Saturday, September 30, 2006


This here bit of off-white softness is my salvation this weekend. After coming home to Home City at my post-midnight hour on Thursday night, and having to be out of the house from 7:45 the next morning till after 5 in the afternoon, I realized that I hadn't had any down time all week. Literally. My weird schedule and living arrangement in Uni City makes it so.

It wasn't till I was doing an errand in a shop yesterday and saw this throw, and thought, "I MUST have that," that I realized how much I crave doing-nothing, in-the-house-goddammit, cozy, pyjama-wearing time. I bought this thing - it is one of the softest, coziest things I've ever felt - took it to bed with me last night, and have been sitting with it draped over me ever since I managed to rouse myself this morning. It incarnates coziness.

Last night we were supposed to have friends over for dinner. When GF came home and found me crying as I tried to clean up the disaster of an apartment - with no plans for what I'd actually cook, less than two hours away from their arrival - we decided to take them out for dinner instead. This was a hard call; I get pretty worked up about entertaining, due to some family history in this area, and felt as if I'd failed by not being able to pull off this dinner - which was supposed to be reciprocating after they'd had us over for dinner, all Martha- and Nigella-like (as always). But I just couldn't face it - I needed not to be madly dashing anymore, please please please.

All I want to do is nest. I'm cancelling my trip to last year's Uni City next weekend. I just don't have the energy to do that. I am "on" way too much of the time - I don't need a long weekend of cooking and entertaining and running from one engagement to another. Next weekend, I plan to stay in my pyjamas as much as possible. And look at Mr. K's cheeks as rejuvenating therapy.
And right now, though I've been out of bed for last than four hours, I'm going to crawl back in. With my throw.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Quantifying greatness

I ran into a student yesterday. I had given her an 83% on her first critical reading response, worth 5% of her mark in the fourth-year seminar (there are eight of them). She's a very good student, obviously - she got the highest grade on that first batch of responses, and contributes very thoughtfully.

She said, "Oh, I'm glad I ran into you. I wanted to talk to you about my response paper."

I thought, "??" And said, "You did very well. It was great."

And she replied, "Yeah, I wanted to know how I can improve."

So I told her I couldn't remember her response paper off the top of my head, and that she should email it to me, which she has now done.

But the thing is, how do you explain what distinguishes a 90% from an 83%? This is difficult work, much more difficult than explaining what distinguishes a 70 from a 90, or whatever. Part of it, I have always maintained, is ineffable - it is about originality and boldness of thought. (When, as a TA, I once said this ata workshop - that there inevitably remains something subjective and unquantifiable about grading - I was given dagger eyes by the facilitators.) I do try to quantify and clarify for students as best I can - I use a marking matrix for larger assignments. And I have indicated at some length in my syllabus what distinguishes the best critical responses - I have quantified it as much as I can. I don't know how to explain the thing about sparks of genius that I find in that very rare A+ paper. Which she indeed might have the capacity to give me - I don't know yet.

I have looked over her paper and told her that there were a couple of places where she had given herself short shrift - she could have expanded her argument so that I could really see her original ideas and critiques.

But still. How to explain originality?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The problem of the 2-hour class

In the summer, after I had planned my courses and submitted my syllabi and had reprotexts prepared, I discovered that one of my classes - the fourth-year seminar in the precise area of my research - was only two hours a week. I thought, then, "lucky me". There are very few two-hour courses out there, in my experience, at any institution - and I didn't expect ever to teach one. I was pleased because I sometimes think three hours is too long to hold students' attention. And two hours should be fine when it's a student-driven seminar.

I was wrong.

The class has met three times. The first was, of course, the hour-long introduction - the only work to be done was to get acquainted with the students and their interests. At the second class - the first one with readings, theme, and substance - I got only 2/3 of the way through the points I wanted to cover, since the students were so chatty. I don't mean to really lecture much, given that this is a seminar course, but there were some very important, foundational concepts I needed to introduce that day - in a dialogic, questioning way - to set up the remainder of the course. This is crucial because it's a topic to which people bring all sorts of weird commonsense assumptions and no notion of how to think critically-academically.

Then there was yesterday. In which I had 120 minutes (which is really, of course, meant to be 110 minutes) to show a 116-minute film upon which they are writing an assignment due next week, cover those crucial points I didn't get to last week, and tie together the three articles they'd read for the day with the film.

Ha. Except not.

So my provisional solution was handouts: one for the important things missed the previous week, and one for the key points of this week's readings that would set them up for the film. Amnd three minutes of me blabbing.

I just feel sick about it, frankly. I can't stop fretting about it. It is *so* not the way I envisioned this course unfolding. It feels as though it must seem, to the students, chaotic and random. I keep apologizing to students, and can't stop, even though it's drawing attention to the problem instead of minimizing and making the best of it. Hell, maybe they hadn't even noticed - well, they sure have now, because I keep opening my big mouth about it. (Another teaching tic: apologizing like this.) I feel as if at this institution, students' first impressions really matter, as I've written before. All I can think is, this isn't a great first impression. So last night I had to have nightmares about it.

I guess the thing is this: two hours sucks, when you've got the kinds of engaged, inquisitive students that I have. It would have been okay when I taught this course last spring at last year's uni; there, the pomo vanguard had beaten everyone else into submission so they were the only ones who talked. But real talking, adequately surfacing all the issues in the readings as well as gesturing toward larger themes, takes time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Student connection

I have been thinking a lot lately about the kinds of feelings I have for my students. This first cropped up for a couple of weeks ago, with the shootings at Dawson College in Montreal. That event was extraordinary in that cameras were on the scene immediately, while the event was still unfolding inside. So on the news that night there was endless footage of students streaming out of the college, running, crying, with their hands on their heads at the order of police. The sight of those traumatized students horrified me, back on campus in the first week of classes and surrounded by students who looked so like them. I couldn’t stand the mental picture that developed, of the students I cared about – just by virtue of their sharing this academic space with me – being in danger. Of their fear. It hit too close to home and made apparent to me the true range of feelings I have for my students.

My extraordinary class the other night made me nearly hysterical with excitement. And it was all about the students – even though I had just met them the week before and this was our first real class, I was bursting, just bursting, with pride. I had already fallen in a kind of love with them, it seems to me in retrospect. Maternal? Platonic? I don’t know.

And I think about my grief upon leaving my students at last year’s university, how surprised I was at the depth of that feeling.

I don’t know what to make of this. I think of work on the gendered nature of caring in education, and wonder about that. I think Carolyn Steedman has an essay on how this plays out in universities, and I’ll have to look it up. But beyond that – or maybe in spite of or maybe in addition or maybe woven into that - it seems to me it’s some kind of gift, maybe. That I get to have this much feeling for all these lives that touch mine so fleetingly. And maybe it’s that I’m love with the combination of knowledge and people – with people’s fragile senses of hope and possibility instantiated in knowledge. I think that may be it – in the classrooms I’m in, I watch knowledge-making put people in touch with their best, most genuine selves. It always, always shines somewhere out from at least some students’ inattention and lack of preparedness and disinterest. That’s it – it’s that each time, I teach I see evidence of people’s engagement with something other than themselves. And it’s powerful enough to rise from the murk of boredom and alienation. Seeing that happen – in real time – is amazing. And it shapes how I think about them in general, because it's ultimately such intimate insight.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Recipe Blogging: Desperation Brownies

Here is a recipe I make when I am desperate. Either for something sweet just for GF and I (in which case I quarter the recipe), or when I don't have much time to make something that people will enjoy. It's a ridiculously easy resipe...and it might not have the, er, complexity of "better" brownies - but people don't care, do they. They looove chocolate, that's all that matters. And it's yummy!! People are always on about how good it is.

I have made these today because I am desperate...I have committed myself to bringing tons of food this weekend...GF and I are going to a close friend, A's, cottage with her and her new girlfriend. So today I've made a pasta sauce for dinner tonight, and muffins, and these brownies as a desperation-dessert for tonight. In between shopping for other foods to bring, and another errand, and pulling a job application together to send out today, and going for a long run because I was desperate for burning-lungs feeling (go figure). Gah - I can't wait to just veg at a cottage for 48 hours, with all this food.

Warning: UNhealthy (2 cups of sugar??!)


1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup flour
10-12 tbsp cocoa

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add flour and cocoa. Bake in 350-degree oven for approx. 25 minutes, in 9 x 13 pan.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My amazing students

So I wanted to be the very picture of nonchalance at my theory class last night, as discussed in my previous post – no inappropriate water drinking, and no nervous-nelly early arrival. I would breeze into the classroom two minutes before class started and stay away from my water bottle. Well, I breezed in on that timeline, only to discover that I had left my carefully-constructed-for-hours class notes in my office, or so I thought. So I had to run to my office in another building, to get the lecture. Which wasn’t there. I ran back. It turned out that I had printed out the first few pages of my Monday night class’s prep and stapled them to the later pages of this night’s class. Not exactly the recipe for a nonchalant presence; I was freaking out. (I don’t read a lecture, but I do have to glance at fairly extensive notes, otherwise I can’t keep track of where I’m going.) And then, with the water? Well, I stayed away from it, alright. I took one sip – while a student was talking, and not me – halfway through the class. And choked!

But none of that mattered. Seriously, it was the class of my dreams. I winged the first few minutes, and then students took over, essentially. They had done the reading – not always to be expected, especially in a theory class. And they talked and talked, keeping the readings in view and generating the most astonishing observations and analytical questions. I love questions; I even have a blurb in my syllabus about this being a question-driven course. Usually students are allergic to questions as an approach to a problem or text – they want answers. Not these folks! They were figuring shit out – really, soulfully grappling. This stuff mattered to them. And the best thing? They were talking to each other. They were swiveling around in their chairs to nod at each other emphatically. They were all saying to each other, “Oh, that’s an amazing idea. I love that. That makes me wonder if X”. They were building on their peers’ ideas all over the place. They were polite, respectful and enthusiastic about each other and the material. They were being reflexive about their own practice in the classroom, the theory, the discipline. I couldn’t believe it. Who are these students?*

They had so much to say that I didn’t get to even finish everything I meant to do, chiefly my model presentation. But they collaborated with me to figure out how we’d juggle that next week. And when I worried about too-many-students-wanting-to-present-on-the-same-days-and-would-I-have-to-flip-a-coin, they said, “oh, we’re pretty cooperative and easygoing…” I wanted to kiss them all.

I don’t think I had much to do with this. I mean, I asked questions and introduced concepts where appropriate, but their enthusiasm will take them farther than I will, considering the level of knowledge they already have (another surprise). But it made me think about the importance of tone. I think part of why they were so comfortable was that I made myself vulnerable to them in those first few minutes, telling them I’d forgotten my lecture, and laughing at myself about it. I also was trying out a new way of learning their names – I brought a marker and index cards, and had them write down their names and hold them up to their faces. And I took a picture of each them with my cell phone. They thought it was just hilarious, and I really think that levity set the tone that allowed them to make the class into the great time that it was. Tone, tone, tone.

Man, I love teaching sometimes. I called GF right afterward and she said at first she thought there was something wrong, I was so verging on hysterical with excitement. Nothing else gives me that feeling. Nothing.

*In fact, these students are exactly the reason why this is my Dream Job…I knew they congregated at this uni. And it turns out they’re my class in quantity!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teaching tics

Do you have teaching tics?

I do. The big one is inappropriately timed water drinking. Sounds ridiculous, I know. And it is. I'm a big water drinker to begin with. And in classes, I can't seem to tear myself away from that water bottle. It wouldn't be a problem if it weren't that I was constantly taking a big glug in the middle of a sentence: "And the key...[glug]...issue here is..." or "What do you [glug] think of [glug] X?"

I feel like an idiot every time I catch myself doing this. Tonight, it's going to stop. I'm going to keep the water bottle far, far away. No more mid-sentence security blanket.

Tonight I'm also going to try tackling the compulsion to arrive too early to class. Especially now, when I'm new here and don't really know students yet, it feels awkward. I get there and then don't have anything to do with myself, if students aren't coming up to talk to me. I can't stand that feeling - it feels like junior high. But I haven't ever been able to stop myself from leaving my office way too early...I don't know what I think might stall me on the brief walk from my office to the classroom. But I'm always stupidly prepared for those non-existent eventualities. No more. Tonight, I leave the office five minutes ahead of class, and get there with two minutes to spare. Enough time to take my coat off, array my stuff on the table, and have a 30-second admin-type chat with someone. I will be the very picture of nonchalance.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ephemeral friendship

Last year I had an unexpectedly lovely year teaching at another university away from Home City. Certainly the best thing about it was the connections I made – to students, to be sure, but most of all to new (and rediscovered) friends - and one fab aunt who lives there. Of the friends I made, there was one in particular – Faux Girlfriend, my GF soon came to call her – who was the closest new friend I’d made in at least ten years. There are others I’ve met in this decade who are just as close now, but with Faux Girlfriend, it was the speed with which the friendship cemented itself that was rather breathtaking. I was living in that city, and we saw each other nearly every day – and drank a bottle of wine together every Wednesday night, after my night class. Our bond was forged through teaching – we taught in the same department and were both teaching full-time for the first time. We relied on each other to talk through the crazy feelings that brought on.

When I moved back to Home City on June 1, it was Faux-GF who drove me here. Ever since I had decided to take this other job and turn down the renewal at last year’s uni, we had been sad about the upcoming loss of our everyday connection. We swore – she did, in particular – that we would talk all the time.

We were in touch until the end of July. Then GF and I went to this music festival that she goes to every year. I’d considered going to this annual weekend for several years, but it was Faux-GF’s talking it up – her excitement at the thought of us being there along with all the other friends she goes with – that committed me to finally buying the tickets.

GF and I hung out with Faux-GF a bit at the festival, but we certainly weren’t joined at the hip…she was there with such a large crew of family and friends. But it was nice to run into her several times a day, to watch a concert together here and there, and catch up.

I haven’t heard from her since.

GF and I had arranged that Faux-GF could stay in our apartment in Home City the weekend after the festival – we were going to be away – and we left her a clean apartment, fresh sheets, a friendly note and a key in the mailbox. She never showed up, and never contacted us to explain why. I have emailed several times, called once, and had no response. She was supposed to be in Home City for almost a week in late August – I never heard from her. As well, since the spring, she’s been talking about how she is coming to my New Uni City for a conference in September. She was so excited about seeing me there. I think the conference is starting this week, but she hasn’t been in touch about that. It’s been such a profound silence that I’ve taken it for a message and given up.

I’ve thought a lot – probably too much – about this over the last few weeks. You know, the classic racking of the brain: “What did I do???” What I do know is that I was in a pretty bad mood at the music festival – GF and I were having a terrible time together, our relationship felt (very temporarily) precarious to me, and it was about 1200 degrees out. I think I whined to Faux-GF too much, which wasn’t what she needed on this weekend that she loves so. But I realized this toward the end of the weekend and smartened up. And I also sent Faux-GF an email about 36 hours after the festival ended, acknowledging and apologizing for my whiny mood, and also asking if she wanted to go on a one-day road trip with me later in August, when she was in town. To which, of course, I never got a reply.

This has been such a disappointment to me. It really hurts. I imagined this friendship would last, and know that wasn’t an unrealistic expectation, given our closeness and the way she represented it. I would have thought that, even if she had some sort of issue with me – be it whininess, or whatever – she would value the friendship enough to bring it up. That can be awkward, of course. But she is a very straightforward gal – and I had made clear my openness and willingness to self-examine by sending her an email about the whininess.

GF and I are going to last year’s Uni City for our Thanksgiving Weekend, in three weeks. I made this plan back in the spring – so that I could visit with all the people I spent time with there, but chiefly to see Faux-GF. Now I’m not even sure I want to go. GF is kinda insistent that we go – if only to see my most adored aunt and her hilarious family for a weekend of family-style debauchery – but I don’t even know if I can bring myself to contact Faux-GF.

It really stings. I guess I just need to reconcile myself to the ephemerality of friendship. To value it for what it was, and that's that. But it's hard; I miss her.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I shoulda been an engineer...

Hey, all of you who, like me, are on the Humanities/Social Sciences job market this year.

Take a look at this.

They are hiring one hundred new faculty members at once. 100. One zero zero.

When I look at job ads in my field, I get excited when I see that a department is hiring two people. Whew, I think - a banner year. Doing some major expansion over there.

I am in the wrong line of work, obviously...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Week's-End Roundup


But let's start with the good things, of which there are many more than the bad. Like this:

- I taught all of my first classes, and was thrilled with the engaged, excited students I saw in them. I really felt intuitively as though, at this university, first impressions count big time - I don't know why. This made it feel like more pressure. But I think I passed, judging by the feeling in the rooms and the tone of students who talked to me.

- I had several students come and chat with me! Yay! I had made a plea for students to come to office hours - and some did. Just to shoot the breeze, one did, yesterday. How fantastic is that? And yesterday while I was waiting for shuttle to take me to Satellite Campus, a student from the theory course came up and chatted with me about the class, telling me how X - we're reading her for next week - is his very favourite writer. He asked me who my favourite writers are. How much do I love these students? This is what I came here for.

- I ran into an acquaintance I always really liked, a woman from my Grad Uni that I used to see at the gym all the time. I barely knew her, but she was always so warm and friendly, I wanted to be her friend. She is teaching at New Uni, and seemed genuinely happy to see me, and was all about us getting together. Lovely! Maybe we finally will become friends. Frankly, I would like someone to have drinks with in Uni City. I miss Drinks - they were, I have to say, a great highlight of my year, last year.

- My Chair and colleagues continue to be awesome, and my Chair is so good that she is being added to my list of senior-scholar role models. She deserves a post of her own, in the days or weeks to come. For now, suffice it to say that, though she is crazy-busy right now with the beginning of the year and computer/registration headaches, her first priority seems to be helping those of us who are new get oriented and feel comfortable - so, for example, we're all going out for an informal, non-working lunch off campus next week.

- With one sweetheart of a colleague who is not on campus very often, I have arranged to use her office when my officemate is in ours. She is happy to do this, and it is a huge relief to me. Huge.

There were some things that were hard, though:

- This office-sharing, nowhere-to-go situation (which is now largely rectified, thanks to the above) grew just absurd. Yesterday I had 3 1/2 hours on campus in the afternoon when I couldn't be in the office, yet couldn't leave because I was waiting for shuttle to take me to Satellite Campus for night class. I thought, perfect - I can always use this time to write. I am writing a new paper right now. Could I find anywhere in the library that actually had somewhere for me to plug in my laptop? (Require plug-in because battery sucks.) No, I could not. I found outlets in a non-quiet zone, where there were students cackling into cell phones all around me. My options were that, or my Senior Common Room, which doesn't have any table/desktop space and has people just hanging out and chatting (as they should, in such a room). I was crazed with frustration. My afternoon of writing was shot. Hopefully this will work itself out with my colleague's borrowed office, though.

- This schedule is way too tiring. Several days are at least 13 hours long, because of the evening teaching. Yesterday was 15 1/2 hours, including teaching from 7-10pm. I get home to Home City at 12:30am. Not good at all. I feel comatose and all I will want to do, Friday-Sunday, is hibernate...after a week with little/no relaxing. I suspect I will have very little Life this year. That makes me sad.

- Satellite Campus is the pit of Hell. It makes me want to claw my eyes.

But there's lots of good. I just need to be really careful about taking care of myself, managing stress and fatigue...I have to say it: Thank god it's Friday.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


It is not a nice thing to hear freaked-out special news reports, in the middle of the day as you're sitting in your academic office, about a shooting rampage at a college in Montreal.

It reminds you of December 6, 1989, when you were still in high school but you spent the night shocked, scared, crying about the fourteen women who were murdered at a Montreal college that day. When you were already volunteering at a national women's organization and, all of a sudden, really knew why.

Today's isn't another "Montreal Massacre"; this man was shooting men and women. But you realize, in the wake of Sept 11 commemorations, that you - a Canadian, and a feminist, and an academic - have your own dark day. And that this triggered it. That's why you haven't been able to work, or even to warm up, since you heard the news.

It is still early - reports are confused and conflicted about what happened. All I can say is: Really, really hoping that every one of the victims of this shooting pulls through.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Okay, so I’m feeling a little perilously ungrounded…and also confronting how much I depend on the Internet and email…for work, even more than for everyday life.

Here’s the situation. I am sharing my office at New Uni with another full-time faculty member, since there is a major space crisis here – they’ve never had to do this before. When I initially learned this, I was alarmed because I really inhabit my office, and I also work there a lot…I try to do the majority of my work at the office…as well, I make a mess, and I was worried about trying to manage my mess for someone else. But my very lovely officemate and I worked out a schedule whereby we are each here half days Monday-Thursday. And it’s not as difficult as I thought to contain my mess.

However. Just today I have really seen the limits of this situation. I’m staying with friends for the three nights a week I’m in Uni City – Monday-Wednesday. They need me out of the house by 9:30 every morning because the babysitter/nanny comes. Fine, I think this morning (when my officemate is in the office) – I’ll just head up to the uni and go to my area's faculty lounge for these chunks of time…it’s newly wireless-networked, and I can sit and do stuff – check and reply to emails, etc. etc. – on my laptop. It’s actually a lovely, large, friendly space – not bad.

Except, not so fast, Hilaire. The connection didn’t work, and when I went over to IT to find out why, I discovered that there is this insanely difficult configuration required, and my computer doesn’t have the capability for it. Unless I want to buy a new laptop, I can’t be wireless on campus. I’m stuck. (Jesus, I just bought this thing – new – a little over a year ago! I bought it because it had won awards, for god's sake...why doesn't it have what I need????) If I want to be online when I’m not in my office, I need to go to the library computers, where students are looking over my shoulders and eating oily salad perilously close to my keyboard: both of these things happened this morning.

Whoa, I’m frustrated. All of a sudden I realize how dependent I am on the Internet. And most of that is for work purposes. Library and periodical searches, job searches, calls for papers, student and colleague emails. Even blogs, which are partially a diversion, have a lot to do with work…I use them to enrich my own experiences of teaching and research.

It would be fine if I just had a place to be when I’m in town and not using my office…but I don’t. I’m feeling pretty ungrounded…it’s a feeling I really, really hate. Yes, I could spend my time in one of the two wireless cafes in town, but I don’t really want to waste my money buying beverages I don’t want just to take advantage of wireless.

Really, it’s a little demoralizing to be a full-time faculty member and just plain not have a place to go. I have to admit that.

And I wonder if I may need to look for a new place to stay when I am here. Somewhere I can work when I’m not in the office, and somewhere I can use Internet (which is tricky where I’m staying). Awkward? I’ll say – these folks I’m staying with are my friends.


Monday, September 11, 2006


So I just had my first class...and it was great! This is the course in my precise sub-subfield, which I taught in a compressed version last spring at last year's university and raved about here. I'm teaching it again this year as a one-term special topics course, a 4th-year seminar capped at fifteen die for.

So I tried out a strategy I'd read about in an article in The Teaching Professor (can't find the reference, sorry). The author always approaches the first day as a way to build interest and commitment by triangulating professor, students, and topic. I decided to go with this. Before everything else, I talked about my relationship to the topic...I gave them a bit of an intellectual history of I came to be interested in this, as a graduate student. How, in my mind, it speaks to larger issues of the (inter)discipline and other fields. I thought this might be a good idea because I'm interested in what I am realizing is the mystique that undergrads have about the work of their professors (post on this coming soon). I was trying to demystify intellectual work, give them a sense that interest and real, big projects come from somewhere...they are born of tiny observations...they can do this, too! Anyway, they seemed interested - they all listened pretty intently and nodded, engaged.

Then I had them talk about their connections to the topic. I asked them to write for a few minutes about what interests them about the field, as well as to identify one or more questions they would like answered in the course. They then shared those. They had tons to say!!! And it wasn't the usual rote, ten-second answers that people give on first days. Hurrah! Granted, this is pretty easy because it is a topic that most people have something to say about. But still, I felt like we were building some course parameters already. I wrote down many of their thoughts, and told them I'd keep them front of mind as we went along, and try to work out ways to address those questions when they are not explicitly built into the topic selection and readings. I responded to each one, saying a few words about what they'd said - usually connecting her questions to the major ones of the field - to give the students the confidence that comes from realizing that they are already thinking about and asking questions that scholars write about.

It was a long, chatty, and entirely comfortable go-round. Then I handed out the syllabus (see here for Maggie's excellent post on teaching, including handing out the syllabus at the end) and talked them through the weeks of reading. I know this sound boring, but somehow I like to do it - and they still seemed rapt.

I know it's not really me, it's the topic of the course, but damn, it's good to feel that much investment and engagement in a room full of students.

Now I'm trying to figure out whether I should let in the enthusiastic waitlisted students who showed up today...why do I want to add to my workload? It's just, it's just...they were so smart and engaged and already's hard to turn that away. But I like the manaegable size for seminar dynamics, so we shall see..

Sunday, September 10, 2006


This has been an anguished end of the weekend. My mother called as I was making dinner; this was a follow-up to a family wedding we were at last night. We chatted briefly about the wedding. And then my mother said, "I'll be thinking of you tomorrow, teaching your first class...what time is it, again? 5:00?" It is indeed at 5pm tomorrow that I'm teaching my first class at New Uni. And it's lovely and sweet that my mother will be thinking of me. I am a lucky daughter - my mother is nothing but kind and loving. But I reacted the same way I've reacted since I was ten. The mother-hating way.

I made my mother cry. As I have before. She said, "I feel as if I don't know how to talk to you. I've tried everything, and that's why I don't call as much anymore. You intimidate me sometimes. I feel as if I embarrass you."

And I have nothing to say in my own defense. She's right.

Why do I do this? I watch myself doing it, the same way I have for so many years, and see myself quite clearly being a complete, appalling shit. Behaving in ways that are so out of character for me. Friends - and GF - who see me interact with my mother are shocked. They laugh at the incongruity between my daughter-self and my everyday self. Except it's really not funny. And I can't figure out how to stop it. It's as if it's a sick force that feels bigger than me (as it surely is, our friend Kristeva would say...) I feel like a monster.

The worst part is that feeling like a monster is a sort of objective reaction to myself. In these moments of discussion with my crying mother, I don't really feel anything. There she is, crying, anguished, and there I am, an emotionless stone. What an asshole. This, too, is so out of character for me - this kind of repression. I'm a crier; I emote, usually. With her, I just apologize, but it's without real emotion; it's apologizing for what I can identify as shocking behaviour on my part, what I recognize as appalling, inappropriate rudeness. But I'm turned off.

These moments with my mother put me in touch with the very worst parts of myself. I think it's time to get me to a counsellor to talk through this one. It's not "bigger than me", and I can't use that sense to excuse myself. I have a responsibility - to my mother, and to myself - to wrestle with this, to understand it, to try to exorcise it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Friday night meme

Like last week, I have the luxury of being home alone on a Friday night...Like last week, I chose not to accompany GF to a party full of people I wouldn't know, this time annoying film people, which would make me want to poke my eyes out. I know this, having gone to this annual party before and having had an excrutiating time.

Instead, before I eat corn on the cob and clean my floors, I will do this nice little meme I saw at New Kid on the Hallway's.

1. Three things that scare me:
- dragonflies
- bears
- ghost stories

2. Three people who make me laugh:
- My girlfriend
- My best friend, S
- My good friend, A, who should be doing standup instead of teaching pubescent kids - although I guess hilariousness does come in handy in that job...

3. Three things I hate the most:
- People parking or driving in bicycle lanes
- People who pretend they've never met you when they've met you, like, twenty times
- Lying to get ahead

4. Three things I don't understand:
- the theory of relativity
- why people don't get that oil is a finite resource
- hateful opposition to same-sex marriage

5. Three things I'm doing right now:
- looking through my excellent pile of mail from today - new Harper's, my subscription tickets to Dance Company, membership card for political organization I joined almost three years ago, (and never got the card until today)
- deciding what to wear to wedding tomorrow
- fretting about money after pricey vet visit today and in advance of motel stay/car rental for wedding tomorrow (don't get paid for three weeks)

6. Three things I want to do before I die:
- visit New Zealand
- tell my father I love him
- learn not to be mean to my mother

7. Three things I can do:
- several obscure dance forms
- swim fast
- speak French

8. Three ways to describe my personality:
- accommodating
- worried
- enthusiastic

9. Three things I can't do:
- type using more than four fingers (though I still do it fast)
- climb things
- pronounce my own name quite properly (since it is from a language I don't speak)

10. Three things I think you should listen to:
- Neko Case's latest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
- Stephen Lewis's 2005 Massey Lectures on AIDS in Africa, Race Against Time
- the thoughts of lonely relatives who don't have many people to talk to

11. Three things you should never listen to:
- people who are jealous of you
- the discourses of right-wing extremists
- that song that was out in 2001 that went, "Come my lady, come come my lady, you're my butterfly..." - oh, apparently it's called Butterfly, by Crazy Town. Ew [chokes].

12. Three things I'd like to learn:
- German
- Latin
- how to do handy things around the house

13. Three favorite foods:
- mushrooms
- stinky, soft, ripe cheeses - especially sheep or goat
- mango (and all fruits)

14. Three beverages I drink regularly:
- water
- black tea
- that's all I drink would be various forms of alcohol, I guess

15. Three shows I watched as a kid:
- Gilligan's Island
- Charlie's Angels
- Hammy Hamster

Bonus round!
16. Three things I have on my desk:
- a map of Home City
- a pile of photos of the dog
- a shocking bill for my new cell phone

17. Three things I am grateful for:
- my GF
- my upbringing
- my wonderful new job

Friday Recipe Blogging: Two Salads

Still following Medieval Woman's footsteps, I am going to post a couple of "recipes" today (see here for her awesomely rich and creamy zucchini casserole).

These were two salads I had this week that knocked me out. I love salad, and I eat it most days, but my salads are pretty much the same old, same old...So I was happy to be served, on two occasions this week, salads that were very different from my usual...

This is Jamie Oliver-style recipe blogging, since I don't actually have exactrecipes for these simple salads that I did not make myself...

This first one is the invention of M., one of the friends I'm staying with in Uni City. He made it for dinner on Tuesday night, and it woke me up with its deliciousness...

Chopped apples
Chopped radishes (i'll bet it would also be good with daikon radish!)
Loads o' fresh mint
Dressing: maple syrup and rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

Pour dressing over apples, mint, radishes. YUM.

I had this today at my favourite Italian restaurant in my neighbourhood, for lunch. It was the salad special, and I admit that I didn't really notice the "radicchio" part in the description because I was interested in the nut-encrusted baked goat cheese that was to come on top. I don't really like radicchio that much - its bitterness - and was a wee bit dismayed when it came. However, this was such a great combo, with the sweetness of the roasted peppers cutting the bitterness.

2 parts finely sliced (lengthwise) raddichio
1 part finely sliced roasted red pepper
Dressing: Balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Toss everything into a lovely, purple and red tangle. Perhaps you will choose to put baked nut-encrusted goat cheese on top, on a crostini. Or not. It will be delicious without it, too.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Random week's-end observations

No, it's not really the end of the week, but it's the end of my week in University City, which will, until December, see me there from very early Monday morning until very late Thursday night...
- That constitutes observation #1. I'm tired. I got home at 5:30 (about 6 hours earlier than I will, once classes start) and slunk down in front of the TV, and now am having a nightcappish drink at 7pm. Not exactly how I normally live my life. And I haven't even taught yet! I have to say, I'm apprehensive about four long days in a row - and they will of necessity be long days because of my bizarre all-evening teaching schedule (yes, three nights a week, two of them in a row) - in University City, staying in someone else's home. Especially because I'm always lugging shit around - my neck hurts, too. I don't think this year is going to be easy on the body.

- Really, though, I am so lucky. Going into next week - the first week of teaching - I reflect on the logistics of my year. Last year, my first, I had 130 students, three new preps at a time, and completely alarming first-year students in an Intro to the discipline. This year, I have 50 students, two preps because I teach the same class twice, one class per term that I've taught before, and only third- and fourth-year students. I wonder if I will ever have such a good teaching year again.

- One of my new departmental colleagues pulled me into her office for a nice chat the other day. She is, as is everyone, lovely. She brought up the tenure-track posting the department will have this year, telling me again I'd be well-positioned for it. I did make a wee blunder - I told her I prefer teaching upper-year students, which prompted her to tell me that I'd have to teach the Intro if I were here in the long term. Of course, I said - I would expect to have to teach the Intro wherever I end up. And I mean that - I wouldn't expect to be exempt from that as a junior faculty member. Anyway, anyway, I hope she wasn't put off by that. They keep telling me about this position. I can't help but get my own hopes up. Eee.

- As per my decision to take up another form of dance now that I'm not doing The Activity - a dance form - anymore, I looked into a bunch of options. There are many more choices in Home City, but they don't really work with my schedule, since it would have to be on the weekend and I'm going to be away constantly in the fall. So I was leaning toward the default, adult ballet (ballet not being my first choice) in Uni City on Tuesday nights. I was waffling, though, because of my fatiguing schedule. In my waffling yesterday - just before I was about to leave the office to go and register - I noticed for the first time the directive on the dance school's website that in the teen and adult ballet classes, you must wear a black leotard, pink tights, and pink ballet slippers.

That made my decision for me. No way. And it's not really a question of what I'd be wearing (though I really, really don't relish a leotard), but rather that I can't stand having a uniform dictated like that. For beginner classes, for chrissakes. For adults. I'd rather wait till my schedule opens up and be able to take dance at what is really the best possible place in the country, in Home City, with no sartorial requirements whatsoever. Down with dance fascism!

Off to finish my nightcap and read some blogs. I'm so liking reading blogs these days - all about the first days back, new roles, old roles redefined...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Driving and advising

So what of the first-year advising I wrote about the other day? (Thanks to folks for your suggestions, by the way – especially Bardiac!)

Well, I needed to get up at an ungodly pre-dawn hour, after very few hours sleep (due, I guess, to subconscious nerves that I have been unable to source) to get my way to the Greyhound station yesterday morning, which would get me to New University City (NUC) with plenty of time to get to the university and plan out what I would say to these poor new students. Except as it turned out, the bus schedule changed on Tuesday, and I missed the bus to NUC by 5 minutes.

There was sobbing in the bus station, let me tell you. This was my first real obligation at this new job where I want to keep options open and show them what a valuable and committed faculty member I am, and I was going to miss it!

Then I remembered that there was a car rental place around the corner. Now, you may remember that last Tuesday, I was unwilling to make the rented-car drive to NUC on my own – I’ve never really driven alone, and certainly not on the highway! – and so made someone come with me to drive the terrifying, fourteen-lane part. This time, there was no such person on the horizon. The clock was ticking, and I needed to get there, dammit. So I waited, still teary – this time more from fear than anything else – until they opened, and then rented myself a small car and drove here!! By myself! Granted, I didn’t use the major highway until I got lost on the back-road highway that was slowing me down, but I did use it, in the end (when it was down to six lanes)! And I even sped a lot (naughty me) and I got here in one piece, and with three minutes to spare.

The funny thing was, I entered an unprecedented Zone of Calm on this drive. Normally I am such an anxious driver that it becomes, potentially, dangerous. I think something in me knew that I would die – or at least not make it – if I didn’t calm the hell down. So I did. I demonstrated grace under pressure, which I didn’t, frankly, know I could do. In fact, I drove a thousand times better than I usually have – I usually do some erratic things. Those were banished. Forever, I sense.

This might sound like nothing to those of you who’ve been driving since you were sixteen. But it was a huge triumph for me. Yay, me!

The bad part was that because I arrived three minutes before my advising session began, I had had no time to plan what I was going to say. And the nerves and adrenaline that I had suppressed during my entry into the Zone of Calm all flared up as soon as I got out of the car and realized what I had just done. So I was, ahem, not at my best. And anyway, half my group didn’t show up to this supposedly mandatory session. But I’m taking Bardiac’s advice and maintaining regular contact with them over email, and I have strongly urged them to come and meet with me one-on-one over the next week. I could tell a couple of them were really scared – one looked to be on the verge of tears – but not wanting to admit it in front of each other. Seeing me alone might make it feel easier to talk about that.

And my department and little hallway continue to be glorious places of fun and chat and loveliness…

So it’s all good…And I’m a Real Live driver, now.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Advise me on advising?

Tomorrow I have to Advise. I have to advise first-year students in a group, and later in the week, one-on-one. I’ve never done this before, this formal advising thing, nor did I ever have to participate in it myself as a first-year undergraduate student. But New University has an intensive first-year advising system in place, which requires all full-time faculty and staff to be responsible for a handful of incoming students, tracking them through the year.

Now, I have tips on what to talk to them about tomorrow, but I’m interested in starting to think about what this role means, represents, and how I should approach it in a larger sense. Last year, in my first year of full-time teaching, I had a goodly number of my own students come to me informally for advising-ish functions – students told me they feel comfortable talking to me about their lives. But that was haphazard, and I never felt as if I knew quite what to do or what to say, or just what my function was supposed to be. It seemed to work; they were happy, and gave me grateful cards and such – but I didn’t like that I was doing it without clarifying a sort of philosophy of advising for myself.

If any of you who are more experienced advisors have any tips for me on the kinds of things you see as central to this advising experience, from the perspective of professor, I would love to hear them. Also, if you have a sense of what I might say to terrified first-year students tomorrow – besides “it’s important to go to class, do the readings, hand in work on time, and drop courses instead of failing them,” as I’ve been instructed – bring it on.

I’m sure I will post on this again, as I develop the role throughout this week and the year, and figure out what it means to me to be an advisor…

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Clothing-Related Issues

Some random clothing observations from my week:

- What was with that awful outfit Jennifer Lopez was wearing at the MTV Awards? Good lord. I practically had to shield my eyes...what was that?

- I went to a faculty event at New University on Thursday at lunch. My Dean was there. She was wearing Birkenstocks, capri pants, and a very deep tan. I was so surprised that I had to go back and look at her picture online to be sure that was really her (I didn't meet her). Sure enough, it was. What can I say? Though I like dressing up a bit myself, I find it heartening to see a Dean at a faculty/staff event in clothes like that. Talk about approachable.

- GF and I went out shopping for a couple of hours yesterday. She wanted to buy me some new clothes, as she has often done as a kind of back-to-school gift. Such a sweetie. Anyway, I found the early part of this trip distressing. I hate, really hate, the 80s thing that is in full swing now. I know many of you love it, skinny jeans and all. But I can't stand it, especially the skinny jeans. And all I was seeing, at these cookie-cutter stores, was 80s fashions in this grey, black and white palette. Ugh. I mean, I like grey, white and black, but I also like some colour - and not red, which reminds me, when in combination with black, grey and white, of 1986! I descended into bitchiness until we got to an area where there were finally some different kinds of things by local designers. Lo and behold, colour! References from decades other than the 80s ! I came away without finding badly needed new pants, but did pick up these two tops by local folks, both of which were inexpensive, and which I love a lot:

This pink one is fairly casual, but I think I could pull it off with either the pants or the skirt of a pink suit that GF had custom-made for me as my 30th birthday present. And hey, if the Dean goes around in Birkenstocks and capris, why not me in this shirt?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday Recipe Blogging: Best Banana Muffins

OK, so what is it about being at home - cleaning floors, and doing laundry - on a Friday night that I like so much? I think it's that I'm here alone...GF is out at a party to which we were both invited, where neither of us really knows anyone. I said, "uh gee, sounds like a barrel of laughs, but no thanks", knowing that I always like the Friday-night-at-home-alone thing -- even with housework, which I don't generally like. Although I don't have a regular 9-5 workweek, the world's appreciation of Friday nights definitely factors in to this - it feels like stolen time, or holiday...

So I'll also blog tomorrow's breakfast, these muffins This is my standby muffin recipe - when I first discovered it, I made it at least once a week. So, so delicious. It takes about two seconds and uses things I always have on hand (including a freezer full of bananas). It's adapted from The New Lighthearted Cookbook, by Anne Lindsay, which is generally a pretty blah and uninspiring "heart healthy" cookbook - but for these.


NOTES: I always use three good-sized bananas, and always from the freezer (I thaw them in fridge overnight or microwave on the day). I think this ends up being a fair amount more than the recipe calls for, and is what makes these so moist and yum! Also, my oven bakes these in 18 minutes, not 25. Watch out!

3/4 cup wheat bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup mashed banana (remember, 3 bananas!!)
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain, low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil

In bowl, combine bran, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda; mix well. Add bananas, egg, buttermilk or yogurt, and oil; stir until just combined.

Spoon batter into paper-lined or nonstick muffin tins. Bake in 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Makes 12 muffins.