Friday, October 31, 2008

Nuggets of Student Wisdom

Oh, this is a list that can go on forever, since I'm reading draft after draft after draft of papers. However, I'll just share two that came up in class this past week:

1) Kfluff: "So what do you make of this description of character? What would it mean to be a 'B+ student of life'? What do you associate with B+'s?"
Student: "Average. A B+ is average."
[sound of jaw hitting floor as many students nod in agreement.]

2) Kfluff: "So what are you finding in the questionnaires you've distributed about that book?"
Student: "Well, everyone loves it. Lots of middle-school girls love it, but I also found a blog by a woman who loves it. And she's a 31 year old middle-aged woman."
[sound of now-bruised jaw hitting floor.]

In other news, however, two of my seminar students did a dramatic reading of the climactic scene from a novel we read for class. The dirty novel. The one I was totally worried about teaching, that three of them are now writing their research papers on. I'm so delighted and charmed by the idea that they're so engaged by the book that they're still thinking about it, and wanting to transmit it to others. And I imagine that it's the first departmental event at which the world "dildo" was used multiple times. Go me.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bullets of October Crankiness

  • In trying out a new teaching schedule this semester, I have chosen one that is, apparently, not conducive to consistent blogging. Obviously. Derrrr.
  • This is compounded by the fact that I have assigned too much work in my classes. I have never been in this kind of grading trench before, and I may never get out.
  • Snow before Halloween? Seriously?!
  • Every year, we hire new faculty members in my department. Every year, they inevitably (and probably wisely) take the stance of neutrality, in which they refuse to hear anything bad about the granny mafia. There's often an air here of "I'm Switzerland. And you should know better than to try to drag me into your petty squabbles. I will stand above the fray." They sometimes sit complacently by in meeting after meeting and watch while other members of the department are condescended to, discounted, or attacked. And yet, sooner or later, that same attention is turned toward them, and then they decide that they want support from the people who they were quick to judge earlier. On my better days, it makes perfect sense to me, and I'm glad that they see the ways that some issues are structural, not personal. On my worse days, I want to tell them to fuck right off.
  • I have a couple of projects that are on that I'm really excited to work on. That's just not going to happen anytime soon.
  • I desperately wish that I could figure out how to have an intellectual argument with someone in such a way that I didn't take it personally. I know that people can do this; I just can't get the knack.
  • I'm just getting over whatever horrible plague that's ripping through the Northeast. That sucker is a doozy. I've seldom been so consciously grateful for my own wellness.
  • I have to go to the big ol' conference in December to interview for a new faculty line. On the one hand---Yay! It's in my favorite of favoritest cities ever! On the other hand---Boo! This is totally going to screw up any and all holiday plans. On the other hand---yay! the school is going to pay for me to get withing spitting distance of my family! On the other hand---boo! It's the big ol' conference. I have four hands and a wishy-washy demeanor.
  • The amount of time I'm now spending reading political coverage on multiple websites and television shows a couple times a day in a desperate attempt to get more information about what's going to happen in this election is a real time suck, and only serves to increase my worries about it. November 4 cannot come fast enough.
I don't know if it's the October blahs or the election season or if this is the inevitable anti-climax of turning in the binder from hell. I'm tired and burned out and find myself with very little to look forward to right now. Deep ennui. Mariana trench--deep.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Apparently this is the blog meme of the day---as seen at Dr. Crazy's and New Kid's and Maggie May's.

I have to admit, given the options, I just assumed that I'd be a Bette. You know, like the "buckle your seatbelts, we're in for a bumpy ride" kind of girl. But Marilyn?! How To Marry a Millionaire Marilyn? Happy Birthday Mr. President Marilyn? Who knew?Actually, for the record, the descriptions below aren't half bad---and lucky you! They come along with a care and feeding manual for moi!

With that in mind, I'm off to save a few wild mustangs before chasing some uppers with a couple slugs of vodka.

Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...

You Are a Marilyn!


You are a Marilyn -- "I am affectionate and skeptical."

Marilyns are responsible, trustworthy, and value loyalty to family, friends, groups, and causes. Their personalities range broadly from reserved and timid to outspoken and confrontative.

How to Get Along with Me

  • * Be direct and clear

  • * Listen to me carefully

  • * Don't judge me for my anxiety

  • * Work things through with me

  • * Reassure me that everything is OK between us

  • * Laugh and make jokes with me

  • * Gently push me toward new experiences

  • * Try not to overreact to my overreacting.

What I Like About Being a Marilyn

  • * being committed and faithful to family and friends

  • * being responsible and hardworking

  • * being compassionate toward others

  • * having intellect and wit

  • * being a nonconformist

  • * confronting danger bravely

  • * being direct and assertive

What's Hard About Being a Marilyn

  • * the constant push and pull involved in trying to make up my mind

  • * procrastinating because of fear of failure; having little confidence in myself

  • * fearing being abandoned or taken advantage of

  • * exhausting myself by worrying and scanning for danger

  • * wishing I had a rule book at work so I could do everything right

  • * being too critical of myself when I haven't lived up to my expectations

Marilyns as Children Often

  • * are friendly, likable, and dependable, and/or sarcastic, bossy, and stubborn

  • * are anxious and hypervigilant; anticipate danger

  • * form a team of "us against them" with a best friend or parent

  • * look to groups or authorities to protect them and/or question authority and rebel

  • * are neglected or abused, come from unpredictable or alcoholic families, and/or take on the fearfulness of an overly anxious parent

Marilyns as Parents

  • * are often loving, nurturing, and have a strong sense of duty

  • * are sometimes reluctant to give their children independence

  • * worry more than most that their children will get hurt

  • * sometimes have trouble saying no and setting boundaries

Take Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz at HelloQuizzy

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ever Have One of These?

I just finished up reading a novel with my seniors---one that they didn't particularly like. So I gave them my speech about it: "look, it's a novel about the elision of the desire and sexuality of young women. It's about how they get others' desires projected on to them, and how any number of people then benefit from those projections. In a moment at which we're fascinated and horrified by Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, I think this novel is telling us something important about how and why those young women behave the way that they do, and why we care so much about them." At which point, one of the two young men in my class responded: "but it just doesn't have anything important to say."


I'm reluctant to make my students into archetypes, because I really run the risk of erasing their personalities (see above critique of novel). And yet, it occurs to me that this young man fits neatly into a category that I've encountered a number of times at Askesis. I'd say that the defining features are as follows:
  • significant interest in high culture male authors (Joyce, Pound, etc.)
  • significant interest and desire to imitate 60's era male authors (Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, etc.)
  • inflated sense of self and abilities
  • deeply convinced that his own writing---both creative and analytic---is excellent
  • rejects criticism and suggestions for revision
  • disdain for/ignores female classmates
  • girl/boyfriendless
Do you all get this type? In addition to the specific student quoted above, I've had at least 4-5 of these in the last few years (admittedly, many of them were grouped together in a 2-3 year span). Is this just a new phenomenon, or have I not been paying attention?

I'm tempted to link the maintenance of these boys' positions to the rarefied atmosphere that they inhabit at Askesis. Because the population of the college is about 70% female, they find themselves in a strange position. On the one hand, they're vastly outnumbered, particularly in literature classes. It's not unusual at all for them to be the only male in a classroom of females. (Even in my course this semester, the dude is one of two, and the other male student is out. Really out. "Explained the mechanics of anal sex to the class" out.) And the young women have little to no compunction about discussing their own oppression vis-a-vis the media, or the ways that "guys are," etc. I assume that that holds true across courses as well, since we have a surfeit of female professors in my department, and in others throughout the college.

At the same time, the young women tell me that these young men also occupy a particularly privileged place in the romantic economy. They are vastly outnumbered, true, but that sets them up to be fought over by the young women. According to my graduated girl-moles, guys who would be mediocre in a different pond end up being pretty big fish at Askesis.

So is it this odd power dynamic inspired by their minority position that creates so many of these vexed young men? I'm often struck by the consistency of their literary tastes as well. Is there a handbook somewhere that they're all getting on the sly--the "How To Be an Ass and Alienate Women" Anthology (coming from Bedford in 2009!)?

And last but not least---why do they keep ending up in my courses?!! It's definitely the case that I teach the new stuff, but there are an up-and-coming bunch of young manly men profs in my department. Are they going to them? And do they treat them the same way? Because, ironically, this is what I get from the group. They're just on this side of sycophantic. Not in an obvious way (I don't think), but they like to sit near me in class (which allows them to participate by ignoring the other people in the room); come to my office hours; mention books in class that no one else has read. In general, I think there's a whole predictable bag of tricks that have the desired effect of publicly intimating/performing a camaraderie with me that doesn't exist, but that the other students clearly notice. The irony, of course, is not lost on me: the very girls that they're ignoring and looking down on are the ones that I was, 15 years ago. I'm fascinated by their ability to ignore that connection.

Over time, I've found that my most effective strategy is to ignore them; to constantly attach their ideas and comments to those of the young women in the class; to gently poke fun at their ridiculous comments (see above). I imagine that it's better to refuse to take them seriously than it is to entertain their positions like they're valid.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Redemption via Facebook

Yes, yes, I've got a whole post about the wrap-up and triumphant turning-in of the tenure package, which I know you've all been waiting to read, on pins and needles, but it's going to have to wait, as I'm dying to talk about the mindfuck that is Facebook.

For the record, I only got on that damn thing because a colleague made me realize how useful it is finding out where alums have gone---not in a "creepy, I'm looking at your binge drinking pics" way, but in a "hey, didn't G. go off to some snazzy grad school, and wouldn't his input be useful for our current students?" way. And so with great caution, I waded into the (cess)pool. And thus the mortification began.

It's been discussed virtually (hah! "virtually." Get it?) everywhere that the social interactions on Facebook are tricky. Who's your friend? How do you treat your students? How do you maintain a professional face? Blah blah. Complicated, no doubt. [Basically, I try to stay out of people's faces, unless I know them pretty well, or they approach me first. I'm an advocate of Facebook passivity.]

So there I am making careful choices about who to friend and why, what kinds of applications to add [What philosopher am I? Check. What sexual position am I? Not so much.], and then they blow the doors off Facebook. There was once a time when it was a pool limited to institutions and businesses. I felt okay with that. Now it's a giant swirling cataract of everyone with computer access. Thanks for upping the ante, Facebook. There's nothing I'd like better than for my students to see what my high school boyfriend wants to say to me after 15 years.

Aside from the complications raised by self-presentation, however, there was also the question about social networks and friends of friends. Because Facebook is the Amazon of social interaction: "other people who like Jack also like Jill! Do you like Jill?" And if you and Jill share 20-25 friends, you see her damn face every time you go to the site. don't you think if I liked Jill I would have friended her by now?!!

And here lieth my 3 month seething social dilemma, and its surprising culmination, pace blog post title. It goes something like this: my hippie college has a thriving Facebook community. Like, there are more members for the teeny tiny program than there are for the entire college of which it is a part. So there's a whole lot of friending, wall-writing, good karma sending, picture posting, etc. The problem is this: once upon a time, I had an ugly, ugly run-in with a friend (Nutsy) and her ex-boyfriend (Werther). You know the kind. Like the two of them break up, he and I hook up, and then she threatens to kill me? In great detail? Like she's written up a flow chart to make sure she recalls what comes after the dismemberment step? Meanwhile, he's suddenly decided that I've betrayed him, and then the two of them get back together? [Lauren Conrad's SO got nothing on me.]

That was pretty much the last I saw of either of them, for a decade. A decade in which I periodically beat myself up for being such a horrible person, a bad feminist, a wronged woman, etc., etc. ( You know, writing it out like this makes it seem like so much less of a big deal. But it was! I was the worst person in the world!!)

So it was particularly horrifying to see Werther pop up on Facebook, daily, as friends of friends. For months. And I just kept thinking: cripes, he must be seeing me all the time too. How uncomfortable. Obviously, he's barely containing his hatred of me---however does he stand it?

You see where this is going, right?

Long story short: last night, for god only knows what reason, he friends me, and we've been having a delightful little interaction ever since. WTF, I say unto you, dear reader. WTF?!! Option A: he's decided to let bygones be bygones. Option B: he was perhaps also embarrassed about his behavior? Whatever the reasoning, the bottom line is this: I've been flagellating myself over this for the past 10 years, and now suddenly, it's no big deal. Think of the time and energy I could have saved myself. Dammit!!

New resolution: get some perspective about your behavior.
Try not think that your at the center of the universe.

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