Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Coffee Grounds and Diet Coke

Does anyone remember that scene from one of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels where one of the poor terrified teenagers swills coffee grounds with a Diet Coke chaser in order to stay awake? Anyone?

It's very possible that I might follow her example this evening. You know that grading I spent the day doing? Well, for the record, I'm not even procrastinating a lot--very unusual for me!!!--and yet I'm still at it. I have three left. The problem, of course, is that I've also promised class #2 that they can have their evaluations for a project, much overdue, tomorrow. And there are six of those. Did I mention tomorrow is the last day of teaching content? And they should get something out of it?

Tell me this, blogademe, has anyone ever pulled an all-nighter to finish grading? Has anyone ever done it successfully, meaning that they were still conscious and able to function the next day?

And is this the point where I just throw my hands up in the air and say "I'm a loser and I couldn't finish. Put it all in the course evaluations. Thank you sir, may I have another"?

I'm going back to grading now. Bring on the caffeine.

8:24 and off-schedule

Today is supposedly my day off between classes, the day I use to recuperate and prepare for tomorrow's classes. Today, for instance, I should be using the day to go to the gym, watch a film and read and article for one class, and finish a novel and prepare to lead a discussion on the ways that it works to sum up many of the themes of the entire class.

This is not what I'll be doing today. At least not in the next couple of hours.

Instead, I'll be finishing up grading two different projects for two classes, running to a meeting, reconstructing my grade spreadsheets, which crashed the week before Thanksgiving. THEN I'll turn to prepping for class tomorrow. [Notice that the gym is nowhere in that list.]

I know that this is part and parcel of the post-Thanksgiving sprint; that my own disorganization and feeling of having no time to finish things is ultimately echoed in the students as well. Part of the problem, however, is due to my happy-ass need to experiment in courses. The reason I'm so behind in grading these projects (and oh, oh my, how shamefully behind I am!!), is because both of them are experiments in student group projects: one is a wiki, and the other is a group blog. Intuitively, I can understand why it's a useful way of asking students to produce and share their knowledge from the course. While not all of the projects have been successful (have you ever seen a really flaccid entry on Wikipedia? I've now seen many...), many were inventive and interesting and informative. Given the choice between reading a paper on radical student groups in the 60's or reading a wiki entry on it, in which the student intercuts her writing with pictures and links, I'll take the second any day of the week. Better yet, the students who have to read it then ALSO enjoy it more. I think. This part of the assignment--getting students to access and use the wiki--is a bit fuzzy in my head.

The point of the detail, there, is to indicate the pedagogical difficulties that experiments can create. I was out on a limb designing and shepherding the students through the creation of these projects (because you can't just build your own wiki to see how it would work). But now we're in different territory. The wiki is there: now how do I assess it?! While I set up criteria for them as they were working (actually, we discussed what the qualities of a good wiki entry were, and then used these to set up a rubric), how do I translate this into a grade? In essence, how do you fairly evaluate student work for which there was no model?

These are obviously not concerns that I share with them; no class wants to be the guinea pigs whose grades hang in the balance of a professor's whims. But it does seem to me that the influx of new technologies and the pedagogical opportunities that they create trouble our traditional notions of evaluation and grading, at the same time that they trouble students who have been successful with standard technologies (i.e., papers, tests, etc.). How do we make the jump in a way that's fair to students, both in terms of their grades, and in a larger sense, in terms of their comfort levels?

I'll wait for your answers. In the meantime, I'll be here grading. I should have done 4 by now. Sigh.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

O'erweening Dread

Senor Fluff and I had a marvelous time in Canadia over the Thanksgiving break. Unlike our last trip to the North, we had marvelous weather, stayed at a schmancy hotel in a great area, walked a lot, ate good food, saw a movie, bought a sweater or two (me, of course, not Senor Fluff). As often happens to me on vacation, I had the physical/emotional experience of an interior space opening--I could breathe freely, I slept well, I remembered the kinds of things that were important to me and that I was thankful for. You know--all of those feelings and experiences that remind us of how good our lives are on a daily basis. Why, then, the title of this post?

Tomorrow, I have a meeting. One of the many things on the table at this meeting will be work that I've done with a subcommittee. For the record, I did not choose to be on this subcommittee. I was on it last year, and thus it was assumed that this year I'd not only be on it, but that I'd convene it. Thankfully, it's a committee of smart, positive, kindly souls who are easily able to work with each other and even get a bit excited about what kinds of things they can pull off. Right before I left for break, I was reminded by my chair that all the work performed by the subcommittee is subject to the will of the greater body. I was also told: "it's about time, I've been wondering what was going on with that." I can't help but think that this is a harbinger of the tone of this meeting. My best guess is that it will go like this regarding project 1: we can't believe it's taken you so long to come up with this; this isn't what we discussed; well, we suppose it's too late to change it, so it will have to go ahead; it will be inferior to what's been done before, but try not to have it suck; go do more work on it now--we'll sit back and wait for it to suck. Regarding project 2: why on EARTH would you have chosen to do that? (ridicule and group laughter); we never said that we'd do this anyway; last year it was too much work; it only benefitted some students--you left out this group; that group often chooses to be left out; it doesn't matter, they should be included; maybe we want a different project just for that group?; regardless, the whole thing is too much work; well, but since you've done it THAT way (ridicule and laughter)...
Here I go a bit dim. It could be that they'll nix it right there, or it could be that it will go forward in some bastardized form.

My guess is that the above is an almost verbatim transcript of the meeting tomorrow. Thre are few things I like better than being publicly spanked and ridiculed, unless it can be done simultaneously--THAT'S the apotheosis of my meeting attendance.

I know that it's important to hold on to that brief opening of the interior space. That, it seems to me, is the thing that should be kept from all of this other effluvia which is fleeting and temporary. But I can't. And the joy that I get from the other parts of my job (interacting with students, reading/watching great texts, talking with smart people, working to make curricula better, etc.) is pushed beneath the surface of this kind of treatment by my colleagues.

So I know I should buck up right now. But I can't. So I think I'll wallow.

I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

So Long, Suckers!!

Having survived the Monday Pre-Thanksgiving teaching (but only by the skin of my teeth, and with much gnashing), Senor Fluff and I are kissing our furry animals goodbye and heading to the Great White North for a few days. Some people go home, we go on vacation.

So I'm packing lots of warm clothes--sweaters, a coat, socks, boots, undershirts, a scarf, etc. I hope we'll wander around the city, drink cafe au lait in little cafes, take in some art and perhaps catch a flick at the film festival that's going on. I will return to mountains of grading and administrative work that should have been finished before I left, so I've decided to eke out, from this mini-vacay, every minute of enjoyment that I can. So how much is too much to read in 3 days? I have about 250 pages left in Freddy and Fredericka, I'm also bringing along American Born Chinese, which was, for the record, the first graphic novel to be nominated for the National Book Award (the young adults category, but still).

But should I also bring a few magazines? Or maybe even Barry's Beginning Theory, in an attempt to get a leg up on next semester? [Can you tell I ran out of stuff to read last time I was there? Does the naked fear come through?]

All right. I'll be loaded down and overpacked, but I'll be prepared. Maybe I'll have some pictures from Canadia for y'all when I get back.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Be safe out there!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Put Me Out Of My Misery

Let me preface this post with a set of things I know:
1) I know that people assign far more writing than I do in their classes, and they spend far more time reading student work
2) I know that I am a slow reader of student work, in no small measure because I have to read blogs and surf the internet every 2-3 papers
3) I know that people are dying in Darfur
4) I know that I'm a bougie, spoiled college professor who needs to get a grip on the paltry-ness of her oppression

I KNOW, okay?! I friggin' know. But please, for just a mo, a bit of sympathy? It is now 10:24 on Sunday evening. I have one final student paper to read before class tomorrow; and this is after my marathon student paper-reading yesterday. I also have to finish reading novel 1 for the class of students who are already writing me emails to say that they have "family emergencies" that they have to go home for. Hmm. What does that family emergency look like, I wonder? Could it be the family emergency where you go back to your parents' house and stand in line to get the new Nintendo Wii so that you can prep to fall into a tryptophan coma 5 days from now? That family emergency?! I also have to read the first 100 pages of novel 2, for my slightly more dedicated afternoon class. The last time I taught novel 2, this is what happened: I was standing in the hall before class, talking to a colleague from another department. Three students came running up to me with the book in their hands, shouting "This is porn! You're making us read PORN!!"


Tomorrow is going to suck sweaty balls. I hate pre-Thanksgiving week.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stalky McStalk-Pants

OK, before y'all start freaking out when you look at your sitemeters late at night, calling the police, and your lawyer, and your neighbor, and looking for blunt objects...





Why hast thou forsaken me, Blogosphere? Why canst thou not update thine blogs with more regularity, thus rescuing me from the never-ending pile of student papers?

I don't know what it is that you people DO all day on Saturday, but could you get home and update your damn content? Please? Pretty please?

Dishing Dirt

I realize it's been awhile since I've discussed work here. I've been a bit lax in that regard, I think, and more ready to talk about how popular culture and fashion serve to distract us (okay, maybe just me) from more difficult topics.

Last night, however, one of my colleagues graciously invited a group of us over (how does someone DO that in the week before Thanksgiving? He and his wife are truly wondrous in that respect). As the drinks flowed and the pizza coma set in, we found ourselves discussing the makeup of our department (it must have been that someone raised the topic of the MLA--which, instead of "Modern Language Association" should, from a job candidate position, stand for "Mordor, Land of Academics." Because really, it's all about the evil eye on you at all times.) One of the talking points on the groaning table (not raised by me, surprisingly enough) was that of the generation gap in our department. We have a number of junior faculty, and a number of senior faculty, and almost no one in between. Generous Host commented that this is a problem in many ways, and it's compounded by the fact that the few people in the middle have eschewed any interest in or responsibility to departmental service. This, of course, leaves the junior and senior faculty to fight it out. No fun AT ALL.

I added that this dynamic was further exacerbated by the lack of people in the middle--because so many of them had left over the years. There were suddenly a couple of sets of widenened eyes. I suppose that's a little fact that will set you on your ass if you're brand new to this job: we've lost tenured faculty members. Not just one. I babbled blithely on, of course, but later I found myself thinking--what is our ethical responsibility to new folks? How much is too much to tell them up front? How much do they need to find out themselves, over the course of time? Particularly if you like them and want them to stay?

I remember very clearly that it took Yogini and I a good many "WTF?!!" conversations in our first year in order to figure out the dynamics of our department and Askesis U. itself. When someone finally sat us down, in the spring, and laid out a history of the department and the institution, we had two conflicting responses. The first was relief--we're not crazy, there are some old, engrained patterns of behavior here that we're stepping into time and time again. The second, however, was "Holy CRAP! You knew all of this and you let us stick our feet in our mouths over and over?!"

It's a tricky line to walk, I think. Too much too soon and I would seem like a venomous plotter; too little too late and I leave newbies swinging in the wind. What is the "right way" for someone to come to institutional knowledge that will help them navigate the waters of junior faculty life?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Let's See Some Fisticuffs!

Oh, please let the hype for Casino Royale be true. I've never been one for a Bond film o'ermuch (during graduate school, I did manage to see GoldenEye at the end of a long day of grading freshman composition papers. Not the best idea. I left the theater convinced that blowing things up was the perfect answer to all of my problems.). But this one--recovering the original Bond legend? Complete with Judi Dench? Bring it on! (Just tell me to turn in my feminist ID card now. You know you want to.)

I've been contemplating the fall of Jude Law in the pantheon of British lads. Does it seem to anyone that Jude/Hugh/Colin are out, and Clive Owen/Daniel Craig are in? When did that happen? When did we all fall off the "cute befuddled Englishman" boat and get on the "simmering, dangerous, rugged Englishman" train? And how were we all so blind?

But let me simply say this: Clive, for all his smokin' hotness, better watch his back. It appears that Daniel Craig's new girlfriend is half Japanese (just scroll, people). WOOT! What's a bi-racial girl got to do to get some fantasy Brit love around here?

Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm Not Dead

Well, not yet, anyway. I do feel a bit like the walking dead, however. Not the fast ones, in the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but the slow ones, like in Shaun of the Dead. Here's a word of wisdom from me to you: don't go to a conference in the weeks before Thanksgiving. It's suicide.

But it's Monday, and I'm back in the proverbial saddle. I'll bring you some notes and some observations from conference land over the next few days. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a short fashion meditation. It has reached that time of the year when I find myself forced to give up open-toed shoes (sob!) and thin sweaters (sigh!), and take up the onerous task of layering. When I was a child, growing up in a warm climate, I remember mocking articles of clothing like this: You remember these, right? The bodysuit with the attached shirt? HA! I used to think. What kind of jerk can't manage to keep her shirt tucked in? And how does she ever get to the bathroom?

Well, as I tuck myself in for the 50th time this morning, the Spiegel bodysuit is looking pretty good...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I've been looking at the CNN website practically every 15 minutes today, hoping that they'll call the last two Senate races in MT and VA. It's a feeling that's a bit akin to waiting for the moment on Christmas morning when presents can finally be opened. COUNT FASTER!!

I've been able to do this, of course, because I'm playing hooky from school today. After 9 hours and 45 minutes of working with advisees yesterday--without a lunch break--I've pretty much had it, and if my students' performance in class on Monday was any indication, they can use a break as well. So here's to slacking! Sometimes, what you've done is good enough!

And in honor of the Democrats, who I think have taken up the above as their new slogan, I've been looking for footage of the film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story on YouTube this morn. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I laugh when I watch this film; it may well be Vince Vaughn's best work (can it, you Swingers fans). But as I watched the various election results roll in this morning, I couldn't help but think of the scene in the film where Rip Torn, playing the legendary dodgeball coach Patches OHoulihan. After days of practice yielding little improvement, the underdog team--the Average Joes--go into their first match, and suddenly start using their skills. And from thence comes one of my favorite lines in the film. Patches, who has a dirty, filthy mouth (which I love), says in celebration: "My sweet dick, it's magic!" Who ever thought that such a rag tag bunch could really pull it off?

So here's to you, Democratic leadership. Dodge, duck, dive, and dodge.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Procrastination Station

I should be reading student projects. I had every intention of doing so. I'm not doing it. Instead, I'm creating my very own ZoomCloud (see the sidebar. Pretty!). I love the internet for many, many reasons (shopping, for example), but also because of the ways in which it allows me to procrastinate by researching ideas and elements that are vaguely connected to my field. So, you know, it's not really procrastination. It's research!

I've been looking at other ZoomClouds (to cite my sources, I'm particularly impressed by the ones at the inestimable Collin vs. Blog and similarly insightful Digital Digs of Alex Reid) and thinking about how the examples there might work here as a visual representation of the recurring ideas that float through my own writing. If you already know how this works, skip on ahead; I'm going to attempt to explain this in my own words. Supposing that I understand it correctly, the ZoomCloud takes a feed (any feed--of a blog, a newspaper, anything on the web that produces a feed) and sorts it by tag, representing the largest number of tag occurrences with the largest-sized tag in the Cloud, then the next largest, etc. So, given that, how surprised am I that "reading" is the most mentioned tag from my blog feed? Wouldn't you think it would be something related to consumption, or better yet "dickhead?" Who knew that I still cared about reading? [Looking more carefully at Collin and Reid, you'll notice that the former uses the ZoomCloud, while the latter uses del.icio.us. If anyone cares to make an argument for why a particular architecture works better than another, bring it on.]

The purpose of this experiment, really, was to watch how this kind of technology works--what the effects are over time, and what it can tell me about this blog. I know that a number of people use blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, etc. in their courses. In conjunction with those, the ZC seems to be a particularly useful tool in terms of how it might monitor and represent ideas within a community. If one were to have a group blog for a class, in which everyone were posting on, say, Derrida, then your ZC would be able to track--and publicly represent--the tags that students were using to write their way into understanding an essay. What would it mean if particular tags were to occur significantly more than others? What can this kind of representation tell us about shared vocabularies, ideas, ways of reading?

In this article in Wired (which, by the way, I located using Reid's del.icio.us tag for "folksonomy"), author Bruce Sterling gives a useful treatise on these kinds of technologies and the ways that they represent information as it is organized not by specialists, but by interested web surfers: "A folksonomy, on the other hand, arises spontaneously as Net users encounter information, think about what it means, and tag it with descriptive words. Then software makes the information accessible via a simple keyword search. The results aren't definitive or scientific, but they can be very useful." It may be because I work in Humanities, but I'm less interested in so-called "definitive or scientific" uses of information. I'm WAY interested in how this can be useful. For an individual, I imagine that it can be useful in exhibiting the tags that you occupy you the most. Over time, what are our enduring obsessions? Are they what we think they are? For a group, particularly a LARGE group like those that Sterling reflects on, they might give us a better sense of a zeitgeist, or what Raymond Williams called a "structure of feeling." I'm officially going to butcher this definition, but for Williams, a SoF was a way of describing largely unconscious beliefs or desires among people within a culture, which was often at odds with those produced and maintained by institutions. [I can't believe this isn't on Wikipedia. Someone with a better background in Marxism than me--get over there!!] All of this to say; if you're using some kind of folksonomy system to track the occurrence of tags within a large group, you may discover important shared values and beliefs that aren't necessarily being attended to by governments, traditional media, etc.

Whew. I'm playing beat the clock with my laptop battery, so I'll sign off here. There's more to be said and read about the use of new digital media in pedagogy--I'm just breaking the ice for myself.

Just look at the cloud. Pretty.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Getting Real

Okay, y'all remember the great laptop case hunt of '06? The one that took place a mere two weeks ago? What, these things don't take precedence in your life the way that they do in mine?!?

All right, just in case you weren't waiting with baited breath to find out what I chose...here's the deal. As beautiful as those AcmeMade cases are, I just can't do it. I wanted to, I valiantly tried to, I put them in the virtual shopping cart many times, but I just can't pay as much for a computer case as I would for a computer program. It's not like its some kind of Marc Jacobs bag, for the love of God! Call me crazy. Or frugal. Yes! Call me frugal--no one ever calls me that.

But here's the problem: the vast majority of cases are just ugly. I'm not down with the idea of sheathing the sleek titanium beauty of my computer in the fashion equivalent of khaki pants.
With pleats.
I can't do it--It's just aesthetically wrong. But if all of the cases either require a Stacy-and-Clinton-intervention or are outrageously-priced, what's a girl to do?

Well, she could go to the local discount store and imagine that this will do...
(For the record, the one that I looked at was less contrasty. It was sort of a grey crocodile printed leather, all over.) Sure, she could delude herself into thinking it would work--until she got home and put the computer in the bag and realized that All Leather=Heavy As A Sack Of Rocks. Much was the weeping and wailing. In the end, however, discovering her tragic error was good, because then she doesn't keep the bag that fails to make her heart sing.

After a long day of crap work in my office (the effects of which should be obvious here: I'm changing from first to third person like there's no tomorrow; either grading makes me schizoid, or it reduces my grammar skillz), I went to return said bag, and then stopped in at, you guessed it, Target, for a tube of mascara and batteries. [Target should start paying me for the press that I give them on this blog. Are you out there, Minnesotan gods of commerce? Holla!] I couldn't help but browse the computer aisle. There, my friends, was the solution I'd been looking for:
Isn't it sleek and utilitarian? Doesn't it just look smart without trying too hard? Aren't I projecting my desires for myself onto this particular bag? Did I mention that it can be procured for a mere $30? I think I'm in love...

Well, this particular search is over for the time being. I hope that this bag and I will live a long and happy life together, traveling over hill and dale, from conference to coffee shop. I suppose it should watch its back, however. As Lee points out in her comment, I'm pretty much always ready to Pimp My Laptop Case. Bag, consider yourself warned.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I've Been Slimed

Friday, wonderful Friday. One of the benefits of working in academe, I think, is the possibility of a workless Friday. This is often offset by the necessity of working Saturday afternoon and Sunday, but when a Friday dawns bright and cold, and you don't have to get all gussied up to go and teach a class, academic life is good.

So what does an enterprising untenured faculty member do on a Friday morning? Well, go to Target, of course! There were lots of things we needed here at Chez Fluff--hand soap, laundry detergent, contact lens solution, light bulbs. [The beauty, and also the dirty secret of Target I will reveal here: go in for hand soap, stay for the new fashion collections. The new Behnaz Sarafpour collection is up now at your local store. Run, don't walk. The stuff is all teeny-tiny, but if that's who you are, go get some love.]

So there I am, holding my basket and looking at this lovely jacket, trying to decide if I can actually rock it in class (jury's still out, feel free to weigh in...).
Minding my own business, reveling in the delicious freedom of a Friday morning. And then I see them. You may remember back in August when I wrote about my colleague, christened "the dickhead." I'm busy feeling up the fake Persian lamb sleeve of the above jacket, and D and his--girlfriend? are we calling her his girlfriend?--are there, doing the same thing. I was almost literally struck dumb: gee, how are you two doing? D, where's your WIFE?!! As I was temporarily turned into a pillar of salt, D and girlfriend regaled me with the great progress she'd been able to make at her new business, the events she still had in the works. Then, of course, came the hints about the ways that I could still help her in the way that D. had originally suggested (and that I'd actually explored with another colleague, before I found out what the relationship between these two really was.)

Oy. I made it very clear that I had explored the possibility but just wouldn't be able to do it. Which you'd think would send a clear message, right? Something along the lines of "I'm being as civil as I can, but it's utterly inappropriate for me to professionally support this enterprise." That's the vibe I was trying to send. But then the two of them went on to invite me to an ongoing series of events that her business puts on. ARGH!! Where are my cajones when I need them?!! How about something like: "Gee, I'd like to come, but I'll be too busy tending to women who feel like crap when they find out that their husbands are slimy lying dickheads." Unfortunately, all I could muster were mumblings: I wouldn't be able to attend, as I had planned to spend time with Senor Fluff: "It's as if I never get to see my husband anymore." At the time, this felt like the lamest of all possible excuses (despite the fact that it was true). Now, of course, I'm secretly hoping that it serves to chastise D. That would make me feel a bit better.

As I drove home (no jacket, just the necessities), I couldn't help wondering if I'm secretly a social conservative. Who cares what these two do? And why was I so offended that I'd seen them domestically browsing the aisles at Target? But the longer I mull, the less concerned about my reaction I get. I think it's not so much that I judge people for having affairs. Or perhaps I do. If he wants to be with this young woman, and she clearly wants to be with him, then fine--even if she was his former student, STILL fine. [Well, and to be truthful, not so fine. We've got to be beyond the age when professors are still wooing their students. Don't we know enough about the lure and responsibility of power to avoid this cliche?) But please, break it off with your wife, for crying out loud. Have the faith of your convictions, if nothing else. And don't implicate your poor defenseless colleagues on their day off.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Armageddon, with Extra Snark

We've all known that it's been on it's way for some time. NBC cancelling scripted television shows during prime time; Whitney divorcing Bobby; Paris Hilton's fragrance, Heiress, for crying out loud. (What exactly do you think that thing smells like? My guess is not "money.")
That's three modern horsemen of the apocalypse right there. But the final nail in the coffin, to mix my metaphors, has to be this:
It's 10 a.m., and I just got back from the gym.

For those of you who don't know me well enough to know why this might be considered the equivalent of the moon turning blood-red, I'll attempt to explain. I am not a morning person. I am SO not a morning person. In fact, if I could manage to ignore any kind of bodily demands such as hunger, elimination, or bedsores, I could spend a good deal of my life in bed--and this is particularly true in the morning.

Add to this that it often takes Senor Fluff an alchemically-perfect amalgamation of whining, threatening, and positive reinforcement to get me to the gym, and you've essentially got the perfect storm; the chances of me dragging my dead ass out of bed and to the gym are statistically about the same as the aforementioned Paris getting re-virginized and becoming a Mormon.

And yet, there I was, hooked up to my iPod, pumping away at the elliptical. Being forced to watch the Today Show, on which was featured yet another jackass story about the ways in which men and women are just biologically different, and how this all boils down to the way that men want to have sex every minute of every day, and how women only have sex to "connect" with their men. I dare you, Al Roker, to say that to Susie Bright! I double-dog dare you!!

So, just when you thought the end-times were upon us (and we're all looking like Kirk Cameron in the Left Behind series), the specter of biological essentialism rears its ugly head. I'd say we're all safe for another year or so.