Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Post-SSHRC reflections

I just got in the mail the external evaluators' assessments of my SSHRC application. I didn't receive one, I found out a month ago. I wasn't surprised, knowing that the rate of success is about 34% overall, and it is about 22% for those in the "new scholars" category, like me. I was disappointed, though - knowing that I shouldn't be - because the four people who had read it had all been extremely enthusiastic about it, and two had said they felt certain that it would be funded. (Not to self: Don't say such things to people!)

The thing is - and I was aware of this, even as I let myself get my hopes about it - that none of these people who reviewed it have expertise in the field in which I was proposing my project. The proposal was sent to three external evaluators who are all, of course, expert in a field I was ostensibly treating. Some of their comments were pretty harsh, which doesn't surprise me - they picked up on what I knew were inconsistencies in my application, on issues I myself had identified. The thing was, I was under pressure to submit a grant application, and so I conjured up my project very quickly...I mean, I had the project going 'in name,' and had presented papers on tiny bits of it, but only wrote about it in detail for the first time, for the application. It was very newly formulated. It has matured a lot in the 8 months or so of additional research and some writing I've done since I first wrote that application (thankfully!).

But my problem is my positioning, and the researchers to whom the application was sent for review. To invoke the terms with which I have metaphorized my research before, they are haiku experts. I also work on chemical engineering and agricultural history - and in fact, my work is about the intersections between those latter two fields - I simply use haiku as a means of thinking about these other two fields. I don't consider myself first and foremost a haiku expert, though I certainly know my way around the field. In fact, I've even thought about having the first line of my book be, "This is not a book about haiku" (even though it is, on the surface - but really, what it is, is a book about agricultural history and chemical engineering, using haiku as a lens).

But the app was sent to thorough haiku experts, and it does not surprise me in the least that they don't love the project. In fact, the SSHRC committee - which would be composed of chemical engineering and agricultural history experts - was quite generous with me considering the lack of enthusiasms of the haiku-ists for the project; they wrote quite lovely comments and gave me points in disproportion to what the evaluators' comments warranted. They "get it," they get what I want to do, I suspect. I don't think haiku-ists ever will; they're never going to like what I'm trying to do, in part because it will be seen as much too abstract for their material field. It is very telling that they didn't even comment on what, to me, is the major theoretical point of the project!! They don't even "see" it. (This is not me being a snob, suggesting that people who work in more materially oriented ways don't understand theory...I mean simply that it's not what they're trained to look for or emphasize or evaluate when they're doing something like this.)

So when I re-submit in the fall, I'm going to be really challenged in terms of how I present the project. What I could do is rejig the project, addressing all of the haiku-ists' is really not hard to do. But I don't want to have a project that's like that. And yet, I will always be evaluated by haiku-ists, simply because the word haiku is in my work. But these aren't people, as I mention, who engage with the theoretical issues I'm dealing with, that I'm actually trying to bring new perspectives to.

At least I have a summer to think about it.

The other issue is, SSHRC places so much value on having "graduate student training" be part of the proposal. They don't distinguish between fields...graduate student training in psychology and some of the social sciences is very different from what it is in the Humanities, where we simply don't have the same kind of tradition of collaborative work between researchers and their grad students. So there's (to my mind) an over-emphasis, on the evaluators' assessment forms, of the question of how the proposed project will contribute to graduate student training. The assessors are really negative on this point, saying that my plans to have doctoral candidates do archival work and then literature reviews are totally unrewarding and no good. Well, that's all I ever did - or anyone I know ever did - when we were employed as research assistants. (Well, no, I drafted some translations and tracked down a whole bunch of quotations and dealt with permissions and the publisher, but that is of the same order of busy-work, that work). I'm not really sure what this excellent graduate student training is supposed to look like...I note that this is SSHRC rhetoric (i.e. government agency rhetoric) and it seemed to me that the actual committee of academics - the ones who were quite generous to me - didn't even factor it into their decisions to allocate points. This is good, because when I rejig the app for this year's competition, I may phase out most grad student training...simply because adding more and more of it is a nod in the haiku direction, but does nothing for the chemical engineering and agricultural history aspects of my work.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To whom am I teaching, and how?

Today, I was thinking about where I fall on the 'hard-ass' scale. This was because I was an examiner at the Honours thesis defense (since when are there Honours defenses set up like grad school defenses??). It was for an excellent student I had in my fourth-year class this term. She's written a thesis that is quite learned, but that I didn't find to be as spectacular as the others did - I wasn't in favour of giving it the A+ that they were, and was more hung up on a couple of issues.

I thought back to a month or so ago, when the student asked me if I'd be a reader of the thesis, and she said - very good-naturedly - that this was scary because I am "hard." I was kind of taken aback by this, but felt good about it, because sometimes I worry that my easygoing way with students means that I am not challenging them enough. And this sense that I am "hard" was borne out at the defense today, during which I was being more demanding of the student's work than the other two (both of whom I respect a great deal).

Then I thought about how I teach. I "teach to" the strongest students in a given class. I am sure that this would get me in trouble with learning specialist types - I am not trying hard enough to be inclusive - but I feel it is my "duty," for lack of a better word, to aim high, to meet the strongest students at their level. And then I am hard on them, apparently.

I don't know what to think about this question of who I am teaching to, and what I am expecting of them. Am I doing anyone any good if this is my approach - the "hard" approach? Well, sure, I can see that being "hard" for the strongest students is challenging for them - I'm not so worried about them. But what about the weaker students. Surely I must then be even "harder" for them. Is this good or bad? Am I any help at all for them?

Who do you teach to? Should we place a premium on 'hardness'? These are the questions I'm thinking about.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Post-bug update

I arrived home on Saturday night and felt sane again. I still cannot believe how much that incident affected me. I really felt as if I was losing my mind, even the next day, in the bright sunlight, out of the hotel. I thought I had grown out of a lot of that phobia, but I guess not as much as I thought.

I quarantined EVERYTHING the moment I got home - including the clothes I was wearing, which I stripped off and threw onto the deck with everything else. (Oh, hi, neighbours!) On Sunday I washed what was washable in the machines, kept some quarantined for dry cleaning, and boiled the rest in a big cauldron-like pot, ridiculously, feeling as if I was acting out Macbeth. I also soaked the suitcase in boiling water.

So anyway. Now I'm back. I have a lot of work to do in the next week and a half, including writing my paper for Congress before I leave for my research trip. Since I will have only a couple of days once I get back, before I turn around again to go to Vancouver for that crazy shindig, and will be jetlagged and out of it. Never have I had so thin a conference paper idea - I really have no idea what I'm going to abstract, I see, is ridiculous. I may even have to consider scratching this part of my book project, so little do I feel I have to say at the mo'. God, I hope not - there would go one third of my objects of study!! Let's just hope that my completely open-ended writing process comes up with something, as happened with last year's Congress paper, which I was really happy with (with several months of hindsight).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

God, why am I such a mess?

I cannot really function. I feel itchy and crawly all over...and totally not myself. I feel totally alienated from myself. I wouldn't have expected to have such a strong reaction. What the hell is wrong with me? I guess it really is a deep phobia. What a bloody wimp.

Anyway, I just realized that with feeling like this I could NOT handle the ridiculously overlong bus ride. I would probably be completely insane by the end of it. The reason I had taken the bus instead of flying in the first place was that I am trying not to fly whenever I can...trying to reduce that carbon footprint. But I just said, fuck it. I just booked the flight for 2 1/2 hours from now. Carbon emissions and all. Sigh. Oh well. I can't wait to be in my own home, and to try and relax.

Bed bugs in my hair

Here's something you might not know about me: I'm phobic of insects. This has improved markedly over my life, but these remain the only thing I could really say I have an irrational fear of...anyone who knows me well has seen it in action and knows that it remains an issue. The only recurring nightmare I've ever had is one about insects (the atmosphere being made of insects, actually). There were several times as a teenager when I saw a single cricket or beetle on the hall wall and proceeded to lock myself in my room, screaming and crying and unable to come out. There are parts of the world I feel sure I won't visit because of what I've heard about their insects. It's like that. That's why when I had a bed bug experience in my hotel in Nearest Metropolis last night, I really had to fight to not become completely, cart-her-off-to-the-hospital hysterical.

So I arrived at my hotel - a small budget hotel that I once stayed at years ago, that is well loved and gets fawning write-ups in travel guides for being so lovely and yet so miraculously inexpensive - at about 9 last night. I was checking email and things when I all of a sudden felt quite itchy in several different places. I wondered about bed bugs, and so googled them. Then I did a thorough search of the sheets and pillows and mattresses. I puzzled over some tiny rust-coloured pieces of somthing, squinting at them under the lamp and trying to determine whether they were bugs and deciding they were not. (They were, I realize in retrospect - given what I read on the Internet - actually bed bug shit.) I tried to figure out what to gut was telling me something was wrong, but I didn't know what I'd say to the hotel management (not realizing I had evidence in the form of bug shit!)

Anyway, I went out for an hour or so, and came back and felt decidedly itchy again. Debated what to do about it - ran through the conversation in my mind, and decided to just stay put, after having examined the bed pieces again. Put on my pyjamas and went to bed, feeling quite crawly but telling myself I was imagining it. It took me quite a while to fall asleep. Something woke me up when I'd just drifted off - gee, IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE LARGE BEDBUG THAT I SAW FALLING OUT OF MY HAIR ONTO THE PILLOW AND SCURRYING AROUND ON THE BED WHEN I RAISED MY HEAD, STARTLED AWAKE.)

This is when hysteria occurred. I don't quite know how I managed to pull myself together enough to get out of my pyjamas, into some clothes - it had to be in the dark, because I couldn't stand the thought of seeing the thing while I was actually "unguarded." Went downstairs to the front desk. The guy there moved me immediately - seriously upgraded me actually. I went back upstairs to get my stuff and was able to find the bed bug, on guard as I now was in proper clothes. It was a huge one. I took a very long shower, washing my hair three times. The front desk guy made chamomile tea for me. I put all the clothes that I'd worn on the bed in the hotel room in a tightly sealed plastic bag. I examined the bedding in my new room - it really seems fine - no shit this time. But I'm not sure what to do. I'm so tired I can't even think straight - this all happened at 1:15 and it took me hours to calm down enough to sleep for maybe three hours. While I was lying awake, I thought I'd just leave the city and go back home late this afternoon, after my meeting - instead of staying until Monday. The thought of making that ridiculously long and cramped bus ride again the very next day, though, makes me want to cry. I just wanted to have a little fun weekend here, after my meeting - and after what was actually a very long week!


Anyway, the major lesson here is to trust my gut!!

Update: I'm leaving tonight.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bullets of week

Thought I'd check in with some bullets..
  • My potluck for students the other night was a success. But many people in their early twenties appear to socialize by way of "storytelling contests," meaning that they don't actually talk with each other. They try to impress each other with stories about their lives. It's positively exhausting. The young ones held court while the three mature students and I just watched them, sort of incredulous. But people said they had a wonderful time.
  • But really, why do people go so overboard for potlucks?? I have a long history with people using potlucks as a kind of one-upping competition (in my Activity community, which was full of women who were excellent cooks), and it is a major pet peeve of mine. I even asked people, this time, to restrict the amount they were bringing...But still, some people brought two dishes. Gawd! What it meant is that I was left with a fridge full of weird food...
  • Things are really heating up with the co-edited collection. It has taken over my life this last week - I may as well be married to my collaborator, what with how frequently we're in touch. But I'm very happy with what's transpiring, and it tickles me, frankly, to be working collaboratively.
  • God, I love my PhD supervisor. I love what our relationship has become, and is still becoming. We are really very close. She means the world to me. We are having the most wonderful email exchanges lately. I'm so grateful for her.
  • This weekend I'm going to Nearest Metropolis for a day-long meeting tomorrow. Leaving later today, coming back on Monday. This makes me very, very happy. It makes me feel amazingly free.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Photo day

My faculty is redesigning the website. (This doesn't seem to be the wisest use of funds during a budget crisis - which I've not bloggged about - but whatever...) We all already have snapshots on our webpages, but those are being redesigned with new, professional photos. I had mine taken a couple of weeks ago, and today was sent a page of proofs to choose from.

Oh. my. god.

I am not usually high-maintenance about photos at all, but this is HORRIFYING. Horrifying. The thought of being represented by one of these shots makes me want to cry. Perhaps worst of all, I look like I have a rat's tail. Why didn't someone give me a mirror or tell me to fix my hair???

Les you think this is just me over-reacting, here is what R wrote when I emailed her the sheet of proofs:

"i'm so sorry, but they are the funniest things i've ever seen. (or maybe i'm just sleep deprived) I can't open the link without immediately convulsing with laughter. I've forwarded the email to my home address so I don't make a fool of myself here at work....sorry to be laughing at your expense, sweetie, but....thanks for the hilarity."



I am leaving on a research trip to Paris - just a couple of weeks - next month. I planned this in part to return to one of the places I did some preliminary research "reconnaissance" last year.

I had such a great experience there (as I have at most every place I've done such research). The woman who is in charge of the library there was extremely kind, helped me a lot, and encouraged me to come back. She told me how nice it was to have a researcher like me come in - someone doing "actual research," since it turned out that most of the people she had appointments with are just random folks who are interested, not professional researchers working on a substantive project. She told me about some new, relevant resources the library had recently acquired at auction and said that when I came back, I should spend some time looking at them. She was so lovely, as I gushed in that blog post - as was the colleague she drew in to help me with a couple of questions.

Last week I wrote to her - not in any kind of overly familiar way, but reminding her that we had met last year and that she had suggested that I should look at X Resource in future. Could I set up some times to do that while I would be in Paris next month, I asked?

I got back quite a curt note - entirely different in tone from the emails I'd had from her the previous year - saying she could give me one three-hour appointment, and that they just didn't have the resources to see me more than that, normally, but that since I was coming from outside the country, she might see while I was there if she could give me one or two more appointments, but nothing more than that.

I was surprised by the whole thing - particularly the tone. But also because it had been she who suggested that I come back to look at this stuff. However, I wrote back a VERY grateful email, in which I said that I understood that they didn't have many resources and that it was very kind indeed of her to see me, and that I would come on the appointed date. I noted in an offhand way that we could, as she said, see at that point if there were one or two other times available.

Well. Clearly this has pissed her off, even though it was her idea. She wrote back a very irritated note which suggested I shouldn't expect any more time there, and reminded me of how very far she was going to even suggest additional appointments.

Dude. Chill. God.

If this had been the tone when I dealt with her last year, that would be one thing. But it seems like such an about-face, it's really confusing. There are probably internal politics, or funding issues, or job-loathing on her part, that I know nothing about. I just wish she wouldn't be so rude about it - what I've communicated to her is not at all demanding, and it is entirely laced with bowing-and-scraping.

Also, this just sucks because I had counted on being able to look at those resources - I expected to spend a few days there...she'd indicated before that this would be possible. There's another place I can go for other things, but she has me very curious at looking at these special resources; they would be extremely helpful to me.

Oh, sigh.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Weekend ramble

What a sickening weather weekend - ugh. It felt like winter again. Not nice, not at all. It was also a slightly aggravating weekend in other ways.

For one thing, I grow tired of disorganized wimps. A friend had been making noises about wanting to get together. A week in advance, I suggested last Thursday evening. When it came time to make the plan, it turned out she had messed up and had something else going on Thursday. Fair enough, I suppose - so we rescheduled for Friday. I then turned down an offer from someone else to do something on Friday night. I had this plan to have friend A over for dinner, and had gone about buying things and preparing. It was 45 minutes before she was scheduled to come over, I was up to my eyeballs in soup-making, and she bailed...she wouldn't be good company, she said. This pissed me off! You mess me up two nights in a row and your excuse is that you wouldn't be good company? Well, that seems kind of shitty to me - you get your ass over to the friend who's making a homemade dinner for you, and you get in a good mood, dammit! Harumph. I made delicious soup, but I ate it alone - quite in the mood for company. I ended up in a marathon phone convo with M, during which I got tipsy on dessert wine.

Then, on Saturday, after invigilating an exam (which I can't bring myself to begin grading) I ended up buying a little jacket that is very un-me but that I was attracted to anyway. (When I said to the clerk that it was un-me, she said, "It's a style." Duh. I am AWARE that it's a style. Are you saying it's un-me because it's a style?? Nice going; need some help getting that foot out of your mouth?)

On Saturday night and into the morning, it was adventure time. I had bought Diamond a leash because I felt that trying to leash-train her would be the only way I could let her outside...I was letting her outside onto my balcony for short periods, but stopped that when she flew the coop and strayed too far. I put on a collar that had come with her box of things, attached the leash, and took her outside for a disastrous attempt. She hated it - and almost immediately broke off her cheap collar and ran into the backyard and straight under the deck of the downstairs neighbours. Which has a 4-inch opening underneath it. This was at about 5pm. At 11:30pm - after all these hours trying to coax her out, and to drag her out - I finally went to bed, taking some meds to help me sleep because I was so freaked out. She had turned into a demon cat, clearly terrified, but also hissing and growling and scratching at ME, her ally. Her behaviour - including when she would emerge from under there, only to head back in if I so much as moved a muscle - seemed to suggest she had gone a little cuckoo.

This morning, though, after the umpteenth attempt to drag her out or coax her out with my dulcet tones - which resulted in yet more hissing and growling - I was able to get her to come out for food, which hadn't been working last night; I guess she got hungry! She was a baby in my arms as soon as I got her...and spent the morning curled up on my lap, sleeping off the adventure.

Never again is she going outside - at least, not until the "cat walking jacket" that I have ordered arrives! I don't need more freezing nights spent sprawled in the dirt talking into a four-inch opening, terrified that Diamond would go feral if left there for any length of time. And she doesn't need any more terror.

And tomorrow, I host a little potluck for my fourth-year/grad student class. Risky, but a good thing, I think. One of them has written a short play inspired by the material in the class...she invited me to come see it when it was performed in her creative writing class (I found it to be pretty amazing stuff), and I in turn invited her to stage it at our class gathering. There will be a 'punk theory' play in my living room tomorrow night!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tax question for the Canadians

Update: Don't worry about the below...I didn't really figure it out, but I seem to be getting such a large refund, for some reason (overpayment on taxes?) that I'm not going to worry about it this year. In fact, I'm kind of stunned about the whole thing...

I'm just setting about to do my taxes, and am now hoping someone who is a Canadian can enlighten me on the possibility of deductions...ideally someone who is also a faculty member...

(I should have looked into this ages and ages ago - I meant to - but I didn't, and now I need to do the taxes and I'm desperate. God, I'm so disorganized!!!)

Anyway, what I'm wondering is about whether I can factor in my professional expenses. I used to get my taxes done by an accountant, and she was able to get me all sorts of deductions for work-related expenses when I was a grad student. I stopped using her when I became a faculty member, since I figured my taxes were now so simple. But one or two people - who are not academics - have suggested to me that I can factor in my professional expenses - conference fees, conference and research travel, books, etc. (Most of this was not covered by meagre professional development funds, etc.) I saved a lot of those receipts last year, but I wasn't sure about this...I thought I could deduct professional expenses only if I was self-employed, which I'm obviously not.

If anybody has a clue about this, I'd be very grateful to know. I apologize for being such a dunce about this - you are not tax professionals, I know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Early classes, late students

OK, so this academic year just finished, and I'm already onto the next. Making up my reading lists, etc. Also quaking about the fact that I am teaching an 8am class in both terms next year. Ugh. 8am seems really early to me...I've had no experience, as a professor or a student, with classes that started before 8:30. Even 8:30 I found painfully early, in terms of energy levels, etc.

But I will be teaching Monday-Wednesday 8am - my first-year classes, Intro Part 1 and Part 2. My friend who taught in this timeslot this year has been complaining bitterly about it. She says students are half asleep, and/or coming in dreadfully late. She is also vowing to never teach in that slot again. She has me worried.

So I am already thinking about how I'm going to deal with this. This will be a large class - about 80 students in the fall. Therefore, I won't be taking attendance, so I can't use that to ensure promptness. But the idea of 30 students disruptively filtering in while the class is in progress?? Fills me with horror.

Do you have any strategies for managing lateness in large, early morning classes? I could tell them that they can't enter the room more than 10 minutes into the lecture, but that would involve publicly humiliating people the first few times they DID try to walk in. I really don't want to do that. Any less punitive strategies out there? Or should I just suck it up?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Teaching stuff

A few people wanted to hear about some of the assignments that worked for me this year, mentioned in the last post. So I thought I'd post about them here...

I did this in every one of my classes this year. The students had five days of grace spread across the entire course - i.e. across up to four assignments - and not five days per assignment. I would just note the days used in a column on my grade spreadsheet; I didn't find it too onerous, believe it or not. Here were the instructions in my syllabi:

Assignment Submission Policy: All assignments must be submitted in hard copy. If you must hand in your assignments late, do so according to the following policy:

1. I strongly encourage you to submit work on time.

2. If you absolutely must hand in an assignment late, you have five days’ grace for late assignments over the course of the term, though you should only use it in the case of an emergency.
3. You can use your 5 days all at once, if you wish. For instance, you might get sick with strep throat just days in advance of the March 12 research paper due date. You may take all 5 days then, and you will have used your grace for the term.
4. You can also spread out your five days. For example, you might take two days for the bibliography assignment and one day for the second Unit Reflection paper. You will have used three days.
5. I don’t need to hear explanations for why assignments are late.
6. Once you have used your five days, late work will be penalized at a rate of 10% per day, unless you have official documentation of a true emergency
7. If your assignment is late, you may email it to me to “date-stamp” it, but you must also hand in a hard copy.

Below is syllabus language for this, which I did in an upper-level class. (After a couple of years of being the Queen of the Critical Response at all levels, this was a switch to a new thing that worked just as well, I thought.) The only thing I will add to this in future is direction to stick to the text. Something like, "Questions should emerge directly from the text. If they speak to more general issues, it is important to provide an account of how the text led you to the question." I say this because sometimes the students would just write incredibly generalized questions on X Topic, rather than truly engaging with the specificity of texts.

I found that this assignment ended up being mini critical responses, with questions punctuating them. It was incredibly productive that way. I couldn't get over how much students wrote - they just ran with it!

At each class, you will submit two critical questions based on the readings. These should demonstrate your engagement with the materials we are covering in class. You must be in class to hand them in. An advantage of the critical question assignment is that it ensures you have questions and thoughts to contribute to discussion each day.

An example of a critical question raised by the reading might be: [Example of question]

You should find that as your theoretical vocabulary increases, you will be able to make reference, in your questions, to concepts we have been working on together.

You’ll hand in the questions to me and I will hand them back to you with a letter grade and sometimes with feedback. At the end of the course, you will hand in a “portfolio” of graded questions, which I will evaluate to come up with your global mark for this assignment.

This was for a fourth-year course. Rather than reproduce the exact language from my syllabus, since it is so incredibly specific to the course, I'll just say a few things about this. I had them hand in a proposal and bibliography about 5 weeks in advance of the due date. I asked them to identify their research questions in there. You know, standard stuff! I checked, in grading proposals, whether the way they were conceiving of the assignment was actually suitable for a literature review. Some of them, for instance, wrote proposals for standard empirical research papers, which was exactly what I didn't want. Since this was a theory course, what I was looking for was a survey of the literature in the area of their theoretical interest.

Before they wrote the actual paper, we looked at an example of a literature review in a good journal so they could see the ways lit reviews combine a comprehensive survey of the field with a strong analytical voice, and ideally address gaps and weaknesses in the literature. Most of them got it, and engaged in some sort of comparative analytical exercise. The weak ones basically handed in "essays" that were like a series of "book reports" strung together - I will be careful in future to very explicitly ixnay the "string of book reports" approach.

Sisyphus, if you'd like more explicit stuff about that assignment, feel free to email me.

Hope some of that was helpful to some of you!

End-of-year reflections

My friends have finally left. It was a fabulous visit. It was like a mini-holiday for me, too. So decadent...

And so begins my spring, now that classes are over. The number of things I have to get done in the next few weeks feels a little mind-boggling...not included on the list in the sidebar is the amount of research-related reading I have to get done. Plus activities related to the co-edited volume.

But before I move into this new mode, I feel it might be useful for me to reflect on my first academic year at this institution. What went well? What didn't? Where does that leave me?

- My first-year course in the winter term - Intro Part 2 - was a grand success. I was very happy with the readings and the assignments. I think the students learned a lot, and they certainly are enthusiastic, with many of them thinking of going on to do a minor in the subject. I will be keeping the course very nearly the same for next year.
- Assigning "critical questions" due in every class in my Theory course worked really well. Students used this forum to really reflect quite deeply on the material. They also always had questions to contribute to discussion. This was definitely a winner.
- Using a "five days' grace across the whole term, no questions asked" lateness policy was A Very Good Thing. It allowed students some leeway in end-of-term crunch time, allowed for unexpected medical and family crises, and kept me from hearing sob stories - sob stories are my greatest weakness. Students also expressed great appreciation for this strategy.
- Literature review assignments for upper-year students were a good idea.

- I made a grave error in designing assessment in my first-term, first-year course. There was much too much paper coming in, and I felt completely drowned in weekly assignments for a 75-person class.
- Now I know that I cannot handle a "random grading scheme," because I felt bad and ended up reading and commenting on even those assignments I wasn't supposed to grade.
- I over-assigned reading in the first term - especially in the first-year course in the fall term - because I had never before taught (or really taken, as an undergrad) a course that meets twice a week instead of once a week.
- I wasn't sufficiently punitive on the issue of citation styles. Next year I'm implementing a much stricter policy about this.
- Doing two conferences within three weeks of each other, whilst I'm teaching, is too stressful.
- I cannot put on a week of events on such a grand scale as I did this March. This took far, far too much time. Next year, one or two heavy-hitter events, that'll be all.
- On that note, I LOATHE giving media interviews and hope to avoid them in future - I don't think I'm an asset to the university in this regard. At All. So it's best that I shut up.

All in all, it's been quite a year. So much has gone on - Mr. K's death, accidents, health scares, other deaths. The learning curve of this new job. I can only hope that next year will be significantly calmer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Haiku meme

As seen everywhere.

This is so me, it's frightening. I'm starting to feel v., v., predictable.

In fact, right now I have two old friends visiting me for five days. One of them is one of my closest friends; I've known her since my first year of university. Her partner, I've known almost as long - we worked together. Yeah, I'm all about the old friends.

Haiku2 for clashinghats

but i was aware
all along of so many
old friends in my life
Created by Grahame

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Remembering the important part

After I posted last night about feeling as if academia is sucking my passionate and political engagements out of me, I taught my last class in my 100-level course today. The Intro course. The end of the year. And I remembered that I need to focus on this part more, because it engages both my passion and my politics.

Two students baked cupcakes for the class, unexpectedly - fresh strawberry cupcakes with little course-related images on them in icing. The class and I had a fairly loose discussion about what the course has done for them, and they basically talked about it changing the way they think and even the way they live. Some hung around afterward, not wanting to part. They said they didn't want to leave, that they were sad it was over and wished it could go on all summer. Geez. That's important, to put it mildly. That I'm involved in producing that kind of passion and engagement in others. That reinvigorates me. (Even if it won't get me tenure.)

Okay, what?

As seen all over the durn place...

I don't really get this. I mean, I know I'm not American, but it doesn't make sense to me that I would have this particular kind of American accent. What do I know, though? I'm curious to know what other Canadian readers got...

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


(Be warned: This, I realize now that I've written it, is a post of the early-midlife-crisis variety...some strikingly unoriginal motifs follow...)

I've started having thoughts about leaving academia, again. Unlike over the winter, when I was depressed and the thoughts came from that dire place, this time they are coming when I'm in relatively happy.

I'm not sure exactly where this is coming from...I've been trying to sort out how much of it might be entangled with teaching. Emotional states have proven to be intermittently so entangled, for me. If I'm honest with myself, I can trace the beginning of this to almost a week ago, when I was teaching an article about the conceptual linkage of individual and structural - an ethics of personal accountability to one's political investments. I mentioned to my students - ever so briefly - that this is challenging for me, occupying the position that I do. I think this class affected me quite deeply, though. Because I think what that kind of connection - between one's political commitments and the life that one leads - is about passion.

And I have become a kind of automaton. Grad school did it to me - it killed part of me that feels this sort of passion, and other sorts as well. Grad school was a nightmare, in fact, in this regard. It was during my PhD, for instance, that I stopped keeping a journal after having done so for over thirteen years. That I stopped any kind of creative writing. That I learned how to clinically dissect things that I used to experience with both my head and my heart, so to speak. Now I teach about pain and devastation, a lot of the time, and I feel very little about it. That's how much I've objectified it.

Last year was so painful for me, teaching-wise, for reasons that I didn't feel comfortable blogging about, then. Now, with clinical distance - ha - I can explain that what was so emotionally dismantling was that, through all those extraordinary students, I was in touch with incarnations of the me that I was before grad school messed me up, dried me out. (I'm not saying I was extraordinary...I'm saying that I had passions techniques...that approximated those of the extraordinary students....) I was surrounded by the kind of creative and political passion that I once had, and it made me realize that I felt a great sense of loss.

Having a tenure-track job now, instead of a visiting position, only further reinforces the grad school blood-suckage. Now I am obsessed with quantifying everything, with output, with everything that is the opposite of passionate contemplation that once defined my engagement with texts. It makes me feel unreal. The labour of love I'm working on - the co-edited volume - is proceeding rapidly, but I feel anxiety about the time I'm taking away from my monograph. But the labour of love? I love it - that's the point, isn't it. The monograph I don't love in the same way, nor do I think it has the capacity to make as meaningful a (actually quite political) intervention. I want to just be able to revel in the love I feel for the labour of love, but I can't seem to do that. It's all shot through with so much anxiety about productivity.

Blah. That's where I'm at right now. It's just, you know...this is my first year on the tenure track. I already lie awake at night, worrying about my publication record. Five more years of that kind of pre-tenure worry before I can come back down into a place of passionate engagement? That'll take (at least) five years off my life, in the end. Is that worth it? Or, perhaps the better question, given that I have a good publication record for someone who's just over 2 years post-PhD and my anxiety is probably unwarranted, is whether my worrying personality is cut out for this.

Probably, it is. I'm just, you know, thinking...

Now then

(I promise I will have a substantive post soon...I'm thinking about lots of hard questions right now - related to academia, even - but they're not finding their way onto the page, perhaps because of the time of year...last week of classes.)

This week's question/rant (which isn't going to mean much to those of you who are not Canadian, I'm afraid):

Why the hell does Tim Hortons not figure out some more sustainable way of rolling up the rim??? I.e. one that doesn't encourage people to get more and more takeout cups?? This is probably going to involve changing the contest from rolling up the rim on a cup to something else, but we're - most of us - adults; we can handle it.

I ask myself this question every time I go to the Tim's on campus with my steel mug, and they try to give me a cup so that I can roll up the rim to win. When the whole point of bringing one's own mug is so that one doesn't have to have a cup! Every time, I say no, with the knowledge that I could be turning away the cup that will win me a car...or a cash prize...or another cup of tea. Seriously. This bugs the shit out of me. People will have no incentive to think about bringing their own cup for their eighteen cups of Tim's coffee a day, if they're not going to get a chance to roll up the rim. Agh.

I even think they could make it a campaign, to change the format of this game to some kind of little game token or something...and people would jump right on the bandwagon, over-estimating the importance of their bringing their own mugs, thinking they were saving the world.

So there.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Random facts

The lovely Brigindo has tagged me with a random facts meme. This one asks for ten random facts. I know you all have heard random facts about me, but since this is much more diverting than the other things on my agenda for this weekend - grading first-year papers, writing a guest lecture for Tuesday, preparing documents for merit review, and cleaning the house in advance of visitors arriving next week - let me throw some more random facts at you.

1. Last night I went five-pin bowling and bowled - as I always tend to do - really very badly.

2. Last night I also stayed up so late talking over wine with my two favourite friends here - see, my wish has been fulfilled! - that I confessed to being "a little bit scared" when I realized what time it was. Fear seems like a very odd response to staying up late, but there you have it.

3. I once won a spelling bee.

4. I saw the film The Band's Visit the other night and I just. loved. it. I urge you to see it, all of you, if you haven't already.

5. I marginally failed grade eleven math through sheer lack of effort, and that was the end of my math career.

6. I once attended a pool party at the prime ministerial residence, 24 Sussex Drive.

7. My relationship with my mother puts me in touch with the worst parts of myself and makes me question my humanity.

8. I detest coconut.

9. I am fair-skinned and -haired.

10. I didn't exercise at all until I was twenty, but then I became a very committed workout person.

I am not going to tag specific folks, but all those who would like a procrastination tool, do borrow!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Photobucket meme

As seen a few places, lately at Luckybuzz's. This was a fun diversion, I must say!

1. Go to
2. Type in your answer to the question in the “search” box.
3. Use only the first page.
4. Insert the picture into your Blog.

1. What is your relationship status?

2. What is your current mood?

3. Who is your Favorite Band/Artist?

4. What is your favorite movie?

5. What kind of pet do you have?

6. Where do you live?

7. Where do you work?

8. What do you look like?

9. What do you drive?

10. What did you do last night?

11. What is your favorite TV show? (This is, like, pretty much the only TV show I watch, since I get exactly zero channels - what TV I watch, I download. Love/loathe it though I might, this would have to qualify as "favourite...god, I hate that the lyrics to that godawful song are on here!)

12. Describe yourself:

13. What are you doing today?

14. What is your name?

15. What is your favorite candy?

16. What is your favorite drink?