was expecting him just to vanish in a puff of smoke. I liked that.)

It's been ages, really, since I had a chance to spend so much time reading The Other Guys. Not since I was writing my dissertation. I mean, I love teaching Shakespeare, God knows, but teaching Webster and Marlowe back to back just reminds me of how good they both are, and how much the early modern theater world is collaborative and competitive and all about playwrights picking up tricks from each other. And so much of that gets lost in the standard, single-author Shakespeare course. It's really HARD to teach a Shakespeare course without inadvertently perpetrating the lone-genius myth, as much as you don't want to. With this class, I feel more like I'm immersing myself in a much larger world, getting to know its tides and currents.

(I also finally got around to watching the first episode of The Hollow Crown, which has been sitting on top of the bookcase for weeks since I haven't had time to watch anything, and thinking about Edward and Richard together really makes one realize how much Shakespeare and Marlowe owe to each other. You hear little echoes everywhere. It's neat.)

Shoemaker's Holiday next week. This is going to be an interesting change of pace, since it's the first thing we've read with a happy ending since The Second Shepherd's Play, way back on the third day of class. How do you get from ass-pokering to happy singing shoemakers? I do not know. (It's also going to be straight back into dissertation-territory for me, and oddly enough I'm not sure that I'm looking forward to it; in a lot of ways, I feel like I'm better at teaching things that I haven't attempted to do Serious Scholarly Writing about. I think it's just plain easier when I'm feeling my way through a text, the same way as the students are, and don't have such definite ideas about it.) Anyway, we shall see how it goes. We read some of Stowe's Chronicle yesterday, and one of the students made the very smart point that we don't really see much of the common people in Marlowe, even though they're mentioned in the chronicle -- it is all about this little group of aristocrats -- and Dekker's take on history is so, so different that I'm looking forward to blowing everyone's mind.

Friday, October 18, 2013


After the Meeting of the Committee From Hell:

Me: I don't think I even understand what we are supposed to be doing. But apparently it is going to be a lot of work.

Awesome Historian Colleague: I think we are supposed to be assessing our assessment of the assessment. No wonder everyone is confused.

Me: With rubrics for evaluating rubrics! Don't forget that part!

AHC: We HAVE to get off of this committee.

Me: Only six more months. Then we will have tenure! We can tell them to go fuck off! Or else we won't have tenure, and we can ... go fuck ourselves off, I guess.

AHC: [laughs]

Me: I think I will fuck all the way off to Kazakhstan. And teach English As A Foreign Language! I bet they don't have assessment in Kazakhstan...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Courseblogging: Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama

I'm teaching Elizabethan / Jacobean drama for the first time this semester, so I thought it might be fun to revive the "Courseblogging" tag. (This is my first new course in FOREVER, so I'm pretty excited about it.)

So far, I think we have learned:

1) You're supposed to renew your vows for your four-and-twentieth Sataniversary, even if you wrote them in blood the first time.

2) And, by the way, if you ARE crazy enough to make a contract with the devil, don't ask for 24 years of fun! You may as well make it 2,400, or 24,000, or infinity. (Actually, one of my students had an interesting idea about how this might represent the 24 hours of the day, which I think is pretty neat, especially in conjunction with all the "eleventh hour" stuff at the end.)

3) Faustus and Mephistopheles are "like unholy pranksters," according to another student. Yes. Yes, they are. (ESPECIALLY in the recent Globe production, which is awesome, and on DVD. There's also another pretty-good stage version of Faustus on DVD, by a company called Stage on Screen. I love being able to use clips from live productions in the classroom. (Among other things, it saves me from having to show the Richard Burton version, which is kind of entertainingly trippy in a late-1960s way, but I would not go so far as to say it is actually good.)

4) Conversely, absolutely nobody bothers to film stage productions of The Spanish Tragedy. COME ON GUYS WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

5) If you're gonna kill your enemy, you may as well trick him into wearing a fez and a ridiculous fake mustache while you kill him. What is revenge about, if not excess and humiliation? (My students also did a pretty good job with the weirdness of Soliman and Perseda, especially the ironic-but-oddly-apt choice to cast Lorenzo as the apparent good guy.)

Revenger's Tragedy on Friday! I cannot wait!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Going public

So I won this award-thingy, which is nice, I guess. It means my colleagues think well of me, and it will look good when I submit my tenure file (which I am resolutely NOT THINKING ABOUT, as it is not due until January and I have ten million more urgent things to do between now and then.)

One of these things, as of yesterday, is giving an hour-long lecture on "scholarly research or current humanities interests," open to the public. This is one of the obligations that go along with accepting the award (which is why it is a bit of a white elephant, and why people who have already won it once tend to decline all future nominations). The lectures are videotaped, and possibly made available online, and / or archived somewhere forever (I'm a little fuzzy about what goes on after the taping, although I have definitely witnessed the taping). So it is very public. This is precisely the kind of thing I find terrifying. My colleagues in the history department are better at this, since they get called upon to talk to the public much more regularly. One of them was even on TV last February, explaining how Valentine's Day is all about wolves and blood.

Also, most people at four-year schools seem to do some sort of research talk, although some of the presentations at community colleges are more generalist in nature. And I kind of hate my scholarly research. Well, I don't absolutely hate it now that I am at a school where nobody really cares whether you do any, and you're free to work on random puttery little projects, or not, or whatever you feel like. But I truly cannot imagine giving an hour-long public talk about my dissertation (which I haven't even thought about much for the last five years) or about either of the current puttery projects I'm working on. One of them is about a play that almost nobody other than early modern lit scholars has ever heard of. The other one is about a very, very canonical text that everybody has heard of, but that particular project is making me feel like an idiot right now. (I have NO idea what possessed me to take on Hypercanonical Author, who isn't even early modern, but it was clear from the reviewer's comments that I have a lot to learn about "the rich history of Hypercanonical Author criticism," so I've been trying to soak up as much as possible before the revisions are due. So maybe I should talk about Hypercanonical Author, because at least he's inhabiting a lot of headspace right now. But I don't really WANT to talk about something that makes me feel like an idiot, and also this project would STILL take a lot of explaining, because although people know who Hypercanonical Author is, his actual works aren't familiar in the way that Shakespeare, for example, is familiar.)

Honestly, I think I just want to geek out about Shakespeare. I can do that for an hour, easily, and people are interested in Shakespeare. Would it be weird or nonscholarly to just deliver a "here are some random moments that I like in Shakespeare, and here is why they are cool" talk? (Of course I would jazz it up with a proper title, like "Shakespeare at 450: Why He Still Matters" or something. Or "Shakespeare: He's All About Pirates and Severed Heads.")

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Freshman freshman composition composition

So, I don't know whether I mentioned this last spring, but until further notice I am NO LONGER A BASIC COMP PROFESSOR! Woo hoo!

What this does mean, however, is that I am teaching two sections of freshman composition for the first time in forever. The last time I had more than one section of anything was in Fall 2009, and it was Brit Lit I. I'd have to go back another year for doubled-up sections of English 101.

I understand there are people who prefer to have multiple sections of the same class, but I have to say that I find it weird. They are back to back in the same classroom, and it makes me feel like I have become stuck in a time loop. Except not, because as always, the two classes are quite different in character -- the students in the first section are chattier and much more willing to play along with the whole "class discussion" thing (which, by the way, students at Misnomer U. often seem to regard as a weird infringement upon their right to sit stone-still for an hour and fifteen minutes). So I teach one class, and then I do the same thing over again, except things don't go as well the second time.

I can already tell the second section is going to be that class. You know, the one that always reminds you that you are not the most awesome professor in the world, and that this is not necessarily the world's best job; the one that, around midterm time, makes you seriously consider just calling in sick on Tuesdays. I'm almost starting to miss the predictability of knowing that Basic Comp was always going to be that class.

So, in just about three weeks, I will be getting my first massive stack of thirty-six freshman comp essays, with accompanying draft work, peer workshop comments, and first attempts at a Works Cited page. Hoo boy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer (re)reading: A Yorkshire Tragedy

OK, so I think I'm going to teach this one in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama next semester. I will admit that I decided to teach it because it's basically a one-act, and therefore easily Xeroxable and ideal for slotting into an already-overstuffed syllabus. But I'm seeing a lot of interesting potential in it.

The play is based on the real-life case of Walter Calverley, who was apparently always something of a gambler and a drunk, and who snapped one day, murdered two of his three young sons, and attempted to murder his wife and his other son. The playwrights don't use real names -- the surviving Calverleys were naturally averse to having the family tragedy put on the public stage, and they were a wealthy family with some political clout -- but it's pretty clearly the early modern equivalent of a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law and Order.

The only named characters are three servants who appear in the opening scene, gossip a bit about their masters, and are then never heard from again. Everyone else is nameless: Husband, Wife, Son, Maid, Knight. The servants' dialogue at the beginning is the only bit resembling comedy. It's a stark play, very stripped-down, and makes you realize how overstuffed most full-length plays are by comparison. (I suspect it may be unfinished -- there are references in the first scene to an old flame of the husband's, and maybe the playwright(s) intended to develop all these loose ends, only someone else wanted the play to be rushed onto the stage while it was still topical. At any rate, it's probably fortuitous that they didn't -- I doubt that a comic subplot and a hefty load of moralizing would improve it.)

The Husband is the only character with much in the way of complexity, and you can almost see the playwrights grappling with the same questions you read in newspaper columns today after some apparently inexplicable act of violence: What would make someone do this? Where do people like this come from? Are they like us, after all? The other characters use the words unnatural, barbarous, monstrous, but these don't quite seem like answers. In his more outrageously antisocial moments, the Husband accuses his virtuous wife of adultery and his children of being bastards; at other times, when he seems at once more honest with himself and perilously close to madness, he despairs of his own prodigality and inability to provide for his family: How well was I left, very well, very well! My lands showed like a full moon about me, but now the moon's i' th' last quarter, waning, waning. And I am mad to think that moon was mine: mine and my father's, and my forefathers', generations, generations. Down goes the house of us, down, down, it sinks. Now is the name a beggar, begs in me that name which hundreds of years has made this shire famous: in me, and my posterity runs out. And these reflections lead him to the fatal conclusion that his sons would be better off dead.

I'm curious to see how it teaches. We'll be coming to it after Faustus, and after the revenge tragedies -- I think they will have the whole tortured-antihero formula down. It also seems to raise odd, uncomfortably contemporary questions about crime, media, and notoriety, in ways that (say) The Duchess of Malfi does not, even if you know intellectually that Giovanna d'Aragona was just as much a real person as the Wife of the play. I'm both looking forward to it, and apprehensive about it. We will see.

Monday, June 17, 2013

back from grading camp...

... a.k.a. the AP exam reading, where I read and scored 1,007 exams in seven days. It's oddly soothing. I think this is because you don't have to justify or comment on your scores at all, and also you don't feel EVEN REMOTELY responsible for the students. I kind of take it personally when our own, homegrown students can't manage subject-verb agreement, or when they can't spell words that are IN PRINT RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, or when they say completely daft things about people in other countries. But when it's someone else's students, far away? Pfft, those things are mildly amusing at best, and at worst not really infuriating.

I think I need to cultivate the grading-camp Zen feeling during the regular semester. (It might help if my normal employer would put me up in a nice hotel with little bitty baby quail.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

of travel and education

So, as I hinted in my last post, a friend and I are hoping to put together a summer study-abroad course for the Honors program next year, although I won't know until fall whether it's going to be approved or not. Summer programs are the only kind of study abroad we have at Misnomer U.; anything during the regular semester is too long, too much time away from regular coursework, maybe also too scary for our students. So the Spanish program used to do one-month immersion programs in Mexico, until Mexico also became too scary; now they go to Spain instead. And the residential Honors program -- one of the few programs here that isn't run on a shoestring, thanks to a generous legacy from an alumna -- spends a month in various, though most often English-speaking, destinations in western Europe. This is a required component of residential Honors, and it's also totally free for many of the students apart from food and incidental expenses, and heavily subsidized for the others (it depends on exactly which scholarship they hold).

In four years of interviewing applicants for the Honors scholarships, I've learned that this is a huge draw for some of them and a huge source of anxiety for some of the others -- there is usually at least one student in every group who says that they are not interested in residential Honors because the study abroad component scares them. Sometimes my co-interviewers have tried to talk them out of it; I have never done so, since there are always plenty of other students who would love to go on the trip, and I'd just as soon save the scarce slots in this program for the ones who do want them, badly. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the ones who don't want to travel are the ones who most need to do so. God knows, a lot of the fear seems to be passed down from parent to child -- and it was my good luck that I was born to parents who talked me out of being afraid, who took me to Europe and the Dominican Republic when I was a teenager, and then gave me the push I needed to go on that Christmas break trip to the Bahamas with my high school marine biology class (because in Fairfax County, Virginia -- a place that now seems very far away -- even public schools do that sort of class trip).

So I went to the Bahamas, and had a wonderful time. And then, when I was a sophomore in college, I went to Spain for a semester, and hated it for the first six weeks, and loved it for the last eight. I did everything wrong in some ways, being too shy to speak as much Spanish as I should have done or to socialize with strangers, but it was still life-changing. Spain was where I learned how to handle myself -- how to tell if that guy cat-calling you is harmless or scary, how to drink in bars without turning yourself into an obviously-drunk target, how to deal with police and insurance companies after your purse gets snatched, how to be a stranger in a strange land. And it was reading Lorca on the all-night train to Granada, and feeling the hush that falls over people when they're in the presence of Guernica, and going to see El dia de la bestia without English subtitles and wondering what the hell that was all about. And it was orange trees, and lilacs, and little dishes of olives, and fireworks, and dirty city beaches, and a blizzard of pigeons in the square behind the cathedral.

We don't give our students all of that. We don't even give them a new language to dream in. We give them a lot of activities and excursions, and probably not even enough time to feel displaced. We give them, more or less, what my parents gave me on my first whistle-stop tour of Europe -- a glimpse, a taste, a safe space in which to see a little of the world. And maybe it's just as well; maybe that is what they need first, and bigger adventures can come later.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Now this blog is illustrated!

Note the snazzy new title image, intended to answer the perennial question: just what is a porpentine? (I am not sure that the illustrator of this particular one, Conrad Gesner, had ever actually seen a porcupine, but his imagination clearly made up for any deficiencies in this regard. Anyway, I fell in love with this image when I first stumbled across it at the age of seventeen, in a cheap Folger paperback edition of Hamlet, and I thought it was high time that it graced the blog.)

In other news, Exciting Stuff may possibly be happening next summer (as in the getting-paid-to-travel kind of exciting!), although it's not a definite thing yet. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I am back from the annual Rumpus for Medievalists (and discerning early modernists), and as always, I had a most excellent time. I do have a massive scab on the chin, though, due to circumstances involving too much free ale and mead, too many things I wanted to go to at one time, and an ill-advised sprint across the campus.

I was kind of hoping my colleagues would ask me about it at yesterday's all-day department meeting, so that I could make up a colorful tale about my medieval-rumpus-related injury. Perhaps it would involve me saving a nun from a Viking invasion. Or a grendel attacking the mead-room. Or a green giant could have challenged me to a chin-swiping contest. Or perhaps there could have been a demonstration of trial by ordeal, and I could have volunteered to be a witch and get ducked in the swan pond, and one of the swans could have attacked me (because little did we know that they were not regular swans, but 900-year-old enchanted swans who were really people, and they mistook me for the real witch who had transformed them).

It says much about the general character of the Rumpus that none of these scenarios seems all that improbable.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Semester wrap-up, by the numbers

Number of papers graded: 184 (and 24 exams, and 13 presentations)

Number of papers yet to grade: 37 (and 35 exams, and 15 presentations)

Students enrolled in Basic Comp: 5

Students who still have a prayer of passing Basic Comp: 2

Students who will DEFINITELY pass Basic Comp: 0

Applications received for philosophy position: About 150

New colleagues hired in philosophy: 1

Major undergraduate-research events attended: 5

Number of these events that were full-on conferences in other cities: 2

Number of actual grown-up conferences attended: 0, but will be 1 next week.

Pages written on Kzoo paper: 5, plus one page of half-assed notes

Minimum acceptable page length for Kzoo paper: 8, probably.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Divvying up Shakespeare

Here at Misnomer U., we have an Early and a Late Shakespeare course. Officially, the dividing line is 1603, although in practice, I tend to push it a year or two earlier (because I am SO not making room for Hamlet in the Early Shakespeare course). I'm not sure I entirely like it -- the second half is tragedytragedytragedy all the time, and there are too many texts to choose from in the first half, but I like it better than dividing by genre, which is what the Beloved Alma Mater did. (Comedies and Histories vs. Tragedies. Because apparently, tragedy is SO much more important that one semester should be devoted to just eleven plays, and as many of the other twenty-seven as will fit should get shoved into the other class, and poetry doesn't count at all.)

But what if we did it alphabetically, and just rotated round and round the alphabet?

Shakespeare I
All's Well that Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, Part I
Sonnets 1-31

OK, that sounds kinda good, actually. A nice mix of genres. Kind of a classical theme.

Shakespeare II
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
Sonnets 32-62

That's maybe a lot of ... Henriosity ... even for me. Still, it could work. You could pass it off as a special topics course on Shakespeare and history. IIRC those are the sonnets where he starts getting all thinky about time and posterity, so they sort of fit.

Shakespeare III
King Lear
Love's Labor's Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Sonnets 63-93

This sounds awesome! I would love this semester! All the best plays start with M!

Shakespeare IV
Rape of Lucrece
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Sonnets 94-124

Kinda light on comedy, but otherwise a nice representative mix. I don't think anyone would raise an eyebrow at this.

Shakespeare V
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Two Noble Kinsmen
Twelfth Night
Venus and Adonis
The Winter's Tale
Sonnets 125-154

OK, this semester is on CRACK, but I kind of want to teach it anyway. (If you swapped Shrew for Twelfth Night, you would basically have Special Topics: Shakespeare and Misogyny, which would really be a rather interesting course.)

How does your institution divide up the Shakespeare courses? And how do you secretly wish they did?

Friday, April 19, 2013

First lines of the semester: my version

'Cos it looked like fun when Fie did it:

I'll feeze you, in faith.

I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina.

If music be the food of love, play on.

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.

So shaken as we are, so wan with care

Open your ears, for which of you will stop

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend

Sir Hugh, persuade me not. I will make a Star Chamber matter of it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why I love my university, in pictures

Because sometimes, art installments appear overnight.

Many spectators gathered on the stairs to watch the balloon.

But alas! Not all is well in balloon-land.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Campus-visit eve

We're hiring for a new colleague this year -- the first one in my department since I came along. The two finalists are coming next week, one right after the other. The first one arrives tomorrow, although he's requested to have a day on his own to explore (which sounds like a fine idea), so I don't get to meet him until Monday. (I wonder if he knows exactly how dead downtown Deep South Town tends to be on a Sunday; although I think one of our two coffee shops is open on Sundays, so at least he won't starve.)

I walked around the campus a little, trying to imagine it through the new-person's eyes. We have some lovely buildings: Victorian, rambling, asymmetrical, towered, balconied. We'll be putting the candidates up in one of them. And April is our best month, I think. My own campus visit was in April, though at the other end of the month: magnolia-time rather than azalea-time. I remember the ivory cups spilling their fragrance on the air. I remember deciding (a good decision) to ditch the interview suit and wear a nice summer dress. I remember noticing all the little details that spoke of bare-bones budgeting -- one and only one search committee member at each meal, an ancient TV cart instead of a smart classroom for the teaching demo, a suite in the Honors dorm instead of a hotel room -- and deciding I didn't care. (This may not have been the best decision, as Misnomer U. spent my first couple of years lurching from one crisis to another.)

I hope one of them falls in love with this place. I hope the rest of us fall in love with the same one who falls in love with this place. (Oh God, what if they both fall in love with this place? And what if we fall in love with both of them? I want there to be enough happy endings to go around, but I know that in humanities job searches there never are.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

On wealth

Well, said Mary Seton, about the year 1860 — Oh, but you know the story, she said, bored, I suppose, by the recital. And she told me — rooms were hired. Committees met. Envelopes were addressed. Circulars were drawn up. Meetings were held; letters were read out; so-and-so has promised so much; on the contrary, Mr —— won’t give a penny. The Saturday Review has been very rude. How can we raise a fund to pay for offices? Shall we hold a bazaar? Can’t we find a pretty girl to sit in the front row? Let us look up what John Stuart Mill said on the subject. Can anyone persuade the editor of the —— to print a letter? Can we get Lady —— to sign it? Lady —— is out of town. That was the way it was done, presumably, sixty years ago, and it was a prodigious effort, and a great deal of time was spent on it. And it was only after a long struggle and with the utmost difficulty that they got thirty thousand pounds together...

This is Misnomer U's story, pretty much. The long struggle continues; now and again we have to lobby the state legislature for our continued existence. Otherwise, barring a fresh round of budget cuts or a natural disaster, they ignore us. We are small and do not have any sports teams, and while we are no longer exclusively female, we are still stubbornly woman-serving in our demographics and outlook.

Over spring break I went to visit the University of Basketball, where I went to grad school. No particular reason, just missed the campus and the town. There is a small art museum at the edge of campus; I went there now and again when I was a student, though I don't remember thinking it was anything special at the time.

I went in, and followed the signs upstairs to the study gallery. Oh, my God. How did I not know about this when I was a grad student? Faculty members can request to have specific works put on display for their classes -- anything in the collection, any class. There was a corner set aside for a Brit Lit II survey, an ordinary sophomore-level gen ed class just like the one I'm teaching now. Only the students in this Brit Lit class get to go in and see works by Blake and Turner and Beardsley. I hadn't had any idea you could do that -- nor would I have thought to take advantage of it, not back then, when I was still struggling to get through one day of class at a time, trying not to expose my ignorance in front of a horde of unruly undergrads. You don't think about giving your students cool and enriching experiences until later, after you've got a handle on what you're doing. But God, what wouldn't I give to have a resource like that now!

The galleries at Misnomer U. are strictly for rotating exhibits, mostly of faculty and student art; we don't have a collection as such. Much of what we do have on display, at any given time, is for sale.

We don't have a performing arts series. This is why I ferry students "all over hell and creation" (I thank thee, Fie, for teaching me that phrase) to piggyback off of other schools' visiting artists. We don't even have a film series.

We try to pretend these things don't matter: with a little imagination, one can put together a fairly respectable-sounding schedule of "cultural events" for the freshmen in Intro to College Life, even if most of them are homegrown. But opportunities and experiences do matter, and they especially matter when most of your students come from places where the arts are not part of their everyday life, and frankly I am getting sick of pretending.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Taking it on the road

I just got back from an excellent student production of Othello at Scarlet Letter U*, about an hour and a quarter away from here. They really stripped it down to the bone, and cut some of my favorite bits like Emilia's speech about men, but what was left was fast-moving and powerful and generally awesome. I took one student. I was supposed to take two, but one of them bailed without letting me know she was going to bail, and seemed surprised when I told her I'd already bought her ticket.

On Friday, I went to see a touring production of Twelfth Night at BigBox Mega U, half an hour away in the other direction. That was great, too. Fun, inventive staging, and one of the best Sir Tobys I've ever seen. Three students came. There were originally supposed to be six. The production was supposedly sold out two weeks in advance, because most of the tickets went in large blocks to schools; I spent the first fifteen minutes of Friday's Shakespeare class on hold with the box office, and felt lucky to score seven same-day rush tickets. Then, when we got there, there were dozens of empty seats. Apparently the other schools have the bailing-students problem, too.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to see a different touring company perform The Taming of the Shrew at Don'tCallUsWe'llCall U,** fully two and a half hours off in the boondocks. That was pretty awesome too, done with a cast of seven, and with a female Lucentia and a lesbian wedding at the end. I took two of the students from the Shakespeare class, one who's writing her honors thesis about the play, and a friend of the honors thesis student who agreed to come at the last minute when, you guessed it, someone bailed. We got home sometime after midnight, a long dark sleepy drive. I felt bad for the three students squished into the back seat of my tiny little Hyundai. They all said it was worth it. Honors Student also said it was the first time she'd really gotten the subplot; it's hard to keep all those Italian names straight, and so much easier when you see the characters embodied.

Here is the thing. We don't get a whole lot of opportunities to see live Shakespeare around here (this month was something of a fluke), so I take them when I can and drive long distances when I need to, and I love doing stuff like this. I love watching students discover that Shakespeare in performance is funny and scary and moving and not at ALL hard to understand. But I am getting frustrated as hell with the 50% last-minute attrition rate. And it's mostly not the students' fault. They have complicated lives: work schedules that change at the last minute, and babysitters who cancel, and other classes to juggle, and they are genuinely disappointed when things don't work out. I did not have a particularly complicated life when I was a student. I also grew up half an hour away from a major East Coast city, where you could see lots of different plays any week in the year, and with parents who believed in taking their kids to the theater. These things are luxuries. I didn't realize that at the time. I want more of my students to have them. I also want to change the culture at Misnomer U so that it's less conducive to apathy and flakery, and so that more students want to go road-tripping with Shakespeare.

And, as Bill Watterson says, as long as I'm dreaming I'd like a pony.***

* Technically speaking, I believe the letter in question is actually crimson, but I can't resist the appellation.

** Because I had a phone interview with them way back in my first year on the job market, and because apparently when I'm tired I spend all my mental energy making up cute nicknames for the local universities.

*** Not really. I don't think I ever got the appeal of ponies, even when I was a kid.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

in which I cannot resist weighing in

Three idle thoughts, in response to the latest gubernatorial pronouncement about how universities are doing everything wrong:

1) If I had to pick a graduate of Misnomer U to hire for a job of an unspecified nature, and if I had to do this without knowing anything at all about the prospective candidates except their majors, my first pick would be ... Women's Studies. For real. It's not a popular major; the few students it does attract tend to be much brighter and more dedicated than average; and almost all of them have served an internship with Grande Dame Colleague, who teaches them all kinds of useful skills, like grant writing and archival research and conducting interviews and transcribing oral histories, as well as general responsibility and professionalism. I don't mean to suggest that this is true of all gender studies programs everywhere, but in general, it's a grave mistake to assume that you can tell from the name of a program whether it teaches students marketable skills.

2) Last time I looked, math WAS a liberal art. (OK, it's possible that the last time I looked might have been sometime in the fifteenth century, but whatever.) Now, I think all the stuff they do over in the math and science department is pretty darn awesome. But much of it is not inherently any more practical than the things we do in humanities. (Nor should it be, since the university is supposed to be a space where knowledge is valued for its own sake, and where people have the freedom to study things because they're cool and interesting.)

3) People have been coming to universities to study philosophy for a lot longer than they've been coming to study business or engineering. It takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to cast yourself as a defender of traditional institutions and social values AND take potshots at the very programs and ideals which are, in fact, integral to the traditional mission of a university. (But then, one of the things I find puzzling about conservatives is that they don't actually seem to be interested in conserving things, most of the time.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

travelogue, part 4

It is the first day of classes, and it is rainy and unpleasant and threatening to turn the entire world into a big lake, so I thought I would post some pictures of sunny places. Besides, I never did finish the summer travel series.

So, after a long night on the bus, I came to Istanbul:

(Note the double-tiered bridge, by the way: fish are caught from the top and eaten on the bottom.) The ferries go up and down the Bosporus, back and forth between Europe and Asia; at the end of the line you come to this little village, where there is a castle you can climb up to and some more places to eat fish:

The classic touristy shot of the Hagia Sofia:

And an early-evening one, taken from the rooftop at the hostel:

After a couple of long days on trains and buses (and a quick dip in the Black Sea), I came to Sofia, Bulgaria. I don't actually have a lot of pictures of Sofia, but here is a nice one of Rila Monastery, a couple of hours away.


And, back in Greece, I went to visit some more monasteries with an even more impressive setting.

(There was a helpful sign saying "Ladies in sleeveless dresses, slacks, or pantaloons will not be admitted." Hiking up the pinnacles in a long skirt is perhaps not ideal, although it was OK until I decided to take a shortcut down, which turned out not to lead much of anywhere except into a patch of blackberry bushes.)

So, finally, I went back to Athens and took a day-trip out to a temple, only to find that someone from the Brit Lit survey had been there before me. Can you spot him?