Friday, November 30, 2007
Anyway, I received a hysterical note from a student who got 60% on an assignment in my first-year class (which she's taking although she's a fourth-year student). To date, she's been receiving grades in the high 70s or low 80s - her grade is probably around 80%. She is hitting the roof about the 60%. The assignment was graded by the TA, and she has asked me to look it over. I have looked, and 60 is an appropriate grade - she did not do the assignment correctly. I am not worried about this being my fault for not instructing the students properly, because the vast majority of students understood what was being asked, and did it.
We parted ways after class yesterday, I with her essay in hand, saying I would look it over. A mere three hours later, before I'd had a chance to do anything, she sent me this histrionic email, freaking out about it. It reads, in small part:
"My marks mean alot [sic]to me, as I am trying to get into grad school [If you want to go to grad school, learn to write "a lot" correctly. - Pissed Off and Snarky Ed.], and these types of marks are just not acceptable to me. If I had spent little time on this assignment, I can absolutly [sic] understand a 60%, however I put a great deal of effort into this assignment and I feel my grade is a poor reflection of this. I had to drop the second part of this class because I cannot afford to be graded like that, and as I have 80% or higher in everyone of my 5 classes this semester besides [Name of my Discipline - spelled incorrectly, btw], and I think focusing on other areas of study would be my best and only option at this point."
(She says later, "I just feel like I can't win in this class." This is why her emails rings hysterical - she has had an 80% average before this!)
I am sorry, but WTF? Her grades are "unacceptable"?? What the hell kind of language is that? Unbelievable. And this notion that she spent a great deal of time on the assignment and therefore deserves a high mark, no matter that she did it incorrectly? Insane.
Obviously this originates from the belief that effort equates with entitlement. And this rhetoric of "unacceptability" comes from the conviction that I owe her a good grade as good customer service. Ugh.
I just wish students realized that the more they communicate in these terms, the less inclined we are to respond generously. As far as I'm concerned, her email is "unacceptable."
Thursday, November 29, 2007
- It is my last week, and I have today taught my last two classes. Hallelujah, people. It has not been my finest hour...er, my finest three weeks.
- I had so much anger about my upper-year students and their atrocious work. Seriously, I don’t know what’s with me and the rage of late. Anyway, on Monday night I – sort of accidentally – did some positive visualization. I had been mentioning, in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, the need for an “attitude adjustment” on my part. Then all of a sudden I pictured it – I had a mental image of re-screwing my head on, and it amused me, and I felt more generous about it all. Ta-da.
- I went to class the next day and felt much, much better about them. They were engaged and chipper and trying. And so was I.
- After class that day, I had a couple of them talk to me – separately – about how much they enjoyed the course and had learned from it. Both said they found it different from any course they’d taken, and said this was the thing that made it good. I don’t really know what they’re talking about, but I felt immediately better about my teaching this term, and less worried about the evaluations than I had been.
- Last night I made brownies for the upper-year class today. It was my secret entente – secret because they didn’t even know we were warring. They were tickled by the brownies, and ended on a happy note.
- Today I went to the upper-year course without really having prepared. It was an article I had taught twice before, and have written about, and know that I know. I could talk about it and answer questions about it off the top of my head. This is a total breakthrough for me, to go with really no notes. The class went just fine, too. I’ve been steadily becoming less reliant on notes, but to feel confident enough to pull off class like this was amazing.
- My first-years continue to tickle me. I haven’t felt ragey about them. They’ve been consistently engaged and their work has been more coherent, at times, than much of what the upper-years produce. (An alarming realization because it suggests that this university actually dumbs down the students.) I look forward to teaching “Intro Part II” in the second term, with a smaller group that seems to include the strongest among them.
- On another note, went to a meeting of the members of my faculty yesterday. I have just one thing to say about that: If I wanted to work in a corporation, I wouldn’t have done a PhD. I may as well have been at the AGM of a biotech firm. Major, major, major ick.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I have in front of me a critical response to an article, in which the student is countering the author's claim that the Bible contains myths. (An offhand claim, by the way - biblical myth isn't the point of the article.) The student writes, "[t]his article is incorrect to say that this belief system is a myth." Erm. And then also says "God is the source of life to all" and talks about Adam and Eve as if they are his/her next-door neighbours, giving an account of what "actually" happened between them. Uhhhh. The student also says the article is characterized by "false pretences" and "should not have been published." I am not sure what to do with this, and I don't want to start up the culture wars in my classrooom. So far I want to say the following, which is likely guaranteed to further piss off the student and lead to the wars:
- Genesis may be an account of truth to you, but it also fits the standard definition of a myth - a story that functions as an explanatory framework or origin story. "Myth" is not by definition a pejorative term in this context, nor is it necessarily opposed to "truth."
- You "strongly believe in what the Bible shows": Adam was asleep when Eve was created, etc. But there is no evidence for the account of Eden that you give.
- You claim the article is characterized by false pretences, but have not provided a convincing argument for why they are false, since the counter-argument you provide is based upon speculation about what Adam and Eve were feeling and doing.
- The article "should not have been published"...?????
I can't believe I am getting into issues of empirical verification of the existence of figures from Genesis! What the hell?
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Aaanyway, so there I was, running. And the next thing I knew, I was tripping over something on the gravel. (Don't even get me started on why the roads aren't paved properly so there is a car width of gravel at the edge of many major streets in this, a freaking city.) So I fell, I did, and the DVD went flying out of its case and possibly was ruined by being scratched on the gravel. Not only that, but I landed on my chin, among other parts. Thankfully, the chin is not badly damaged - just some scratches and light bruises - but both of my hands and one knee were torn up. I must admit that I was standing there in the street crying, it was so freaking painful. (Hands are the worst for this.) So I limped slowly over to the video store, which happened to be nearby, exhanged my videos (having three hours of TV to watch while I licked my wounds suddenly became very important), and called a cab from there - I happened to have just enough cash left over to pay for the ride home. I got home and discovered just how nasty it was...especially the knee. Incredibly bloody and oozing (sorry). All punctured-like, too, from gravel bits. Ew. And the thing is, all sorts of other bits of me seem to be wrenched or sprained: both thumbs - I can't chop or scoop, I have discovered, or use a pen normally - and one ankle. But the worst is my chest...I half-wondered if I'd broken a rib. I can't seem to move normally...it's like I have to hold my chest "in" or "together" if I try to bend down or twist at all. The best description I can come up with is, "something in my chest came apart."
I don't know whether to laugh or cry about this; something about it strikes me as funny. But part of me is just so exasperated and lonely and in pain. Sigh. Wow, I cannot wait for this November to end. Anyway, just hoping that a good sleep will take some of this extreme ouchiness away. And that I can hold a pen tomorrow, to finish grading. (Or not??)
"Time sure gave way to new traditions and labels as currently we live in a world of politically correct sentences and empirically based findings."
I also learned, from this same enlightening piece of work, that the 20th century was the Victorian era. And that same-sex marriage is legal in over half the states in the U.S.
As well, the writer asserted that, "[people] of the past should be proud that the trails [sic] and tribulations they faces [sic] helped pave the path..." To which I could not help but respond, in the margin, "They can't be proud; they're dead."
An upper-year student.
This is why I drink wine, in case you were wondering.
Friday, November 23, 2007
- Why do I hate doing units that touch on contemporary popular culture in my classes? Because I get critical reading responses in the vein of this collage: "I had Barbies...My mother didn't let us watch cable...The media oppresses people...I shall regale you with a four-page tale, unrelated to the readings, of my trip to Developing Country and what that told me about Western media..."
- Why, why, why, why is it so hard to learn a citation style? It. is. not. difficult. to open a book about the style, or look online at the website I direct you to in the syllabus, and simply DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD.
- On that note, how many times do I have to tell you - either in class, or on your weekly assignments - that we do not put article titles in italics, when we are referring to them in our writing, but we put them in QUOTATION MARKS? Obviously telling you half a dozen times is not enough. I worry about your brains; are they sieves?
On the non-grading front, I have had the most ridiculous email from editors of a journal that is publishing an article of mine. I am, frankly, not happy. I didn't reply to this morning's email from them right away - I had to send it to a senior scholar first, to get confirmation that it was, indeed, ridiculous. And then I had to just sit on it for many hours so I would be able to compose a calm reply. Combine this with two other awful stories I've heard lately about dealing with journals in my general area, and it is all VERY disheartening.
I don't know how I'm going to get through this weekend of heavy grading - I have hit the wall - harder than ever before - and I have been avoiding grading like nobody's business. Not my usual habit. So now I have an ENORMOUS pile of...badness to get through. Thankfully, I have one of my recently acquired wine-drinking friends coming over for pasta and wine tonight. Yay!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
So it's fantastic to be in this city - parts of which I know quite well, from having spend a significant chunk of time here - with her. I got to dance on Friday night. On Saturday night, we went out for my friend's birthday - urban wine bar, cozy, candlelit - a group of eight. Such a fun night. As I told her, love collects around her. I always feel that when I'm with her - I get to meet these fantastic people through her, usually in her European City, where I've visted her three times. People who are drawn to her loveliness, and who are similarly lovely. Though I know she has an unsettled life, and that's sometimes frustrating, she's also so fortunate to have these networks - all over two continents - of fabulousness.
Being here, in the Metropolis, has been interesting. Yesterday, as we were at a crowded cultural event, I felt a little teary for a brief moment. "This is what I need," I thought. "This is who I am." I recognized that I cannot live for the rest of my life - or even for very long - in SCwP. I will leave academia, if I need to, to live in an environment that nourishes me. I'm not saying any of this is imminent. But I know this can't be forever.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I became friends with a few of my extraordinary students from last year at Dream Uni. One, in particular, is very special to me. We are pretty regularly in touch, and actually mean quite a lot to each other.
I got home tonight (from drinking wine! with new friends! and it's going to be every week!) and there, in my mailbox, was a package from her.
Now, the story with her is that she's spectacularly brilliant, but that she had a hard time emotionally and personally last year, and basically messed up most of her year. I had a lot of awkward negotiations with her about late work, etc. (She has taken this year off from university, which I think is a great thing, and is working at a job R and I hooked her up with, through connections.)
Anyway, so this package contained a mix CD for me, which she made for me months ago but which has been sitting in her car, unmailed, ever since - she would mention it sheepishly every time we talked or emailed. The note with it (written on a recycled envelope with a giant picture of a rollerskate diligently pasted on it) says this: "Well. Are you surprised? This mix CD, not unlike everything else I've ever given you, is a couple of months overdue...ahem! At least I'm predictable!" A few lines later, it says, "I love you lots and lots. Take a deep breath and smile."
And the CD's - there are two - are labeled like this:
CD one: I will deduct 5% per day from our friendship, for every late mix CD I receive.
CD two: "I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you, I promise..."
I love this girl. I love that our professor-student relationship has become this great, hilarious, reflexive friendship. It makes it all worthwhile.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
- My Chair rocks. She had asked me the other day if I wanted a winter squash from her garden. Sure, I said, expecting a big ol' squash. But no; today she brought in a whole whack of pumpkin flesh - already peeled and sliced up for me. She also brought three pumpkin recipes from the Vegetarian Times. What a sweetheart! I made a pumpkin soup tonight - yummmmy.
- I handed in seven - count 'em, seven! - curriculum proposals today (two new courses, five tweaks of the program requirements, etc.) Not bad for my first few months of this job, I'd say. The admin person I handed them to looked through them, and all their attendant sheaves of "consultation forms" on which other departments had signed their approval. Her eyebrows rose into her hair, and she looked up and said to me, impressed, "You've been very busy." And then informed me that, due to a misunderstanding, I was a day late with the proposals and they wouldn't start their way through the rounds until January. (Hilaire laughs bitterly.)
- Had a meeting today with a couple of people about the possibility of putting a team-taught graduate course on the books for next year and beyond. Ahem - I must be careful, here...there is so much I could say... Let me just ask you, bloggers - and this is a real question: How much reading did you do in a graduate theory course, typically? A book a week or the equivalent, am I right? That's certainly been my experience, but it seems I will be seriously butting heads with one guy over this. I'd be curious to hear what kinds of reading loads others faced - I really don't think my graduate programs were unusually demanding.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But anyway, here is what I've been thinking about lately:
Yesterday I was at the home of the colleague who, essentially, hired me. I just went by her place to talk through some stuff related to the six curriculum proposals I'm submitting tomorrow. We got to chatting - she's a chatter - and I said that I'd had a hard couple of days. She told me some veeeeeery interesting things. She said that when they hired me, they were aware that I was a risk. That I might be really unhappy here and might leave. But that I was still the best candidate, so they went for me. That I'd even cracked the Dean, who didn't really want to make a hire in this area. (Such a charming Dean.) She asked me if I'd looked at any job listings. I said I'd seen them. (Oh yes, I have seen the two freaking AWESOME jobs, one of which is in Home City, and one in Dad City, that I am a very good fit for.) I said I'd decided not to apply, though, feeling that woudn't be right. (Which is true - I just didn't feel right about going out on the market in the first year of a new job!) She said, "You should be doing what makes you happy, ultimately. I'm very lonely here...I've reconciled myself to spending most of the rest of my life here, but I'm lonely." She also said that she felt strange saying this to me, given how happy she is that I am here, but that she was just being honest.
Given all the asshole brouhaha recently over junior faculty changing jobs, I found this really interesting. It just goes to show how fundamentally the thinking around job-changing in mid-career has shifted, if I have senior faculty members telling me, in the first year of my job, that they know I might choose to leave - and giving me their blessing. (She is not the only person who has said as much to me, either - someone else has, as well.)
Anyway. I tried to swallow my despair at not having applied for those two PERFECT jobs - it is too late now. It is true that I just ethically wouldn't feel right leaving after a year; I'd feel like a complete ass. It would make it nearly impossible to get this long-straggling program off the ground; it would be the final nail in the coffin. Still, though - ouch. Home City, Dad City? Buh-bye.
Monday, November 12, 2007
O excellent! I love hilaire better than figs.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I picked up some episodes of Ugly Betty, and stopped at a corner store on the way home to buy myself a bag of chips and a bag of berry candies. Those were my dinner. Those who know me in real life will know how ridiculously NOT like my usual dinner that is. I watched my two episodes, then started reading a novel on the couch, but fell asleep by 10 after 6pm. I napped for almost two hours. Don't even remember the last time I napped - a year ago? More?
Whatever is going on with me, I sure hope it passes soon. I'm hoping writing about it here might begin to purge it.
Anyway, it's off to bed, even though I've been up for half an hour and it's 8:15pm.
I don't know why I continue to invest energy into the formal discourse of teaching and learning at universities. Well, I do it because I really care about teaching, and I keep hoping there is going to be something meaningful to me in any of these workshops and events. But it really is becoming clear to me that ways I - and many of us in the humanities - are thinking about teaching, has very little to do with the approaches in this little "teaching and learning in higher education" world. You know, for starters it's the lingo - using the term "feed forward" instead of feedback is a prime example.
In fact, at this last workshop (attended by just four of us, plus the facilitator) it really seemed to me that a lot of what is being talked about is teaching as administering a kind of therapy. And it is not coincidental, I think, that the people at many of these workshops, who are engaging this rhetoric, were nursing and education faculty. (Not that these are lesser disciplines, of course, just that I think it makes sense that there would be different approaches in these fields from the ones we might use in the humanities.) And that these folks are also often talking about inculcating a kind of morality - my goodness, at this last workshop, one of them talked about how she assigns "making a shoebox of gifts for Xmas and giving it to a local charity" as a project!? Uh, how does that work??
I actually really felt like an outsider at this last workshop, and I think a couple of the things I said about my approaches to evaluation were really scandalous to the people there...I got that vibe. And I'm not saying this in any kind of "poor-me" way; I really don't care. Because frankly, it seems to me that any kind of intellectual rigor is being sacrificed in much of this discourse, and that it's just about feel-good...stuff. As well, I find that some of this talk shades uncomfortably into a kind of instrumentalization that dovetails with the commercialization of the university - terms like "value-added" and "leveraging" get tossed around a little too often for my liking.
So, yeah, not feeling satisfied with that world, not at all. Every time I go to a workshop, I come away feeling disappointed. But I still feel as if I need people to work through some teaching stuff with. People in my own kinds of fields, who are facing some of the same pedagogical issues that I am, who have similar kinds of visions of what a classroom can be. And who are not interested in infantilizing university students, nor in producing good little workers!
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Today, because I happened to have my camera in my bag, I took a picture of the desk area of my office (quality not great because lighting so dim):
Strewn with papers, and they're not in any kind of orderly piles - somehow this picture makes them look much more orderly than they actually are. Other surfaces in the office are similar - the top of my file cabinet, the shelf of the bookcase where I store my materials for current classes (nuclear holocaust, that shelf is right now) and even this week one of the chairs in there are all home to disheveled sheaves of unrelated stuff. Now I am usually a messer when I work - my home desk looks like this - even messier - and I am used to it and don't usually mind:
But the university office feels unmanageable. And so I've realized something about what's going on for me on campus. Since my days up there are so crazy, I have no time to properly do anything about the papers that accumulate. I don't have time to organize, nor to file. But of course, this adds up to chaos - and very rapidly, too. And so when I walk into the office, the feeling of anxiety is increased. It's a vicious circle that just leads to the magnification of my discomfort in that space!
One of my goals for next week (when I have a special day off from teaching) is to sort this out so that my office doesn't feel like a black hole anymore. I so hope this works - right now it's no fun to go in there, that's for sure. How do you feel about working in your office?
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
- If I have to read one more reference to "the male species" or "the female race," I shall cry.
- I am tired of the torrent of emails from students wanting to talk to ME about the mark they received from my TA. (This is the problem, in my experience, of having someone else do your grading, when the students don't have any interaction with that person except for the grading. They'd swallow the marks they're getting, if they came from me; they resist them, because they come from the TA, with whom they have no relationship.)
- On that note, go AWAY, dozen emails an hour that I get from people on my university email account. I wish I could say these were mostly informational, but they're not. They all require Action! Immediately!
- I am sick of working in my office at the school - it is so unnerving and the opposite of relaxing.
- I am tired of getting up at 6am all the time. I'm not a terrible morning person, but I don't love the pre-7am hours.
Bah - sorry. I'm whiny. But it's amazing, the wall you hit as the end of term nears. I always feel, when it ends, as if it ended just in time. Like I couldn't stand another moment - I need off. And it's not that I don't like my job; I love teaching. But still, this week is the beginning of the structures of feeling that lead to that just-in-time end, I think.
Monday, November 05, 2007
That is right. After spending the day in the city - we ate yummy things, and went to the Gettty Center, and did some driving through Beverly Hills, etc., etc. - we stumbled, just after sunset, upon a scene. We were just driving along, coming down from Mulholland Drive, not sure what to do next, when we spotted...glitziness. It seemed to be a premiere at the El Capitan Theater, of the new Coen Brothers movie. Red carpet and all. We swiftly pulled over into a parkade and parked, and went and stood next to the barricades. We realized as we were walking to the barricades that we were walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, stepping on those stars. Oh! we said. And there was the Kodak Theater, right across the street. Oh! we said again.
So anyway, there we were, against the barricades with many dedicated celeb-hunters. Watching the paparazzi get into position for their many photos of the red carpet walkers. And who did we spot but two other conference-goers?? We waved them over and all laughed at ourselves, and chatted for the next hour while we waited for the show to happen. Yes, we academics, our guards down, gawking at the stars.
So anyway, we waited a long time, but finally, they came! Numerous tinted-window SUVs arrived and ejected their celebrity passengers a mere few feet away from us. Who did I see?
- Tommy Lee Jones
- Hugh Laurie (An unexpected, late arrival, prompting much swoony screaming all around me.)
- Thandie Newton
- Casey Affleck
- Joel and Ethan Coen
- Ed Begley Jr.
- Olivier Martinez
- Some actor named "Kelly" who was reportedly in Trainspotting and Gosford Park
- Some actor named Ronnie about whom people got all screamy - but I didn't recognize him (He was also, like, 70, and had an 18-year-old on his arm. Ew.)
- Some other people who had to stand on the red carpet for a long time with paparazzi shooting away - I don't know who they were. Apparently one was Julie Delpy, but we were far enough away from the photographing area that I didn't realize who she was. I certainly can figure it out in retrospect, though.
I didn't get many pictures - it was pretty much pandemonium. But here, taken holding the camera high above people's heads, is Tommy Lee Jones, signing autographs for the media geeks right in front of us. These media geek types - the types who collect movie memorabilia and then go to premieres and scream, "Tommy! Tommy!" so the celeb will come over and autograph, and then sell them on Ebay - were actually the most fascinating part of this whole deal. And there's one of him posing on the red carpet.
And that, my friends, was my LA experience!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
The conference has been pretty great - I am always a fan of this event. And out of it has come a wonderful contact, who had actually read my dissertation! Good god. Who reads your dissertation?! (Her PhD advisor was the external examiner at my defense, and had passed on my diss, that's why.) Anyway, she has and she's great, and she and I have also had the co-editorship of a volume of essays fall into our laps! Which is pretty great...one of the things I included in my list of goals for this academic year was to decide whether to edit a volume. I'd been thinking not, regretfully, because I know it's a huge amount of work, and that I should be focusing on getting this monograph written. But for this, there's already a publisher and I can share the load with someone else, so it's fab. I am way into collaborative work. I'm pretty excited about this project. And we will meet up at this conference next fall, and I suggested that we might work there on starting to draft the introduction. That's a fun thing to look forward to. It is perhaps overly optimistic of me to be this excited about working with someone I just met and don't know at all well, but I have a gut feeling that it is going to work out very well.
And today my friend from Home City and I are going out with a rental car to explore this crazy city. I am looking so forward to that.