Sunday, December 21, 2008

End of semester wrap-up; end of degree anxiety

I had two big goals for myself at the start of this semester, neither of which I met. For the most part, I'm okay with that.

The first was to always be reading a book on my own, outside of class, not required for any class. I imagined a relaxed hour in bed before sleep with a Toni Morrison novel, or short stories by Dorothy Parker. It ended up being a chapter or two out of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time before Rick developed an interest and rather stole the book from under my nose. That, and What to Expect When You're Expecting, basically just so I could be sure I wasn't going crazy, and that my symptoms are normal.

The other goal was successfully applying to phD programs this semester. I didn't go through with it--I postponed the process. My thought is this: this coming May I will complete my Masters degree, within a month after the graduation ceremony I'm having a baby. If I were to be accepted somewhere, it would require moving either during that month before the baby comes, or moving when the little guy is like, not off the cord yet--if you take my meaning. On top of that, I would be starting full bore into a phD program (which is a frightening, though exciting prospect) with a 3 month old newborn and a husband who may or may not have a job yet.

It could be done; it has been done, and very likely I could do it and be quite successful. But do we always have to do things the hard way? I'd like the baby to be just a little bit older before I introduce it to my school-induced neuroses.

Making the decision to defer the application process took a lot of pressure off this semester, but in the meantime posts like these are popping up more and more:

Is the writing on the wall and I'm just reluctant to see it? I am thrilled by the thought of getting a phD just to receive that much education, and to work that hard to receive a degree. But there is a that involves being able to get a job afterwards. And yeah, I'd like to think I'd be an exception, but don't we all?

Friday, December 19, 2008

One sick puppy

Poor doggie.

I have to go shovel the yellow snow that is the stool sample I'm taking with me to the vet's in an hour.

After not moving from his spot in the living room all evening yesterday, and now just barely gimping around with a sore hind end, he appears to be in better spirits than I am--weakly thumping his tail and looking expectantly at his ball. I rolled it about two feet, which made him very happy. And the fact that that is able to make him happy is so pathetic that I am now quite sad (this is dog who, if you don't throw the ball to his standards, refuses to fetch it until you do a better job. Total ball/fetch snob). Hope he is OK:(

This is what he looked like last summer, faithfully guarding the shed:

This is what he looks like now, only its snowing, and his stomach is gurgling:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blogging Before Bed makes for weird dreams. Same for eating bananas, or so I've heard.

I have no concept of direction. It seems that I've mentioned this--but I have gotten lost in my own backyard. I thought I was going to end up at my back porch, but came out into the clearing of the church parking lot next door, instead.

I have lived in the same city for nigh 16 years, and still get lost when I go to the east side. Carefully parking my car where the gas station attendant can't see my plates, I go inside to play the "I'm from out of town and need directions" game.

In proportion to my lack of directional sense is my husband's absent concept of time. Every year, he asks, with a frown on his face "When is Christmas?" It's always on the same day, by the way.

Often I catch him relating an event from two weeks prior as "six months ago." Fortunately, I have a steel grip on temporality, and can usually tell you (oddly enough) the day I last wore my green Old Navy Sweater, how many days its been since I last ate a gummi bear, how long that empty bowl has been sitting on the back porch.

Lately, I've been reading up on defining time (horizontal? vertical? Imaginary?) and examining the temporality of medieval texts. This will make for some "tuning fork" moments, believe you me--just imagine throwing Stephen Hawking, Byrhtnoth and Augustine of Hippo into a ring, and you'll see what I mean. It gets ugly.

Imagine, then, the traumatic conversation that took place earlier this evening when I had to persuade Floyd that it is, in fact, Wednesday. The man was utterly convinced that it was Tuesday. He had an arsenal of evidence, which consisted of everything that he did on Monday. His persistence got the better of me where his logic failed, and set me on a paranoid downward spiral, augmented by my recent preoccupation with how time functions.

...maybe it isn't Wednesday. Did I miss a day? Did I make a day up? Is this moment in time overlapping with one that came before it? Did I not finish that paper? Holy shit!

I close this post with what is quite possibly my favorite movie quote ever:

"What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today!"
--Phil from Groundhog Day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Deadlines are a blessing

...and don't let anyone tell you different. Yes, there might be scramblng involved--in fact, for me at least, there always is. It makes no difference how long I've researched a paper, or how many different version are saved to my my various emails, flashdrives and university drives. A deadline offers a sense of completion, and of accomplishment. Maybe the paper sucks--always a possibility--but at least you know that it's over.

Wiggly, watery deadlines, on the other hand, can only offer a sense of nagging doubt and regret. Like the one that's eating the lining of my stomach as we speak. Grr. Paper-that-must-not-be-named had great potential, and it also had the potential to be turned in on Monday...but ah me, what's done is done.

I think this speaks to a deep down distrust for professor's motives (I hope this isn't taken the wrong way). When the "meh, get it to me when you get it to me" line is tossed out there, I am immediately suspicious. Am I being tested? Is it really just a ruse to weed out the undisciplined students? Do I get kudos of any sort for turning it in on time, when the watery deadline has been proposed?

Y'see--the questions, they keep on comin. It's 8:30 on a Saturday, and I've been up for two hours (normal for some, but not so much for the Beeyotch).

Deadlines are merciful.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maternity Clothing ahoy!

1.) It has begun--the shrinking of the pants.

2.) I'm still working on perfecting the t-shirt inspired by Got Medieval's recent post Hemp and Hops, Together at Last. It's difficult to make the t-shirt color match the print of the picture, and I'd like to preserve the "manuscript beige" (was that a crayola color?). In the meantime, however, I've got a few in the works, for the pregnant ladies out there. I won't keep them in white, of course, because I spill a lot.

I like to think of this one as slightly less trashy than the wonderful "I'm with stupid" t-shirts available (the arrow point to the pregnorriferous bump).

In English, it'd just be bitchy. In the Latin, it's bitchy and pretentious. My work here is done.

And this one* might be overboard. But people need to know that its not just the hormones making pregos around the world crazy, its all of the banned substances.

*Also available in valium

Monday, December 8, 2008

The perfect course schedule?

Hard to come by.

I've only really regretted one course in my graduate career, and that has less to do with the content or layout of the class than the fact that I missed a class on Milton because of it. So, as I prepare to buy books for next semester (last one for the MA) I'm still having second thoughts about my choices. The course I'm currently signed up for is a seminar on the theory and practice of intertextuality with a focus on 20th century works. Bonus points:

  1. really awesome professor, the kind that says things about your writing and scholarly endeavors that make you shuffle yer feet and say "aw, shucks". Said prof is doubly awesome for cackling ever so inappropriately at Sylvia Plath's poetry, and for being an administrative Chuck Norris. This would be my third course with this prof.
  2. A phD program is more likely to count this towards the next degree because of how the course is numbered. That's a pretty big bonus, needless to say.
  3. Let's just say it: the idea of intertextuality is fascinating and exciting.

And yet, there remains the course I'm looking at over my shoulder, one dealing with 17th century literature.

  1. Although its a survey, this course would solidify my grounding in literature. On the GRE subject test, questions from this time period were one of two types of questions I skipped (the others dealt with contemporary theory).
  2. I hate to say it, let alone write it down in an academic blog, but let's be honest--would I really tackle Herbert and Jonson on my own? Sure, I'd read a poem or such, but sometimes a swift kick in the ass--er, introduction to the material helps me get going.
  3. I think that I have a lot to learn from this professor, who(m?) I've only had for one other class. Sometimes, when this professor talks about a poem or passage of lit, I feel like a tuning fork has gone off in my head--you know, that "Byyoooo" sound when your brain is reaching capacity? (holy crap, if I think any deeper my head will explode, that sort of thing).

Back to work.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The dog ate my homework

Kinda. Its a long story--let me sum up. The kitten peed behind the TV last night and we knew something bad had happened because of a weird humming noise that came from the mess of wires, not to mention the smell of burning cat urine (bless you, hormonally heightened sense of smell). Nothing happened just then, but sometime this morning--between the alarm going off and my shower--the power went out.

I was up and at em, ready to knock out some final research on paper-that-must-not-be-named. I noticed it was cold. Nothing new. Floyd is worse than my dad when it comes to the heat--or lack thereof. One day he'll freeze the pipes by keeping the house so cold, and we'll see who's laughing then (me, from my hotel room. In my skivvies with the heat turned up to 80).

I noticed the VCR clock is not working. Again, nothing too surprising. We had a silent fight about whose job it was to change the VCR time last April or whenever the clocks "spring forward." The clock remained one hour off until it was time to "fall back." Imbeciles, the both of us.

No heat. No clock. Floyd comes home and points out the obvious (that I had completely missed): "There's no power." I thought my toes were bluer than normal.

After exchanging unpleasantries with Floyd, because of course its his fault, and not because I'm a crazy preg, I went to local coffeehouse to continue work until the problem took care of itself.

Christmas music.


So, I gave up. Can't go home cos its a walk-in freezer, can't get work done at this point cos there's nowhere to go to escape "O Holy Night." When its not Michael McDonald, its Celine Dion. And its always bad.
So I'm all worked up and cranky...what better time to get some Christmas shopping done? I mean, I'd hate to spend a good mood shopping for vibrating doggie slippers. And so I knocked down what remained of my list that I couldn't find easily online. As it stands, my christmas endeavours are OVER. This means that when the semester is over I don't have to keep pushing once my papers are in and student grades are calculated. I can sit on the couch and stare at the wall in a comatose way that disconcerts Floyd. Ah, now that sounds nice.

...see you on the flip side...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who gets the short end of the stick?

Before I became a teaching assistant, I completed a year of graduate school. Many of my peers, however, hit the ground running with a section of Comp One in addition to their first semester's load of classes. I don't really know how they did it. In my experience, I certainly needed at least a semester to readjust to being back in school, not to mention working at the graduate caliber. Then again, I don't know how any of us do it, any semester. It's grad school: if it's not tough and make-you-wanna-cry challenging, you ought to check the manual under "operator error". Each semester yields new challenges and you've either got to meet them head-on every time, or run home with your tail tucked between yer legs.

But if the challenge is teaching a class in addition to the graduate course load, is there a short end of the stick? In other words, do students suffer at the hands of too-green gradstudent teaching assistants? In a recent hallway conversation with me, a member of the composition faculty insinuated this. My immediate response was to become defensive, but the question struck me, and has been bothering me ever since. Allow me to ruminate, though I must warn you in advance that I'm not coming to any concrete conclusions here.

Admittedly, I have felt unqualified in front of my students. I feel self-conscious about the fairly small age gap between myself and some of my students, particularly when I sensed their awareness of it. There's been times I've been flustered at the front of the classroom; times I've had to admit to not knowing the answer; times I've had to correct a mistake I made on a handout, or in something I said. Guess what? I've seen my professors do these same things--and I didn't hold it against them, or feel cheated. In fact, I emulate these same professors in my own teaching.

While I am obviously more prone to beginner's mistakes, I make up for this because I always follow up with students. I might not know the answer off the top of my head, but I'll find out and letcha know, thats for damned sure. If I've given misinformation, I admit it to the entire class. I take advantage of the apparently small age gap between myself and students, and as a result I've connected with them; brought them into eye-opening discussion; shown them the vast world that is writing, and the one that writing can bring. My students are able to write in several different genres, from rhetorical analyses to music reviews to business letters. There are plenty of challenges in my classroom, and there's an assload of writing. And a lot of laughing.

Let's not forget the potential detriment, in this situation, to the graduate student. Because I am a graduate student, I hold myself to a higher standard of discipline and polish for any of my projects; my classroom is no exception. I am often suspicious that I work harder on my classes than most of my students do. My peers are no exception. Throwing ourselves in front of the proverbial train to please our students, we often spend more time on lesson plans and assignments than our own studies. We fill up the computer lab compiling assignments, grading papers and answering emails--of course, there's the occasional contest as to whose student has the best excuse for not being in class. We work damned hard for a small stipend (a third of which goes to our general fees each semester). Several of us take holiday jobs to help pay for our books and the mandatory health insurance. So, really, who's being cheated? The composition student who wants to get by with the least amount of work possible, or the TA blamed for that student's laziness?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mr. T Treat your mother right

I found this during a break from the history of Anglo-Saxon studies. Thank you, Mr. T, for wearing those shorts. And for singing this song. everyone out there with a mother, treat her right.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday post, somewhat specific to these winter ones.

Holidays. Thanksgiving is done--phew. That's the easy one, and it's a 48 hour event between the MIL family, the FIL family, and then three hours south to visit my Grandma. It's been her "last Thanksgiving" since I was ten. At 96 years old--and still not dead, as she likes to remind us--she's still a pistol, even if her aim is slightly off these days.

My family's not huge on the holidays, or any of the obligatory Hallmark traditions, for that matter. Never did anything for Mother's Day or Father's Day. We didn't do birthdays either--well, nothing much besides a cake, and maybe a dollar. Dude, there were seven of us. Know what happens when there's seven kids in a family?

  • unidentifiable blue and green stains appear on the ceiling (it was slime from those $.25 cent vending machines at the grocery store--but what mom doesn't know...)

  • you learn to answer to at least six names other than your own

  • first hand mercantilism lessons: stash treats and cans of pop when the groceries are fresh, then sell them to each other when the cupboard supply depletes. I could hassle $1.50 for a can of cold Pepsi.

  • Your family mythology develops in social circles after years of stealing each other's stories and embellishing them with each retelling.

  • complete lack of memory--if not interest-- regarding who was born when, or what day the youngest was really born. Whoooole 'nother post.

  • gift-giving holidays, such as Christmas, fall by the wayside.

Don't get me wrong, we're some "gift-giving mofos" (my sister-in-law coined the phrase). It's just not reserved for standardized--and sometimes completely arbitrary--times of the year. I prefer this method. It means more to me to receive a gift because someone thought of me than because this is the year that everyone gets a shower gel basket for xmas.

Later in life, as we all got married off, we returned to our parents to thank them. Why? With in-laws, each of us finally understand what we'd been saved from all those years. As we'd pretty much managed to avoid them our entire lives, nothing prepared us for the intensity of the holidays. It's a lot of commercial pressure, awkward conversation, and fruitcake. Dear god, fruitcake. Saving grace of holidays with in-laws? Heavy wine and cigarette breaks. Now, just so you don't think I'm a total grinch I will throw in the Beeyotch disclaimer: *ahem* holidays are very warm times filled with lots of laughter; there are great gifts, great food and etc. What makes them even better? Heavy wine and cigarette breaks.

Herein lies my problem. These are my first sober holidays. Stir in raging pregnant-lady hormones and...yeah: dude, so not cool. And you know what else? Apparently they don't recommend valium for pregnant ladies. Or nitrous. Grr. On that note, send your warm thoughts to Floyd, who is enduring my full-fledged craziness.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My nature exposed

One of my biggest pet peeves is getting honked at. Whether I'm walking down the road, taking my garbage out or getting the mail, I always have a ready middle finger for the dipshit who honks at me. I mean, really, what's it saying? Hey that girl MIGHT be a 15 year old and she may or may not have completed puberty--HOOOONK. (FYI: I am petite, and thus from the side of the road, one really has no clue if I'm 12 or not. ) I find it to be a personal affront, an intrusion into my inner monologue, and--it should go without saying, simply crass and tasteless.

But Crazy Beeyotch, maybe its someone you know just honking to say hello? I say, if I EVER catch someone I know just honking at me instead of stopping to help me with the trash, or hell, just to say hello like a civilized person, I will kick your car. Maybe that's the hormones talking. I just really, really, hate. being. Honked. AT!!

So, a few weeks ago, I'm filling up the gas tank just after work; this gas station is located at a decently busy intersection. The passenger leans out the window of a minivan at the red light. "Hey!" he yells. *Verbal equivalent of a honk* I ignore him, but it doesn't work--he yells "Hey!!" a little louder. I wheel around and nearly spit, "Get a life, you creep!"
He looked as though I had slapped him, and stared at me with a downtrodden and confused expression until the light turned green (thankfully only moments later). My conscience bothered me about this interchange. I really need to just simmer down, basically. I need to not get off on yelling at people, its just not cool (although thoroughly gratifying). What if the poor guy just needed directions? I told Floyd about this and we both kinda laughed, though he did mention that if the guy really just needed directions, he could have said "Excuse me," etc.

Earlier today my husband and his friend (AKA permanent fixture on our couch, or PFOOC) visited a nearby convenience store to buy some Dead Guy Ale. The owner of the store is a patient at the office, keeps an excellent beer stock, and happens to know that I am friends with PFOOC. He proceeds to tell them the story of spotting me at a gas station and trying to get my attention, only to be verbally accosted. He wanted to let me know that they had some new lagers in stock (now that's customer service!).

Moral of the story--dude probably should have tried something less obnoxious than "hey" but I could have been a bit less on the defensive.(Thank goodness I didn't use any expletives) Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is exactly the kind of employee representation that NO OFFICE needs! Fortunately he had a pretty good laugh with husband and PF, at my expense. I don't recall being more mortified in any recent history.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Election season rant

There are some issues that align me with liberal thought; my stance on other issues apparently put me in a Republican camp. I'm rarely black and white, except on issues that are against abortion and gay marriage (I'm against those). Obama's a'ight, and I'm looking forward to the changes that his presidency will bring. On the other hand, I don't think that Sarah Palin should be mocked to the extent that she has been. It's kind of like a blond joke, or a Polish joke. They're not really appropriate, ever, and they're definitely old. Really old. *There, I said it.*

Although I keep myself informed, I don't enjoy discussing politics, and I'm quite relieved that the election is over. TAs can stop ranting in the cubicles we all share; students can stop repeating things--with hands on their hips, essentially--they've overheard their parents or their roommates say; and professors can stop hinting towards, or blatantly announcing, their political agendas in class.

I was keeping pretty quiet over here in my little corner, feeling like I didn't have a dog in this fight, until I read this post from BitchPhd (click here). Granted, its obnoxious to have students wave around vague statistics about some political point--I know of one in particular from a previous semester who managed to somehow write into every paper something to the effect of 'America is the greatest place on earth and everyone should stop picking on us'. It was difficult, I admit, to stick to grading grammar and communicative skills in those moments. However, what I've run into much more often in my academic career, is the professor tying their political agendas into their lectures (some more subtly than others).

But there's only a few available reactions to a professor moseying off-course to make a random comment about political affairs:
  • You agree with them. You smile, nod, maybe laugh, and continue listening. Nothing is written down in your notes, except perhaps "cf. Obama's campaign" which, later, means little to you in the larger spectrum of understanding European history, or what have you.
  • You don't get it. You smile, nod, maybe laugh, and continue listening. Nothing is written down in your notes, except perhaps "comment made about George Bush...look up later"
  • You disagree. You grimace, you check your watch. Maybe you smile politely, or just look out the window. You feel like an outsider because everyone else is smiling and nodding, whether they get it or not. Nothing is written down in your notes.
  • None of the above. Rather than being concerned about whether you agree or disagree, you just don't find it germane to the discussion and would like to continue with the class that you've spent time preparing for.

Sometimes, depending on the severity or outlandishness of the comment, a disagreeing student is left unable to concentrate. A professor once joked about running for governor in ________. He/she said that their #1 platform would be to ensure that all Vietnam Veterans are tried as war criminals.

Blood. Boiling.

It was everything I could do to not get up and walk out of class. But I relied on this professor for a letter of recommendation. Biting my lip, I focused on writing the alphabet down--that is, until I broke the tip of my pencil. I consoled myself with the irony of the fact that the very reason I was able to afford being in this class to hear this bullshit was because of my father's "Bloodmoney" from chapter 35 of the G.I. bill. It was filtering into the university system and into this professor's paycheck. Don't worry, lunch is on my dad. Eventually, the professor concluded the rant and returned to the subject matter at hand (which, by the way, was in no way related to the remark about veterans). By that time, however, I was unable to concentrate on the discussion. My notes from that day are sparse and incoherent. *

This example is one of the worst possible outcome of talking politics in the classroom; albeit an extreme case. Why even go down that road? I don't make my political bents known to my students. It's not that I care whether they like me or dislike me because of it, it's that it does not apply to the subject matter of my classroom. Nothing a professor has ever said in a classroom, politically, whether I agreed or not, has informed my own opinions. It is a wasted minute of my education, as I see it, and I want it back.

*Later that week I swallowed my nerves and my potential letter of recommendation (because you see, professors, while students are not afraid of disagreeing with you on the outcome of a poem, they certainly don't want you to know that they disagree with your politics). I went to this professor's office to discuss the comment. I certainly did not imagine trying to sway opinions, or create a debate. I simply explained that comments of this nature prohibited me from concentrating on the lecture. Apparently, this was the right angle to play. To my knowledge, no Vietnam veteran comments have been made in this prof's classroom since this discussion about three years ago.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I was in a movie once

I was an extra. My boss called me one morning at 8 am--on my day off--and told me to audition. What the hell, I says, and I audition. I got to be on the news afterwards because here in this city a movie's a big deal. That night my parents watched me on the news, as did my husband, my boss and anyone else who keeps watching the after the sports highlights (probably waiting for Seinfeld to come on). They all said I looked very nice and articulated nicely. I was a star. Not so much in the movie. I didn't get any part, but I was supposed to be one of the "lead" extras.

Then I read the script. Yikes.

I told the producer that the lead female role should not say "Hey, tiger" to the lead male role, with whom she is flirting. The only person who calls anyone "tiger" is that weird uncle at my family reunion. I don't sit at his table for that very reason. The really awkward dialogue continued throughout the script, and I'm still not entirely sure what the whole thing was about. Kind of like a "B" movie although, aren't those usually bad horror flicks? This was a "B" emotion movie, not a "B" horror movie. I shudder to think of the accuracy of that description.

I got the DVD tonight. It's burned onto a silver Memorex DVD-R. Awkward script aside, the filming and photography is quite striking. It is exhilarating to see my hometown on the big screen. Also, the soundtrack is captivating--a bit Norah Jonesy, but with an indy twist. Several of the songs were written and performed by the same girl who won the part of "Golde" over me in Fiddler on the Roof my senior year. It makes me feel better-- the same way it feels to be the guy who played backup quarterback to Peyton Manning in high school, I'm sure.

My script snobbery cost me dearly. I was blacklisted by the director (the guy who wrote the script); I certainly recall that he snubbed me for most of the filming process. The results are in now. I was ousted even further during the editing process. Oh, and there's me in the credits...Dead. Last.

So I was the snobby extra, I admit it; I revel in the title. Plus I got paid. The whole "movie" experience was interesting, though it helped to have a good book on hand for the several hour intervals of wait-time between "shoots." Since the big deal was that it was filmed here in town, and was in effect about the town, I was happy to be a part. I like it here, and find those who complain about it rather unoriginal (go be blase somewhere else!). As I mentioned, the news crews were out and about, and a few local papers featured information about the movie--that's why I was disappointed by the scene in which the lead character talks about how stagnant it is here (I didn't remember that part from the original script).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"I'm pregnant"

I said these words to a former colleague today, when she asked how my plans for a PhD were coming along. She threw her head back and laughed, and laughed. And then I laughed, too. It is, after all, a bit ridiculous. Everything I had planned is uprooted. And yet, in the hole that's left where my goals were, is a reassured sense that things will be okay. (Note: flair for the dramatic is certainly not lost during gestation.) Besides, when were things ever really that stable?

I'm getting better at saying it without wanting to cry afterwards. I told the ladies at the dentist office today, and it wasn't so bad. Sometimes--in fact, a lot of times--I'm pretty happy about it. One thing's for sure, though. I'm not getting better at recoiling when people begin to coo at me, or offer me horrendous advice that in no way applies to me.

I've learned that once these words are spoken, the utterer becomes public property. No discussion is off limits--correction--several subjects are certainly off limits, but having a pregnant woman in the discussion suddenly makes people feel entitled to the ridiculously personal details of my life. The exchange of information takes place as coffeepot banter. My life? down the drain. Can you hand me the sugar?

I'm getting better at connecting the dots now. What is the most riveting and personal experience of my lifetime is actually pretty exciting news for other people, too. It's OK to share (just don't touch me). And what I can't really get over is how the most riveting and personal experience of my life is also quite a universal one, one that ties me in with centuries and continents of poets and thinkers and just plain ol' wonderful, lovely women. I don't say this to marginalize women or men who do not have children. There are several layers of experience that connect us and identify us with those who came before, and those who are around us; I just happen to have stumbled across one that I didn't have before. And as with anytime you find yourself connected to a new vein, it's as much a blessing as a curse.

..and since I first acknowledged these words, my speeling has gone down the drain.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Marilyn Manson and the Amish

If you read the title of this blog and wondered what the two have to do with each other, well, we're in the same boat.

For today's class discussion, I had my students read "Columbine: Whose Fault is it?". An interesting little ditty written by the shock rocker himself; students generally eat it up. It typically brings up interesting comments about media, video games, music, and makes students talk about darker subjects. On the one hand, they're not entirely in their comfort zone because of the events the article discusses; on the other, they are authorities because they have all come into contact with these items of entertainment.

Anywho, class context aside. We're full throttle into an engaging discussion. We've come to an interesting intersection in which students began asking about the role of religion in these types of massacres, when a student raises hir hand anxiously.

"I just have to say, I have a serious problem with the Amish!"

Things came to a screeching halt, all around the room students were suffering from conversational whiplash. Before I was able to regain my wits and prepare to response, another student chimed in: "Yeah, what's up with them?"

Apparently, one of these students has had issues with Amish children "coming out of the corn and running at her car" on her way to work.
In my altruistic English teacher's heart, I wanted to respond with a grandiose statement of universal tolerance, and etc. Instead, I had to make sure that she wasn't confusing her own experience with Children of the Corn, "Was the kid's name Malachi?"

Before I could redeem myself, or the wonderful discussion we'd had, it was time to leave. I will have to begin next our session with a defense of Amish practices!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The end is in sight

...and I can tell because I've spent the morning systematically destroying my fingernails, checking my Facebook, online Christmas shopping, typing random letters into and perusing blogs, academic and non-academic alike. Unfortunately, I rearranged my wrapping paper and gift bag assortment at the end of last semester, so that leaves me with alphabetizing CDs and DVDs (or arranging according to genre) or cleaning the microwave. *shuddering*

Despite my lolly gagging, I have begun a convincing list of sources for two upcoming papers and, with any luck, might just have abstracts prepared for two upcoming submission deadlines. I'm wondering if I'll send them, though. I hear about these conference things, and what great experiences they are and how nicely they pad a CV. I've got two under my belt but--aside from the little lines they occupy on my CV--they're pretty shallow notches. It seems that these are places where academic bigwigs rub elbows and share intellectual nods--worse yet are the graduate students, you know, with their theoretical jargon and their khaki pants (kids these days). They seem to know the game.

Then there's me. I attend these conglomerations with the same confused expression as someone at their first salsa lesson: its scary, it looks painful and I have no idea what the steps are. I smile, nod, shake hands, read my paper, smile again, and look forward to getting back to the hotel bar. Maybe I should buy khaki pants. I do enjoy listening to panels, and either making mental notes of how to adopt a speaker's excellent personal presentation or feeling relieved that at least I didn't grimace as badly as that dude.

Is there a limit to how many conference presentations one should have? A graduate student friend once told me not to go to too many conferences, because it looks bad on a CV. This confused me. Can anyone corroborate this advice?

...tap left on the first beat, step forward on the same foot, rock back onto the right foot...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You're majoring in what?

Sometimes my hormones make me stupid. More often, they make everyone else stupid...

People tend to react poorly when I tell them I major in English lit. Sometimes, in an attempt to be encouraging (or comforting, perhaps), the individual might ask, "Oh, have you read [insert some random paperback fiction]? It's really good!" Awkward. Especially because they seem to think me inept at my trade, if I have not read their latest fancy.

Then there's the reactions to hearing that I teach composition:

"My daughter's about to take that down at ____ University. I told her to prepare herself for a boring drudge of a class. I absolutely hated my composition classes in college."

"Yeah, I always hated English. I mean, I failed Comp I three times. But that was also because the teacher was so hot. I always had this fantasy about English teachers..."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Double Post

It's that time again!

...that time during the semester when I can't get to sleep at night, because I know they're there, lurking. Then in the morning, I can hardly motivate myself to get out of bed, because I know I have to face them--

the piles.

There's one pile of articles and books that have been sifted through and highlighted or post-it noted at random intervals. Actually, there's a few of these piles. But as I'm arranging these according to theme, it is all one pile, regardless of the actual number of stacks. Let's not even get into stacks.

There's another few piles of student portfolios. The Comp one pile is outgoing, thank goodness, but Comp II still needs dealt with. I'm trying to give myself some breathing room between the two, especially since the Comp II pile's got an oddly feral look to it... It never seems to be in the place I left it, and I think its getting bigger.

Piles of laundry, dishes, but that's almost comforting--I mean, what would my house be without them?

Pile of GRE subject test printouts, and Norton/Longman introductions. Ick. Standardized test cooties.

Pile of application materials. I'm trying to convince myself that its disheveled look is a sign of progress--being sifted through and marked in strategic places, but its mainly just disheveled.

On A Side Note:

This past weekend I went to the wedding of a British bloke whom I met on the bus about eight years ago. My grandpa would be proud; the man who could find a stranger to befriend even on a frozen tundra (he often introduced himself as "The ol' blister" cos there's nuthin' more irritatin' than a blister).

I have one more wedding to go to next weekend, and then I'm closing up shop for the winter. No more. I will send a gift in the mail if I have to. I am wedding'd out, particularly because they are no longer drinking affairs for me--I've got the sickness. More on that one, later.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nerve damage

Or something like that. Perhaps its just a midterm anxiety attack. This semester, there is some type of strange mental blockage impeding my attempts to think clearly and engage with the material on any level below the surface without busting out a jack hammer, or at least hitting my head against a wall several times.

There were times, when I was a first year--heck, even just last semester--when I contributed to class discussion because I had things to say, and I had plenty of questions. Lately, I contribute because I am one of the many who would rather hear myself fumble than listen to the sudden whirr of crickets in the room; and I feel like despite having read the material multiple times, I don't have enough knowledge or understanding to even ask questions.

*Right now, I am inwardly shuddering at the ridiculous paraphrase I tried to make of a passage in Paradise Regained earlier this evening.*

Fuck. I'm doing the reading; I'm marking up my books; I'm trying to make connections-- sparks are firing but nothing is catching. Are these types of plateaus common in academia? I feel like an absolute dunce, especially when I consider several occasions of students with about five semesters less experience than me asking pertinent questions, and even actively sustaining discussions with professors! ACK! All the while, I scramble to keep up in my notes, which leads me to another topic that has been bugging me...

I became a notetaker this semester. Something new. I have been told that I "take good notes." I don't know what this means. Someone looking at my notes would have a pretty clear concept of what we covered in class on a given day, sure...but what exactly constitutes good note-taking?

The people at the notetaking headquarters had me fill out a check-list of good and bad note taking techniques (I don't have it handy, or I'd share it) and I was interested, although slightly miffed, that I did not have all of my check marks in the "good notetaker" column. Reflecting more self-consciously on my notes from class, I realize that I tend to take what I hear for granted, and write it down without considering it, without weighing its validity or hell--even my opinion of it. There is no filter, or any attempt at my own interpretation. Well, worse yet is when there is an attempt at interpretation, but somehow I never found a moment to ask for validation. I hate changing the direction of discussion in class; worse yet, the idea might just fall flat on its face. There are such things as stupid questions, after all.

A friend of mine from last year would have grandiose ideas transmitted to her through the lecture/discussion, which she would then record in a feverish haze and later turn into her final paper. I always wanted to trip her when she recounted her "lightbulb" moment. This has rarely, if ever, happened to me. My "great ideas" typically only occur in the process of writing the paper, which means that I have already taken the notes, read the material and its criticism, and yet formed none of my own thoughts until I was at least few pages into it. Herein lies my insecurity-where is the active and inquisitive, analytical mind that I was supposed to have acquired by now? The questions I am able to raise after several rereadings and a first draft--where are they when I first encounter the text (or at least by the second read through, or when the prof asks in class)? Shouldn't I be highly trained and sensitive to the material?

Enough. It's off to bed with me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I have been dubbed "overly particular"

This is how a student described my comments on his/her first writing assignment which I returned to him/her yesterday. I was taken aback, to be sure. Since when do I have to let things slide? The extraneous use of words such as "quite" "very" "truly" "really" is not something I need to accept on any student's paper. It's not good writing--it's padding! What's worse is that while the student admitted to just throwing the words in there to meet the page requirement, he/she still seemed to fault me for calling it like I saw it. Just because this student's Comp I teacher was "more laid back" (to quote the student) does not mean that I am "overly particular." Grrr.

In other news, it is nearing midterm, and my home has, accordingly, reached mid-semester status: laundry baskets overflowing; boxes of kleenex everywhere for my "stress nose" (my tension tends to aim higher than my neck; it hits more in my sinuses); library books piled and serving as fortifications for kitten wars...To top it off, hubby & friends are reroofing this week. Lots of pounding, pounding, and pounding, and the cats tearing through the house screaming armageddon. Needless to say, it's been fun.

And we're off to a week of student conferences, followed by my first teaching observation (time to buy my students off with sweets!). I'll keep you posted, world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Anonymous Surveys

I am uber excited about my first set of anonymous surveys, which I first discussed here. It was a simple procedure; most students took 5-7 minutes to answer my questions, which inquired as to the effectiveness of the peer review, reading from the books, my own comments, and class discussion. I found varying degrees of positivity on each segment, but in general I found the survey quite helpful. The students, with few exceptions, put alot of thought into their answers.

I've given this particular assignment three times now, and I finally have an affirmation that some things work, and some things don't. Regarding the class discussion, which I always felt to be my weakest point (and still may be, in some aspects), I was very much reassured. Many students said that they garnered things from the text that they hadn't, before we talked about it in class. My favorite, of course, is that they absolutely love the in-class writings. As anyone knows from reading my blog, this is also my favorite.

All in all, it was a positive experience, this survey. The first assignment was easy; its a fallback. I am eager to repeat this process in more challenging, potentially more confusing assignments. I would certainly recommend this to other beginning teachers, as a first hand, anonymous account of the classroom experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Artsy Fartsy

Warning: Links abound!

When my high school put on Play It Again, Sam my freshman year, I played the part of the "Museum Girl" (Diana Davila) in this scene.

Today, I played Woody Allen's part--in my Comp 2 classroom. Showing them several different painting, drawings, and photographs, I asked my students to write about the piece of art they felt they could most easily and closely identify with. My assortment included paintings by M.C. Escher (Bond of Union and Relativity), Van Gogh, Picasso (Girl Before a Mirror and The Old Guitarist), H.O. Tanner, Dali, Munch, and R. Bearden; the photography of Ansel Adams, Annie Liebovitz and Lois Greenfield; and a few pieces from my own private collection--paintings by my brother and one by local a artist. "What does it say to you," I asked--in as non-pretentious a manner as I could muster. I must say that they reacted quite positively, and many of them were excited to run into new artists and paintings. They were very interested in the controversial Miley Cyrus pictures and I think a few of them fell in love with M.C. Escher today.

At the end of class, I asked them to write a response to one of the photos or paintings we'd looked at in class (there were about 20 items to choose from, including one sculpture. We only discussed a few of them as a class). Seven out of 19 students chose the Dali. We had not talked about it at all; it was simply displayed against the blackboard with several other options. All of these students were female. Although they differed in whether they thought the painting was melancholy or simply peaceful, almost every single one of them expressed a wish to be at the window with her.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Home sweet Home

I just returned from what may very likely be the worst bachelorette party experience of my life. The list of party offenses is long. I had so much fun that I graded all of my student's papers. Yes, at the bachelorette party. And no one noticed that it may have been rude to grade papers at such an event, because they were too busy bickering amongst themselves and gushing about an over expensive wedding. I was the token "representing the groom's side" invitee, anyway. Urgh. My brain hurts, quite literally. I'm just not that girly.

Or maybe I'm just not that interested in weddings, and the entourage of events that accompany them. I think its an extension of the cult of perfect motherhood--the cult of the perfect wedding. It is a very emotionally destructive and ridiculously expensive way to look at things. People seem to forget that a wedding is just a big friggin par-tay, and instead insist that the hall, color scheme, table settings, music choices, and countless other menial details be SET IN STONE AT LEAST TWO YEARS BEFORE THE DATE. Fuck.

So the wedding just set the happy couple and their parents farther into debt than my phD program ever will, and still I'm the impractical one. That's all besides the fact that when it comes down to it, the night's over just like any other night, and whether or not you served the mashed potatoes with the skins on or off will ony be remembered by the cruel promulgators of this wedding-cult regime. There's so much emphasis (and money) put on the silly day and time that no one reminds the couple of what comes next: marriage. More time needs to spent on preparing young couples for a life together, if this is what they've chosen. It's great to get the dream wedding, sure--but not if the partner is just a pawn to get to the fairy tale.

When I got back today from crappy bachelorette party (see above), Floyd told me that he and my oldest brother had been talking, and decided it would be really cool to fix up my brother's Z71 pick up (or some other such alphanumeric title). They want to chop off the top of it so it's like a souped up convertible, and then they plan to baja with it in our backyard. Now that's my kind of man. Maybe a little reckless. But he's always thinkin, that one.

I am happy to be home. I could use a backyard baja right about now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Name change

I just went over a section on names, and naming with my Comp 2 class. We had a fun and interesting discussion, in which many of the students learned a lot about themselves and each other. We read snippets of blogs like this one from Spastic Onomastic. I tried not to limit it just to our own names but wanted to draw attention to our naming of things, and the connotations a word or sound contains...I think it got a little over my head, personally. Maybe they just weren't buying it.

Anywho, it got me thinking about the name of this blog, previously "Meanderings" which has never satisfied me. Of course, it was somewhat appropriate, as that's just what this is--meandering through mental corridors. Still, it has always irked me. It was a title I slapped on, regrettably, without much thought. So, its Friday night and I'm up late reading Virgil (ah, gradschool), and I stumbled across this phrase I had forgotten I was in love with: mirabile dictu*. Memories of undergraduate Latin classes swarmed my brain (swarmed...sorry, I'm at the part in Georgics with the bees) and it seemed like a more appropriate title for my outlook as of late. Meanderings is too emo for me.

Maybe, on a bad day, I should have an alter-ego blog titled "Osculare Fundamentum" We shall see.

*If I am embarassing myself by misapplying the term please let me know, but I just love it. It means "wonder to relate" or "happy to tell you" etc. I likes it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

[In]experienced teaching

My mother unintentionally, but quite directly, gave me a great piece of advice/comfort over the weekend. She hadn't even heard my insecure musings about teaching a new class, and being a newb in general (*shuddering* Mom, are you reading my blog?). Basically she called out of the blue to talk to me about how experience is a teacher's best weapon, and that we can only really learn the success rate of a given discussion or assignment after we've tried it a few times.

*Rolling eyes as one can only roll eyes at mother* So my mom says that what I need is experience. I knew that! But she went on (I had no part in this conversation, by the way) and said that this is not to say that inexperienced teachers are inherently unsuccessful, of course not. Slightly more encouraging. What will carry me through in the meantime, she says, is consistent and insistent enthusiasm, plus lots of energy. Its contagious, keeps the kids awake, and might make them wonder--what's so great about writing, that she's so excited about it?

Obviously, there's other stuff involved. Writing theory, rhetoric; Pathos, Ethos and Abedneg--wait, wait, sorry. D'Artagnon. I've read it, taught it, but in the end I need to draw from what I know about writing. There needs to be more of it. So, my students write a lot. They certainly write more than they read. They talk about what they read about, and then write about what they talked about. They write in all sorts of different forms, to different audiences. And I comment back, in detail, on every single thing that they write. I love it. It's my favorite part of the job.

This year I am really honing in on discussion skills, and *gasp* its working! Is it the students? Is it me? They never did this last year! Today, I couldn't get them to stop talking. Hands were raised, everywhere I looked; faces were engaged, pencils were scribbling; they were looking at one another and responding to each other...what a rush. The only student who sits out and spends the entire time connected to her blackberry, or rolling her eyes, is the daughter of my high school dean. Oh, the irony.

So, back to enthusiasm-it's all I got; on a startling majority of my semester evaluations, students write that they appreciate my enthusiasm. I am still not entirely sure what this means. In fact, I'm not really sure exactly how to take those evaluations, what with the scantron and the "strongly agree/disagree" survey. Ick. There are some random odds and ends in written section that make me smile, but rarely anything about any of the assignments. Let's face it: by the time the students have filled out all those bubbles, they've reverted to standardized test mode and quit doing any thinking. So, this got me to thinking...

(whoops! more digressions)
The folks into student portfolios like to have a reflective letter included to serve as a 'road map' of the writings contained in the collection. This is nice. It's kind of a 'feel good' read for the teacher, in which the student talks about how much they learned, and how great an experience it was, and how much more they enjoy writing now, and how they've grown as a writer.
Then, for the next portfolio at the end of the semester, they turn in the exact same letter. I've had it happen. Several times.

I'm sick of reflective letters. I'm sick of trying to patch assignments together based on theoretical methods of extracting the perfect reaction from students. I've already put them together, and assigned them--hell, a coupla semesters now. I can gauge, roughly, the success of the assignment based on the students writing, but what about their opinion of the scaffolding exercises? Did they make sense? Did they feel the discussion/reading/writing in class helped them for the larger assignment?
I'm desperate for honest feedback from the only people who really know my assignments--my students. So, for at least this semester--or until I gain some experience--I am coming up with a set of questions, specifically in reference to the latest assignment, for my students to answer anonymously. Typed. Optional, hell. No pressure, just give me some effin feedback.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fast food, good cause

My sister has an intimate relationship with my answering machine. Well, just about anyone who calls here halfway regularly does. I don't answer the phone. Its typically not worth it. Nor do I carry a phone around with me that will ring (inevitably) during class or some other such inopportune moment, particularly considering that I wouldn't answer that phone, either. So, people call and leave lengthy messages and I call them back at a time suitable to me. It's something about being busy all day long, deadline crunches, customer service, that makes me unwilling to give my free time away to someone who isn't even physically there.

Her answering machine message: Wendy's kids meals have really great toys right now. So if I'm out and about being graduate studenty and not eating, or only ate gummi-bears for breakfast (mmmm...), I should stop by Wendy's for a Kids Meal, and send the toy in her direction.

Dutiful sister and aunt that I am, I develop a hankerin' for some fountain pop and a Jr. Bacon, and now I've got this great CandyLand toy. This got me to thinking--if I always order the kids meal, I can develop a toy collection! Substandard toys, yes--but toys nonethless! At this point, when the kids come over, they go directly to the subwoofer, because they know that on top of it is the R2D2 figurine, and the upper half of Darth Sith (He's meant to come apart, as he gets chopped in half in the movie. Can't find his legs, though). In my defense, its not that the kids are horribly bored when they come over; they usually go run on the trail behind our house. Still, makes sense that I have a few tricks up my sleeve, even if those tricks are fastfood-quality toys.

I eat fast food. I do. I'm not going to turn my nose up and deny McDonald's three times before the cock crows. When I am out running the road (I've put 1500 miles on my Jeep since we bought it a month ago), Mickey-D's or some other such garbage is what's available. It suits my time schedule, and it doesn't upset my stomach. I don't have one of those ultra-sensitive "My stomach hurts when I eat roadkill because I eat well consistently" stomachs.

Anyway, one thing that often vexes me, in dealing with fast food, is the gigundo portion of food that I'm only really going to eat half of. Another thing that vexes me, is that I have eight nieces and nephews age ten and under, and no toys for them to play with when they come over (aside from the poor little star wars figurines that we've acquired-I say acquired so as to not underscore our geekiness). I believe I have found a single solution to these two unrelated vexations!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Somedays I'm on top

Thursday was a day like that. I can't quite explain it--some people look at astrological cycles, or hormonal cycles. I don't get real into it. I just know that I was wearing a tie, and it was orange plaid, and any time any part of me is wearing orange plaid, nothing can go wrong.

Work was great. I was over-efficient. I locked myself in the office and made many phone calls, cleared up many claims. Some days, insurance companies are worth calling. A trick of the job is knowin when its a day to call them, and when to leave them well enough alone. It was the tie. Orange plaid.

My comp II class went extremely well, and it was a relief considering the anxiety I have every day going into that class. I had them read Ray Bradbury's short story "Kaleidoscope," a story I have been fascinated by since childhood. It was a scaffolding exercise for a four part "Personal Casebook" I'm having them create. I'm asking them to identify themselves in different aspects:
1.) where their names come from (does it fit you? would you want to change it? why? to what?)
2.) where they fit in, in terms of family, and how does being a daughter, aunt, uncle, father, etc... identify them. What do these titles and relationships mean, and how do they help as sources of identification?
3.) where they fit in the cosmos--whether its a religious thing, or a philosophical one, you can get a sense of your identity when you imagine yourself faced with imminent death (thus the Bradbury story) and
4.) pick a piece of artwork that you can relate to/identify with and explain how it relates to you.

Next in line is an assignment that will require some genealogy work, as I will ask them to consider where their familes come from (this may require some phonecalls to parents, but I'd like it to extend into cultural studies, because they then have to research their heritage). I want them then to pick a point from that culture and do a mini-research project on it...more details later. To be fair, I am sensitive to the student who may not have access to this information, whether they are adopted, or simply have limited access for whatever reason...

anyway, I have things up my sleeve and I'm excited to see that I have at least almost half the class interested in discussion, and even more than that with insightful things to say in their reading responses.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunburned from dancing

It's always a bit anti-climactic, driving home after a performance. You rehearse for what, six weeks? three months? (It depends on the piece) And then its just over, and there's nothing left for you to do but to drive home. On any given day, I typically choose to ride in silence, unless its one of my Great Courses on tape . Tonight, I needed the quiet. I was woozy from all the sunshine, and all the smiles.

Smiles are exhausting. Not just the cheesy "on-stage" smiles. (Believe me, I have those specially designed to not fatigue my face). It's the genuine, o-my-god-they're-cheering-for-me smiles that get tiring. This particular performance is taxing because it's not just one, but three shows within a 5 hour span. That means you have to get psyched up, walk on "stage" (stage being the conventional term, but not really applicable to this particular performance...I'll get to that), psych yourself out, and stop shaking so that your pas de bureaux isn't sloppy, and get on with it--then you're done for an hour, only to repeat the process again, and in our case, a third time. Its an adrenalin roller coaster, and certainly takes its toll by the end of the day. We went out for beers afterward, but were so tired none of us had more than two.

My parents came, which meant a lot to me. I don't think my mother has been able to come to one of my performances since my undergraduate thesis in May 2001. She made fun of my costume (a very cutesy sundress, one that I've "ugh"ed over several times) and my dad leaned in to give me a kiss--again, with the exhausting smiles).

We did REALLY well, which is a relief. Six weeks is not a long time to rehearse, and I don't think we had all of us together at the same time until dress , which then went badly for technical reasons (btw, if someone knows of any dress rehearsal on earth that's ever gone well, please let me know!). It pulled together beautifully today. We dance on a stone sculpture, and then walk into a reflecting pond. Incidentally, said pond has multiple signs surrounding it "NO swimming NO wading" But it doesn't say NO dancing!(we also have an insurance policy specific to this event...silly bureaucracy) So, it's not a stage. As my dad says, "It's 3D" because our atmostphere, the sculpture and the pool, are as much a part of the dance as the choreography and the music.

I have been thinking so much about my Curriculum Vitae lately, and personal statements--in fact, that is what occupied my mind on my quiet ride home tonight. Here's something that I just spent 6 weeks to create. Its done in an instant, everyone's back home and there's a wee little line on the CV under the fucking "extracurricular" section, or something else just as lame. But this is something that hundreds of people came to today! I hate to think of the truly awesome and enriching experiences of my life as notches on a belt (mind you, that belt is purple velvet...) or lines on a CV. And yet, my graduate experience has taught me to do just that. I'm a paper doll--quite literally, because whoever sees my application sees just that, paper. These applications raise a unique and hair-raising challenge that I'm not sure quite how to meet yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hallway Hello from Professor Emeritus

Some professors are big hallway talkers, and others zip on by with a curt nod. I think that, although I'd like to deny it, I am a hallway person. I swear, it just clears my head to do a quick lap or two (the grad student offices smell sometimes, honest). Still, I had to laugh when, reviewing Gregory Semenza's Graduate Study for the 21st Century, I discovered that his classification of academic department 'types' lists grad students right alongside the Faculty-Hall Talkers.

(Segue into content of blog)

Yesterday I spied the most notorious "zipper" of the department, my theory professor last spring. I prepared to aim a nod in his direction and finish my lap, but then I realized he was stopped in the doorway waiting to speak to me. He wanted to talk to me about one of my answers from the final exam, and commend me on my performance. He had already done so in his email response last May, which was why I was surprised that he was handing out the real live "attaboy." If I had a tail, I woulda wagged it. Instead, I just shook my hind end awkwardly (note to self, stop shaking your hind end awkwardy in public).

I thought I'd share it. I feel kinda bad that only about 3 sentences from my essay actually dealt with the subject matter in an academic sense, and those are an awkward, crammed-in coupla sentences. The exam called for a description of the sublime in our own experience, backed by the definitions from the readings of Kant/Burke/Wordsworth. Keep in mind, when the writing is choppy and awkward, that it was a timed exam. Keep in mind, when the writing is smooth and clever, that it was a timed exam.

Enough with the disclaimers...(clears throat):

I had never really been on a ferry or a boat before, especially not for more than a quick trip across Lake Erie—and then, it was during the day, and my mother was with me the whole time. Usually, in those short little treks, we would have to park our car in the lot and then board the vessel. This time, we drove into the ferry and parked in one of the three humongous carports deep in its underbelly. It was nighttime, and so the lights from inside the ship shone outward into the dark. I couldn’t see the water, but the salty smell pricked in my nose and I could hear waves lapping against the ship. We were going to cross the Atlantic ocean between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The trip would take nine hours, overnight. It seemed as if we were in a hotel on water—what with the bad carpeting (I mean, where do people get those patterns?), lounges where people sat watching movies, a restaurant and a bar. There weren’t any luxury suites where I was headed, though. The beds were more like barracks. My poor mom and grandpa had to share a bunkbed. I lay there on the top bunk, my nose hardly a foot from the ceiling, and listened while the general clutter of people settling in died down and faded into a rumble of deep breathing, and a few occasional snorts.

I climbed out of bed and began to wander the ferry. The people at the bar were enjoying themselves and mortifying the waitstaff. The movie lounge was playing the same movie again, and there was a couple doing something there that they should have been doing back in the bunk (though it was just about as public in the barracks).

Bored and tired--but curious--I began to snoop. I found a back staircase where my footsteps echoed jarringly against the clanking metal, and eventually, somehow, found myself on the deck of the ship. When the door swung shut behind me with a loud clang, terror gripped me: I was alone on the deck of the ship, it was far past midnight. My mother didn't know where I was. Taking a few cautious steps forward, my fingers found the ship’s cold railing. I slowly exhaled as I took in my surroundings. Fifteen years later, I don’t think I’ve ever completely taken in that sight.

Black. Complete, utter blackness—surrounding me on all sides. I couldn’t tell where the ocean stopped and the sky started, or where the sky stopped and the ocean started. The stars glared fiercely as I had never seen them do on land. I suddenly understood the constellations, carrying on the lives and legends for eternity from within the stars. I suddenly--finally--understood God’s promise to Abraham, that these stars were his children, and so was I.

I didn’t dare look over the edge of the boat, I didn’t have to. I knew that the water beneath me went as deep down as they sky above me went up, and I was there, puny, balancing between the two—what was keeping me from just falling off? Which end was up? This moment altered my understanding of the universe. For the first time, I knew myself as infinitesimally small, and absolutely frail. My fear emanated from a part of me that I didn’t know existed, a deep primal instinct of sensory perception, and I perceived fear. When these big shot Romantic poets talk about the sublime, I am in their number. I had experienced the sublime long before I ever knew such a thing existed. Now, as a graduate student, I read Kant and Burke when they talk about the sublime and I understand them on a deeply intrinsic level. When I emerged on the deck of the ship and saw the gaping blackness, I experienced what Burke did. I understood the sublime as Kant determines it as well, in his enumeration of it as boundless, and of extensive quantity: never had I known the stars so well, and that there were so many. His sublime involves reason insofar as it pertains to morality, human purpose, dignity and endurance in life. Seeing the night like that for the first time was like seeing the planet naked, and my entire worldview shifted at that moment. The foundation of the sublime is in ourselves, and in our attitude. I took ahold of that moment and made it sublime by my interaction with it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My biggest regret: I said "yada yada" too much today.

I meant well when I got out of bed this morning, I really did. But the day was reluctant to play along. In the end, I felt triumphant--I mean, it was the first day, after all. I made it through.

First: Work. I was standing patiently, listening to my boss's instructions for a special therapy on a patient. This patient, whom I have known for some time, studies me for a moment then says, "Well, you must be well adjusted to married life--you sure do listen well."

Second: School. I got one of my first doses of outright competitive rudeness. I mentioned that I was dreading a class. Although I was referring only to its time slot (it is a late seminar), a young lady asks, "Oh, you don't like that it's old ?" I couldn't help getting ye olde vibe that she thought I couldn't handle *gasp* 17th century poetry. Ergh. I'm not a grad school grudge holder, and I don't think I can measure my worth by comparing how far back my literary tastes lie, but I couldn't help following her question with a very direct, "Where were you when we were studying Chaucer?"

Third: The mail on the counter. My suspicions were confirmed that I should take the GRE again. I mean, don't get me wrong--it was a'ight. But just that. A'ight. I had certainly hoped to do better on the analytical writing section.

All in all, it was a pretty good first day--I mean, I didn't black out. Once I was in the classroom teaching, the lights turned on and the performance began (I never considered myself a class clown until I was the one teaching the class:). The crowning achievement was my epiphany on the way home for a very fun and challenging opening assignment for my Comp II class (to replace the rather bland and insecure one I had initially considered).

Now I fear nothing. I have a plan!

Friday, August 22, 2008

New beginnings, new classes and interesting encounters

I was "oriented" today. My syllabacuses were OKed. As far as my beginning composition class is concerned, I feel quite confident: this is my third time teaching it. Obviously, this in no way makes me an expert, but it certainly allows for some easier breathing compared to my second class, which I am teaching this semester for the first time. As of yet--despite a summer's worth of discussion with various family members and other teachers-- I still don't feel that I have any great ideas. I will do my best, and will always be at least a coupla steps ahead of my students. Aside from that, I got nuthin.

I need to realize that at this point in my teaching career, not everything I do in my classroom is going to be uber creative and completely original. While of course that is my goal, I need to worry about being efficient before I worry about becoming Ms. Frizzle (best teacher ever). It's going to take a few tries to taylor my assignments, finding out what works best along the way. Aside from that, my biggest enemy is confidence. What if I fail? What if someone walks away from my class thinking, wtf? I can't wait to talk to myself four months from now, to see what I have learned, and to see if I've figured it out or not!

I mentioned, in casual conversation with one of the faculty members (as casual as a conversation with a faculty member can be), that I found her syllabus and class structure helpful in preparing my own. I figured it might be an opportunity to hear her philosophy on the class itself, and the approach she uses with her students. Boy, I got more than I bargained for. She immediately invited me to one of her online forums--and not just via email: she took me to her office, had me sit down and sign in, and made sure that I was on her list. I learned very quickly that there is nothing casual about this woman. She is intense. Her career history is fascinating, and when I congratulated her on the book she had published that day, she shrugged, "Yeah, I've got two that came out today." I couldn't help but laugh at her deadpan tone.

It seemed very apparent that she was trying to take care of me, and so I wondered how clearly it is written on my face that I'm pretty much clueless as to how to go about this class. I appreciate her generosity with her time, as one thing I've learned in grad school is to be mindful of people's schedules. No, no, I'm hanging out in her sooper posh office while she recommends all kinds of sites and assignments. I was simply overwhelmed, and couldn't help wondering what I'd done to land myself in her good graces! I'm not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, however, and know that I have found myself a powerful mentor for my teaching in the coming year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I went in with two personalities. One me said, you've got this in the bag; the other me said, you can always take it again. It was a lot less intimidating than going in to the LSAT--no 100 yard long line curling about in the lobby, no thumbprint. Just a couple of chairs and some smiling, helpful faces at the counter. Nonchalant. Go ahead, take your silly test.

I can't really just go in my sweats, though it may be the comfortable route. Casual chic suits me better for these occasions. So, I went in my "new" jeans. See, I got a few pairs from my sister-in-law last May that I had to bend laws of physics to fit into. A few carrots and push ups later, they're my new comfy jeans. A feeling of accomplishment, just by getting dressed. I'm already winning.

I love that they give me ear plugs and giant headphones--I felt like I was gearing up at the shooting gallery (my dad will be proud). How did I do? Well, instead of feeling like crying with shame at the end of it, I felt like laughing at my own ridiculousness-trying to pummel through 8th grade algebra. I felt like one of those really awkward little kid ballerinas, you know--those ones who scrunch up their hands and shoulders into something vaguely reminiscent of first position. That's what I look like trying to do math. A giraffe with strep throat. I could go on. When I told my friend my quantitative score, she straight up laughed at me. So the ridiculousness wasn't just me.

Verbal? A'ight. Just a'ight. I'll wait to see my percentile writing before I decide to take it again. Writing section? I thought I made some very compelling arguments and analyses...whether the graders feel the same remains to be seen. The hard part is over though. Now I know the staff, I know the layout. I can even bring my own earplugs--actually no, they probably wouldn't allow that.

And just for the record, I must be a glutton for punishment because I went to the dentist's office right after the test. Or I might just be sick, because my dentist office's staff always cheers me up. I love those gals (Note: these are not the evil wenches from the oral surgeon's office). They tell me to take more yoga because my jaws won't unclench, and now I have to get some weird "bite plate" thing. They said I can't just use an athletic mouthguard. (I asked).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Things coming up

OK, OK, so the school year is looming closer and closer. It is my third year in a two year program. I feel like a fossil. A very young fossil with a lot to learn, but a fossil nonetheless. This was the plan from the beginning, but as it nears the end of things, it's harder to deal with. Watching my peers embark on career paths and enter into phD programs is difficult. I didn't attend their graduation because I couldn't help but feel left out--those are the kids I should have walked with (and, because I'm not completely emo, I'll add that I got some overtime for the shift that made me miss the ceremony. What's more important in the long run is that I showed up at the parties with booze). As it stands, the group I will graduate with is primarily rhet/comp, the majority of them slightly older than me, most of them with families. I get along with all of them, but can't help feeling slightly separated and yeah, a lil lonely.

And that's enough feeling sorry for myself. I am in a program with some great students who, because they specialize in the rhet/comp area, are more knowledgable in the teaching/grading aspect of things. I have a lot to learn from them--not just in the academic arena, but in the how-to-manage-a-family-at-the-same-time arena. Furthermore, I chose to do three years in this program from the getgo, so no reason to look down at my feet now. I plan to attack this year with as much energy as I have previously. I mean, heck--I've got a light load this coming semester. Two classes? Compared to my usual four? Bring it! Although (for the record) I will also busy myself with:

--teaching a whole new class, Comp 2, in addition to a completely revamped and web-assisted Comp 1
--applying to phD programs--I have seven in mind at this point (any input as to whether this is enough?)
--working on, if not completing, my Master's paper--hopefully as my writing sample to said phD programs.
--working on, of course, my personal statement: Why am I doing this to myself?
--working in a medical office, under my new title. In addition, I have become the office's primary transcriptionist (I told them I would no longer settle to be the "other" transciptionist. I am no one's mistress).
--performing in a few dance venues locally, in September and December--likely offering some choreography of my own (this will entail about 6-8 hrs per week, more so as things near the performance. My dance friends always laugh at me b/c I grade papers backstage. My family is horrified that I have finally become my mother, the woman famous for grading papers at red lights:)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Disjointed blog: Movie talk, Cat talk, Car talk

I can never get through A League of Their Own without crying. Terminator gets me, too. Possibly the greatest romance ever told. Romeo n Juliet didn't go across time for each other.

Normally I'd be watching SNL at this point, but it appears we're not getting the local channels for some reason...

I mentioned this to Floyd, who recalled that I'd done some weed-wacking earlier. A certain , peculiar sound came to my mind, one that I heard just as I was using the wacker by the satellite dish. I guess I thought it was a weed. Unfortunately, I was informed that this is one weed that won't just grow back. Yeah, so...moving briskly along!

In other news, I'm going out of town for most of August. I was worried how Floyd would do taking care of the kitten and dog, but it seems that they're doing pretty well taking care of each other:

I love this one--looks like they fell asleep running:

And yes, we got the kitten as an accessory to the dog. As you can see, she is a miniature version of him, with all the same markings, even. Take that, Paris Hilton--what with your "Tinkerbell" dog and handbag. We just got a whole new kitten, straight up, to decorate our dog!

And my best news yet? I got a new car today! It doesn't make horrendous, gut-wrenching sounds when it's started, and *gasp* it isn't halfway rusted through in some places! Now, not to say the old truck wa'nt all that. It looked ugly but had brand new shocks, brakes, and many other essentials (I lost track). Still, I never had a connection with it, it was never "mine." The new one, was meant for me. I'm really trying to treasure this 'new car feeling' because it expires about as quickly as 'new car smell.'

It was interesting and horrible to get "financed." I am so naive about money and credit its embarassing, though I learned a lot today. Either way, what matters is that I used to just get a new back pack for the school year...this time I got a whole new ride! :)

Friday, July 25, 2008


We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!--yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever;

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. -- A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. -- One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!--For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelly
(I can't believe ol' PB stole my blog title.)

A random acquaintance in the vague past once said to me, "You know what I like about you, Beeyotch? You can talk yourself into and out of just about anything. " I haven't seen or heard from this person in years, and can't rightly remember if his name was Jordan or Jason, but his words ring true to me. I can give you a perfectly reasoned and logical argument about why I should go into a physical therapist program, and not English literature (indeed, this decision kept me up late nights, at one point in the semi-near past).

I often trip over my own arguments before they're even on the page, because I already know the counter-argument, or figure there's one out there. This doesn't make me good at arguing, unfortunately; it makes me good at getting flustered. Anyway, all of this blathering on is an introduction to my good news, and that is (despite previous blogs such as this one) I will continue working at my present place of employment. Funny-those people who knew me weren't surprised to hear about my letter of resignation. Those same people are likely unsurprised by this latest piece of news. What can I say? I didn't pull the "two weeks notice" as stunt. It just turns out that the job was a lot more willing to work around me than I thought they'd be.

My "last day" was today. The younger doctor , the one who has now taken over the practice, talked to me. We really hashed some things out about reasons I should stay. Most significantly perhaps, a pay raise. One that made me agree to rescind said resignation letter.

A five-dollar-an-hour pay raise. To go along with my new title.


Yeah, I'm gonna have to get a t-shirt made (with my obnoxious title on it. yes, its so obnoxious I won't print it here, because its so obvious they made it up).

Office meeting next week to discuss staff changes, i.e. Crazy Beeyotch is gonna come down on you with the hurt if ya'll don't shape up. Punkasses.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

(Mis)Adventures with Kurt Vonnegut

I read a lot today. A lot of Kurt Vonnegut, to be precise. I first encountered this author during my road trip from LA to San Francisco in April 2007. Ethan Hawke read The Slaughterhouse Five on audio CD. I was distracted, of course, driving--but I recall it being a pleasant experience. And so it goes.
Today, I finished A Man Without a Country in a few hours. It started off with the wry humor and smugness that I always like to think I'll be able to accomplish myself some day. But then it turned into a bitter rant against the country. While still humorous at times (my favorite quote: "The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon") the whole thing smacked so much of bitterness that towards the end I could hardly choke it down.

George Bush is an asshole.
No one should own guns.
The earth is going to catch on fire at any given moment because of our consumption of fossil fuels.
The world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Oh yeah, and America sucks.

I was annoyed and disappointed to read this "great American author" and because it was reminiscent of a whiny student paper--moaning and complaining about the injustices of the world and life without offering a fingernail of support. There's no solution proposed. Its just bitching. Save it for your blog.
Well, that's just what I did (obviously).

The Vonnegut scenario continues because, as it happens, I checked out two of his books from the library. What do you do when you're disgusted with an author? Read another one of his books! I figured that Cat's Cradle was published 1973...maybe he wasn't as curmudgeony then. Gaw. This one has more of a plot line, so its not just spewing out raw bitter. There's a lot of random aliens, and insanity, and I'm liking it better. Still. He's so angry, so negative...I don't know how much more I can take of it. I'm not saying that the man doesn't come across a solid point every now and again, its just all the garbage inbetween.

He's such a fad. He's so that guy at the coffeehouse who chainsmokes and wears black turtlenecks and always looks around with disdain at the people who put cream or sugar in their coffee. He's that guy who's always preaching about some cause and rolling his eyes at you that you haven't heard about the rampant anthill burning on 12th st, or some other such disgrace to humankind. And yet, in all his disgust for the human race, he manages to spend a lot of time talking about "Wide Open Beavers" as if that's helping anything. Ass.

Ick. What drove me even more crazy was the bit in A Man without a Country when he goes over fan mail. What kind of fans do you have, who write this: "I'd love to know your thoughts for a woman of 43 who is finally going to have a child but is wary of bringing a new life into such a frightening world." Please. You're 43, and pregnant for the first time. Write the guy who talks about upskirt shots and women with their legs splayed wide open, cos he's your last hope for true human dignity.

I dunno. I'm mad because Vonnegut is supposed to be so "cool" and all the hipsters who don't read books like to read his books. And this is all he's got? Whining? Give me a break.