Sunday, December 30, 2007

Okay, back to the real world in which I am a Lit Professor...

We've inhaled all the Christmas, fatilicious consumables (not that more can't be acquired) and we have lovely New Year's plans with colleagues tomorrow that will involve playing board games, eating the baby cheesecakes I'm going to make (told ya I could get more sugar-laden treats), drinking champagne, and watching that damn ball drop. Medieval Pop left today after spending 3 days with us - it was lots of fun, but not much work got done. The article is going very well, so I won't jinx it by talking about it at the moment.

But, I'm now turning my hand to next semester's syllabi. And I'm also thinking about how dismally horrible the majority of the student writing is in my classes (I know, I'm not special or anything, it's just frustrating to be handed 78 papers of varying badness and a few fabulous ones). This is part of a larger problem that my (mostly untenured) colleagues and I have been talking about lately. I teach upper level literature courses in my field. Most of my students are senior English majors. And most of them don't know the difference between a statement and an argument. They usually can't construct even the most pedestrian of thesis statements.

Like I said, so far I'm not saying anything that many of us don't already know and experience. But the questions I'm asking myself in this syllabus-writing time is: what (if anything) should/could/would I do about it?

We have a very good composition program at the Dream Academy - we have Ph.D. students majoring in Comp/Rhet. It's a respected program. My job description does not include any comp or basic writing classes. I am a medievalist and I teach the literatures of that period. But the students are taking writing classes and in most cases aren't learning how to write a basic academic essay (i.e., 1) constructing a basic, persuasive argument, 2) supporting the reading through evidence drawn directly from the text, and 3) gesturing even in the broadest strokes to the importance of that argument - not in the sense of universal importance, but explaining what we might understand about the text by looking at this character, scene, language, authorial voice, etc. in that way).

Is this a tall order? Maybe given the training most undergrads get it is. But should it be?

The enrollment cap in our classes is 40. And they're always full. So, the possibility of doing any kind of real, nuts and bolts writing workshopping or instruction is very limited. Having 80 students a semester doesn't really allow for it. And many of my colleagues would tell me to protect my time vehemently until I get tenure; and I intent to. When we're not teaching writing-intensive classes (which have a lower cap, but still plenty of students), most of us don't have many papers or writing to grade because we can't assign it and get it all graded without going insane. What I did for my classes last semester was put a kind of writing guide on our course webpage. This consisted of different handouts on writing I've made up over the years. Things like a thesis statement checklist, paragraph handouts, incorporating textual evidence correctly, etc. I pointed them toward those things multiple times before their papers were due. I took part of class time to reiterate the most important things about paper structure. And I still got a third of the students who would either not use any direct quotes or who would throw in quotes willy-nilly and not cite page or line numbers. I'm talking over 25 papers. And this is just using textual evidence!

Going on will not make my frustration any better - you all know what I mean. But I feel like I want to do something to pre-empt some of the most serious problems ahead of time. But what can be done? What have any of you done when you have a single class of 40 and no delusions about being able to look at drafts of everyone's papers, etc. I'm teaching a grad class as well, and my plate already runneth over...

So, by way of being proactive, I'm thinking of having a thesis statement assignment. I will probably have their paper be a short close reading. Baby steps, baby steps...but, if I give them a thesis statement handout/worksheet kind of thing, I can have them look at that material and make them due in plenty of time before their paper. That way I can give them a bit more detailed feedback ahead of time. It's extra work, but I'm feeling that in my "new prof", corn-fed, apple-cheeked way it might be worth it to read slightly less-challenged papers.

Whaddya think? Any ideas? Suggestions? Things that have worked/failed for you? I continue to think that we all basically have the same job, so I'd be so happy to hear your thoughts...

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Random Bits of Fluff - Christmas Edition Part Deux


Today we opened presents, stuck bows on the cats' tails and laughed a bit, and went to see a movie: Alien v. Predator: Requiem. Not as good as the others, but still good, gory Christmas fun.

Talked to parentage on the phone; tomorrow we hit after Xmas sales (along with 4000 other people) and then we have second day of Xmas dinner with some friends.

Tonight TD makes an Indonesian feast and we consume champagne and watch bad movies.

For now, I'm working a little bit more on my article - yesonChristmasdayisthereanythingwrongwiththatyouwannafightaboutit?

Happy Christmas to all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Random Bits of Fluff - Christmas Edition

I have a post coming on teaching writing, but I haven't the stamina for it at the moment. Here's what's what....

1) Mountain Escape was wonderful - we ate awesome food (risotto with gorgonzola and radicchio!) and shopped 'til we dropped (literally: I stumbled several times under the weight of my bags).

2) Sappy bullet point: TD and I love being together. It's so lovely to be walking along and turn and see him walking there, too. And now for the really sappy moment: I was reminded often this past few days of that Journey song that goes:
"Being apart ain't easy on this love affair.
Two strangers learn to fall in love again.
I get the joy of rediscovering you...
Oh [TD], you stand by me.
I'm forever yours...faithfully!"

You should fill in the soulful guitar at the appropriate moments.

3) We must go out for another shopping excursion today, then it will all be done. Ho, Ho, Ho.

4) I need to finish writing this damned article! I've got one last section to add in (I found some helpful articles that will provide a good counterpoint to my argument. But I have to write that tidbit up and pop it in there. And then write a conclusion.

5) When TD is here, he cleans out the catbox for me.

6) I did not get the summer grant I applied for, but I need to write up 2-3 more little grant apps within the next few weeks.

7) And I need to write up my first graduate syllabus. Whee!

8) But now I need to eat breakfast. At noon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho, Dammit.

The elves have been working overtime at Medieval Woman HQ. Before I could turn around twice this afternoon we had a clean house and a Wee Christmas Shrubbery (see picture below) all decked out in jingle bells and Star Wars ornaments (we got the very last Sandperson ornament from Hallmark - a very big deal for TD and me; a.k.a. The Geek Brigade).

Dutchman arrives at 9:30 pm and tomorrow we flee to the mountains for 3 days - no work, no blogging; just the sins of Sloth and Gluttony (and maybe a few others, but I ain't tellin'!)

TD and I will have 3 1/2 weeks of unfettered togetherness - we've rolled with this latest punch (well, it was more of a sucker-slap) and we're still thinking positively.

So, light blogging ahead but Happy Holidays to everyone and I wish you all a "Bon MLA" - kick ass, take names, no prisoners.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saved by the Meme!

Earnest English tagged me for a meme, so I'm going to post on this rather than on the headachy, blah way I'm feeling at the moment.

Five Loved Books of 2007:

This meme is going to say something about me and my reading tastes. When I read for fun (i.e., not obscure Middle English romances), I read trash. Yep, that's right. Trash. The kind you get in airports and bus stations. I also read my favorite books over and over again. 4 or 5 times means nothing to me (especially with something like Michael Crichton). My all time favorite is classic Dean Koontz (before he got all namby-pamby as his work has been lately). So, with that caveat having been uttered, here are the favorite books I read this year:

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - how could this have NOT been on my favorite list??

2) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - this one is a re-read, but I taught it last semester and realized why I loved it so much the first time around - totally great, classic Gaiman urban fantasy, which I liked even better than American Gods.

3) The Wheel of Darkness, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child - the latest in the series of Agent Pendergast novels. Pretty good, but my personal favorite still continues to be Cabinet of Curiosities.

4) Peter Benchley's Amazon: The Ghost Tribe - this one was a random pick-up in some airport somewhere in North America. It's just good clean fun about a band of 17c Puritan settlers who get blown off course and end up in South America and must scrape out an existence in the bush. Way cool.

5) In addition to loving trash novels, I also prefer historical British naval fiction. I am re-reading (for the third time) Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. These are the books that the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World are based on (and it's a pretty good movie, too!). While I did like the Horatio Hornblower series, the Aubrey-Maturin novels will always be my favorite. I've read all 20 books (plus the Wine-Dark Sea) twice and I'm now on my third reading of the series at book #2, Post Captain.

I tag Squadratomagico, Dame Eleanor Hull, and heu mihi (and anyone and everyone else who wants it!)


Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Wrinkle....

I am so down.

We heard today from Awesome Neighboring U that they are holding off on making any junior hires until after their national meeting in January (their version of the MLA or AHA). They have made 2 more senior offers (the mass exodus this department had a couple of years ago was all senior faculty at the Associate level or above), so it's understandable that they really need to hire at that level first and foremost. When TD visited, he was the first junior candidate they had out and they already had made 4 senior offers, two of which did not look likely. It's very possible that they got one or more rejections from those senior offers and are in a bit of a panic - in their co-authoring, collaborative world they can't recruit juniors and re-build the program without having senior people already there!

So, the ANU Chair said that they expect to make junior offers in mid- to late January and said that, "You [TD] will obviously be among the finalists for offers along with other people we may invite to campus after the January meetings," and that he "will reiterate that we continue to be strongly interested in you [TD]."

What say you, blogfriends? Does this still sound like it might work?? This particular department will not be doing as well on the junior market this year as in previous years for a number of reasons that everyone on the market is aware of. This, obscurely, has to do with the reason for the mass exodus in the first place. Last year, they had no one accept their offers: junior or senior. Things won't be better for them this year unless they can get some senior hires on board.

So, I have been inexplicably crying off and on all day, not realizing how much I'd truly thought that this was going to work out soon.

And I miss TD more than ever and he can't get out here any earlier than Monday.

Can someone tell me a funny story? Or a dirty limrick? The only thing I can't handle hearing right now is "I told you so" and anything about chickens, hatching, and premature counting...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Okay, I lied....

...the DVD player is just fine.

So, I've finished grading one set of exams - just one more to go and if I stay up late tonight, I can finish them (I am an exam speed grader).

I need new slippers.

It was 78 degrees today and my body doesn't know what to do with that.

I'm eating Thai tonight for the second time this week.

TD comes in 6 days and stays for a long time.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Technical Tidbit....

I just witnessed the death of my beloved DVD player. It happened right in front of me - there was nothing I could do.

This was the first electronic thing TD ever bought me - in Christmas 2003, I wanted the newly-released Back to the Future trilogy for Christmas. TD wrapped the DVD version and claimed when I opened it that they'd accidentally sent him the DVDs rather than the VHS version. My last present that year was a new DVD player!

So, we must find a new one and we were looking at those new Blue Ray and/or HD DVD players, but those f*ckers are $1000! Forget it. Does anyone have any experience with the regular old DVD/VHS combo players? We still have plenty of VHS tapes, but I'd love to retire our old VHS players.

Thank god the pay-per-view is still working...

Random Bits of Fluff: "Remember Me?" Edition

I'm swearing an early New Year's resolution: I will not feel guilty about not blogging or reading blogs sometimes for days at a time. Why do I feel as though I get so out of touch so quickly? It's not that I'm not interested in all my bloggy friends - or that I don't look forward to hearing all your news and keeping up with all the little things in your life. Sometimes - and perhaps more this semester - I tend to retreat into my burrow and keep my head down. Partly it's work, partly it's living alone - I've realized how easy it is to truly retreat from socialization. Sometimes I forget that it takes effort to do social things - when TD is here, we don't go out partying all the time, but having someone (and not a Fur Person) around to talk to gets me back into the mood - helps me to practice my skills. Does that sound weird? Ah well - I hope you guys haven't forgotten me, even though I don't stop by to say hi once in a while! :)

A quick update on our quest for co-habitation: we should hear something definite next week - we know that the search cmte. met last Thursday and we're almost certain that was a positive decision. And they now need to take it to a full departmental meeting/vote. But, all signs point to yes! You'll hear me cyper-screech when we know...

And now, to the randomness of my existence for the past week:

1) Went to our department Christmas party last night - reconfirmed the greatness of my colleagues.

2) Did not get an internal grant I applied for and got snarky comments from the faceless (non-Humanities) committee member who reviewed it. I had suspected that they weren't able to fund everyone and I was told by someone on the cmte. that they "really strongly encouraged" me to apply for this other grant that I'm eligible for this year. So, fine - not a problem. But when I read the comments, they were so snarky, obviously way off base, contradictory, and bee-yotchy! It's like they needed to justify not funding me by acting like my proposal wasn't strong. I'm not much of an egotist about my work, but this was a good, well-written proposal. If they'd had some constructive criticism, I would have been happy to take it. But this was just "snark sans substance." Blech...

3) As I was reading said comments, I was in the middle of giving a final exam. During this exam, one of my students threw a very melodramatic temper tantrum. Apparently, he couldn't figure out "what I wanted him to write" on the ridiculously broad short essay question. When I told him that, a) that was his decision and, b) that we weren't having this conversation during the test, he said, loudly and snottily: "Whatever!" and then stomped back to his seat, threw his little blue book on the desk and sat down in a huff. I nearly burst out laughing! Before this sad display, I was tempted to help him out on his participation grade (he needs a certain minimum for it to count for his major); but now - FORGET IT, PAL!

4) I graded 40 papers and wrote an exam last Wednesday night. I slept about 20 minutes.

5) The next two days, I sat on the couch pay-per-viewing movies ("Blades of Glory" wasn't that bad, by the way)!

I must write another exam for tomorrow - fingers crossed that we hear something soon - then the holding pattern will cease and we'll be cleared for landing!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The 7 Meme - Last Call...

Okay, I'm the last blogger to do this and I've been tagged twice by two people I dig (Hilaire and Squadratomagico), so here it is, Ladies!

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.


1. When I was 7 my favorite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon was put on my Wonder Woman outfit (possibly Underoos?) and my fire helmet and stand on the front porch with my pink megaphone and shout fire instructions to the neighborhood: "Stop, Drop, and Roll!!!"

2. I used to be a prize-winning Break Dancer (and when I say "prize-winning" I mean I got the award in the 1985 5th grade co-ed dance-off at my school) - my specialty was "moon-walking," the "foot-work," the "knee-spin," and (you guessed it) I did a mean "centipede"...

3. On my 21st birthday, the day before I took my first GRE exam, I got drunk and kissed my friend's married brother. Really not my finest hour. Don't hate me.

4. I absolutely hate, hate, hate, hate and loathe celery in all its many disgusting manifestations. Keep it far, far away from me.

5. Both The Dutchman and I are left-handed, attached earlobed, tongue curlers - our friend J says that our children will be little gremlins.

6. I am deathly afraid of swimming in the ocean because of shark attacks. Sometimes it's even hard for me to fly over the ocean when I think about all the sharks in the water; I get baby panic attacks.

7. I heard my aunt's voice in a dream the night she died (half way across the country) telling me goodbye.

I don't think there's anyone who hasn't done this already!

So, I'm heading back to grading.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Update!

Okay - first off, thank you all so much for your good thoughts - both TD and I credit the blogosphere with a nice chunk of how well it went during his campus visit! (wink, wink...)

And that brings me to the true update: when I arrived at the hotel last night to meet up with him after his day-long campus visit, he looked all grinny and slightly high - like he'd just gotten asked to the prom! The visit went (and I quote TD here): "Better than I ever thought it could."


Everyone loved him and he loved everyone - they have a new Dean who's pouring money into this department (literally, inundating these people with money). The department had taken a hit in the last couple of years - in TD's field, professors move around a lot and 4-5 profs in the last couple of years have left to go elsewhere because of issues with "resources" - however, they have a new Dean just this year who's all about hiring great new folks - they actually have 7-8 tenure lines that they can fill with anyone they want (i.e., any subfield). SO, TD would be in on the ground floor with a department that's on its way toward getting back on top (the Uni itself is one of the best state schools in the country, but this department has gone through a bit of a transitional period lately). They are hiring great people this year - TD would be their first junior offer and they already have 4 senior offers out. So, his jobtalk went awesome and he had a fabulous 3-hour dinner with the senior "Big Cheese Grand Poobah" in his subfield (who would be a fantastic mentor for TD) and when this lovely, bombastic, rotund Frenchman finally took him back to the hotel, and before TD could get out of the car, the "BCGP" said, "TD, I'm going to talk my colleagues on the hiring committee into offering you the job" - that's code for "expect a call from us next week." BCGP is also on the hiring committee...

So, TD has told me that he would be surprised if he didn't hear from them by Wednesday - basically, whenever the committee can get together and meet!


And so TD would broker a very awesome deal ($$$$$, low teaching load, perks) and we'll almost certainly have this whole thing settled by Christmas!

Oh. My. God.

We're both looking at each other like, "what do we talk about now??"

Hee, hee...

I will keep everyone updated on the status of the actual offer when it's forthcoming (notice my total confidence)!