Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Saturday, December 31, 2005


Some of you have a while left until New Year's Day and some of you have already greeted it: here on Old Home Sod, there are only another 16 minutes of 2005 left.

I'm hoping my 2006 will include more ups and fewer downs than 2005 did. I'm also hoping that it will be a kinder year for the world: one in which there's less tragedy and more peace. Here's to hoping.

And wherever you are, may 2006 be a good year for you, too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Shopper's Remorse

I didn't get nearly as much done today as I should've, work-wise. But I did spend a good bit of time out shopping with Mom and Grandma, which meant I got lots of good Family Time in. So I'm working on not feeling guilty about it.

Feeling guilty about having things bought for me is, however, even more difficult to avoid. I'm so pleased by and grateful for the wonderful things I've gotten while I've been on Old Home Sod, but my pride and my sense of fairness (I'm never sure which, if either, has the upper hand) have me wishing like hell that I made a living wage. Again. After all, I'm past the three-decade milestone and I'm a healthy person with a good mind: I feel as though ought to be supporting myself much better than I am.

It's hard to agonize over every purchase; it can also be hard to have other people foot the bill because they know you're poor. And it's hard to work like hell and still not be able to afford a lifestyle that makes most of your out-of-grad-school acquaintances, friends, and family either pity you or shake their heads in wonder.

There are reasons why I've never done the things a woman is supposed to do in order to "hook" a wealthy man, which is, after all, the most traditionally honored way of making a living as a Person with Ovaries. The primary reason is that I want to support myself; I want to be an equal partner in any enterprise that would so thoroughly affect my life and my sense of self. (A secondary reason is the sheer aggravation and ickiness of it all: for this gal to be skinny and conventional-acting enough to attract most wealthy men would be a full-time job, not to mention one I'd deeply loathe. I hated working at McDonald's, but at least the grease smell washed off after four or five showers. Playing by The Rules would leave an ethical stink that'd never wash off.) In fact, I once stopped dating a well-to-do man largely because he wouldn't stop buying me expensive gifts and meals I couldn't reciprocate from very early on in the relationship. It just felt too creepy and embarrassing.

There are also reasons why I didn't go into the law or become an accountant or do any of the other things at which I'd be perfectly competent and which would provide me with a good living. One of them is that I don't want to spend my life doing things I can't care about passionately and thoroughly. (That's not to say that one can't care passionately and thoroughly about the law or accountancy; it is to say that I don't think I can.) One of them is that I honestly feel that the way I can best serve the world is to do the work I am best suited for. And I think I'm doing it.

But it hurts to feel so much shame over not being able to pull my own weight financially; to feel like a parasite even though I'm doing what I am in large part because it's how I think I can best serve society. And sometimes, I'm not sure my belief that I'm doing the right thing outweighs that sense of shame.

A couple of years after I started grad school, the money I'd saved from three years of full-time work started running out. Thanks to bad (or, rather, a complete lack of) financial advice from the university, I also wasn't able to take out adequate student loans to cover my own expenses, so my credit card debt was escalating dangerously. I didn't mention any of this directly to my parents, but they must have figured out that I was in bad shape, and they sent me a check.

I cried for hours after I opened the envelope. I wept with humiliation because I couldn't afford not to accept the money and because I knew I wouldn't be able to repay it. And it just felt so wrong to keep taking money from people who had already supported me for years and had certainly earned the right to all of their own paychecks. But I still needed it. So I deposited the check.

I still feel bad when other people pay my tab. I've learned to reconcile myself with it a bit more than when I got that first check from home. But if I leave academia, I'm pretty certain it will be because I just can't stand not being able to pay my own way anymore.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Students who rock and other delights

I finally finished all the grading yesterday. Hallelujah!

And though I do get bent out of shape by the type of student Zelda's aptly termed "ugly undergradlings," it has to be said that there are always at least a few truly marvelous students in the bunch.

Like the one whose term paper was so beautifully written that it literally brought tears of joy to my eyes and whose exam essay not only made a clear, cogent, well-supported argument, but actually used that argument to take exception with the wording of the essay prompt. Or the one who wrote an excellent critique of a lecture she'd disagreed with.

Honestly, I'm rarely prouder of students than when they make a compelling case for disagreeing with us.

Kindly Prof has said more kindly things to me, as have a few students. My favorite compliment, though, was from a woman who earned a "C" and admitted that she was disappointed, but said she had liked the class anyway and hoped she might have me as her T.A. again. Which just goes to show that some undergraduates are remarkably wonderful and mature human beings.

I've been at my brother 's and sister-in-law's place and have mostly been grading, sleeping, reading, watching TV, eating, drinking whiskey, and hanging out with Niece Cat and Nephew Cat. We went out for Irish pub food tonight, and I seemed, oddly enough, to confuse the hell out of the waitress by asking for some hot, black tea. I guess that, even in an Irish pub in winter, the South is still all about the iced tea. But she figured it out in the end, and all was well.

It's lovely, but weird, being on Old Home Sod. The houses are so big. And there are, like, trees and stuff everywhere.

Tomorrow, we're off to the family manse first thing in the a.m., and I need to do at least a little prospectus reading on the way. Since we're taking both cats with us and expect them not to enjoy the journey all that much, that could be an interesting experience . . . .

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Onion report: Activist Judge Cancels Christmas

I had been suffering under the misapprehension that The Onion was a little off its game these days. Then I read this. I stand corrected.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stupidities: A Whinge.

WARNING: This post is one long, pathetic whine about how dumb my life seems to be right now and how deeply representative yesterday was of that stupidity. You may feel very free to skip it, and I'm sorry I haven't figured out how to create links that would put the majority of this entry "below the fold" so those not interested in the quotidian idiocies of my life could avoid even having to look at it.

Yesterday was a very, very stupid day.

It was also a bad day. But it was bad primarily because it was so stupid.

Mouse and I had our first vet's visit together because he'd torn a claw last weekend. I'd chosen a vet recommended to me by Foster Mom--one who frequently works with rescue organizations--which was located, I thought, not very far from me. I turned out to be wrong about that, so the taxi ride over cost $23. And Mouse was whining pitifully the whole time; I think he was afraid I'd abandon him like his first owners did. It made me feel like a monster.

The vet's visit itself wasn't bad. Mouse was beautifully behaved, and everybody fell in love with him. We even got to see a woman who knew Mouse from his days with Foster Mom, and she was happy to see him. I was deeply disconcerted by the vet's speaking in rapid-fire baby talk the entire time, which included calling me "Mommy" repeatedly and referring to Mouse's "poopies" more than once. But she was very good with Mouse, which is what counts.

Mouse is generally in good shape, but apparently has some serious dental problems, including a bad case of gingivitis and some past mouth trauma which has already caused him to lose one incisor. He has several loose teeth, a few of which will probably have to be extracted at some expense to Yours Truly. I am less disturbed by the expense than I am that I hadn't noticed these problems, but I think Mouse's injury must have happened back in his days on the streets, and it doesn't seem to keep him from eating enough to be overweight, so I guess I'll forgive myself and buy some meat-flavored toothpaste.

This is where the real stupidities begin. Vet's visit over, I called for a taxi to get us home. They said it'd be no more than 15 minutes. I waited for an hour. Stupidity #2. When I called to check in, they said it'd be no more than 10 more minutes. I waited 15 more minutes. Stupidity #3. The vet finally took pity on me and got me a ride home with one of her technicians, who was leaving for the day.

Said technician was very sweet to give me a ride home, but made the unfortunate decision to play loud gangsta rap all the way there. Normally, I don't mind a little loud gangsta rap, but Mouse was already traumatized by the street noise (which I'm guessing doesn't bring back the best of memories for him) and was having none of it. Stupidity #4.

We finally got home rather late into the afternoon, and I still had a huge pile of papers to get to the office, theoretically by close of business. But I also had a traumatized Mouse who needed to be convinced that (1) he was, indeed home again and that (2) I really wasn't going to abandon him. So I was there for about an hour before I could leave.

After waiting for an age at the bus stop, I finally got onto a bus, which took another eon or two to reach campus because of some gigantic pile-up on a nearby highway. Stupidity #5. By the time I got to campus, it was so late that all I could really do was pick up a late exam from the office and send an email to the few students whose papers I had managed to finish on the way. I also did a few other, minor tasks and decided I might as well head back home.

On the way there, I realized I really ought to go see whether a nearby Discount Chain Store had some inexpensive luggage, since much of my other cheap luggage is falling apart and I'm heading to the Old Home Sod on Monday. I did so. I also found a few sweaters, which is good, because I needed a few. But I managed to lose my glasses (again) in the dressing room. Stupidity #6.

Once I realized what I'd done, I immediately went back to find them. They weren't there. The people at the dressing room hadn't seen them. Nobody had turned them in. Reluctant to leave without my glasses when I not only still have papers to comment on, but also have a fresh batch of exams to grade, I searched the Discount Chain Store (which was an absolute, disastrous mess) for two hours. No dice. I became so distraught that even the employees of Discount Chain Store, who normally maintain a carefully cultivated mask of indifference in order to protect themselves from the insanity that regularly happens there, started to feel bad for me.

In fact, I sat down in a pile of mismatched shoes where I thought I'd be least likely to get noticed and cried like a baby. Stupidity #7. I hate crying in public. In fact, I hate crying in front of anybody at all. I prefer to crawl off on my own like a wounded critter and hide until I can trust myself again. But it was all just a little too symbolic for me: my life feels mostly unmanageable most of the time, and I seem to keep working my ass off, only to always be behind schedule and dealing with new problems that crop up because I'm over-stressed and absent-minded.

Finally, I gave up out of sheer exhaustion. Then I waited on the street for the bus for 45 minutes in the freezing cold. Stupidity #8. When an SUV full of clubbing assholes pulled over just especially to offer me a particularly unflattering dose of street harassment (Stupidity #9), I couldn't even muster up the righteous indignation to say anything back to them, so I just stared into the distance until they finally got tired of insulting me and laughing about it. The bus finally came.

I had to make a transfer and wait for another 30 minutes for that bus. Stupidity #10. In order to deal with the cold, I had to layer one of the sweaters I'd bought on top of the one I was already wearing, thereby insuring a super-fabulous Crazy Lady aesthetic. Stupidity #11.

I finally got home, returning to a kitchen strewn with dishes, a disheveled bedroom, a disastrous living room, dumped my crap on the couch to add insult to injury, ranted at poor Boy Roomie for a while about the injustice of the world, and managed to leave my leftovers out on the counter in the process, thus ruining what was supposed to be dinner for the next two days. Stupidity #12. Which makes for a nice, even set of a dozen stupidities.

Today, just before discovering the festering leftovers on the counter, I woke up to a phone call from Stan, which was painful and weird.

I want to do absolutely nothing but hide under the bed with Mouse for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, that's not really an option.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Overheard in the grad lounge

Yesterday. Three voices, singing:

"Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true,
You're a pal and a confidante.
And if you threw a party,
Invited everyone you knew,
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say
Thank you for being a friend."

This is how we know it's the end of the quarter and we're all punch-drunk from grading.

T-shirt available here.

Teaching Carnival IV

. . . is up over at New Kid's place. I'm lucky enough to have three entries in it, but you should probably ignore them in favor of the tons of other insightful, helpful posts on all sorts of teaching topics from loads of blogging worthies: I'll be reading (and maybe even responding) for days.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

WTF? (In an almost literal sense)

Uh, why is it that my students, many of whom seem to think they're sexually au courant, believe that Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis are in the missionary position when she straddles him in an attempt to seduce him?

Do they not read those copies of Position of the Day I see them buying at Urban Outfitters?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A vignette

Scene: The end of this afternoon's final exam review session.

Student: Did you meet this morning to write the exam?
Me: Well, we started collaborating on it, anyway. It's not finished yet.
Student: (smiling slyly) So, what was that like?
Me: We went into this dark, back room and smoked a lot of cigars and played poker. And we threw back our heads and cackled evilly. And oh, the power! The power coursing through our veins! It was sweet, I tell you! SWEET!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thank you! Now, let me send you presents, dammit!

Thanks, everybody, for the good thoughts and the lit candles mentioned in the comments to my last post. I appreciate them all, and it all helps.

After one particularly grumpy student got even more belligerent with me earlier today via email, it also helped to read Go Fug Yourself. And it helped to grade (albeit at a pace that would prompt a snail to sneer) in elizabeg's company earlier, too. And it helped to make holiday cards on Saturday.

Most of all, I think it will help to have this term behind me.

Now, many of you have not only helped with kind comments, but also with course reading suggestions. But I have seen no emails giving me addresses to which I may send a little material evidence of my gratitude. TGB has pointed out the possibility that I may be a serial killer in search of addresses from new victims. I submit that: (a) even if I were a serial killer, I am much too worn out and overworked to indulge in such labor-intensive hobbies right now; (b) since my vehicle is non-operational, it would be extremely difficult for me to stalk anybody who didn't happen to live along a Big City bus route; and (c) those who wish to retain their locational anonymity may feel free to offer me a work address, a third party's address, a post office box address, or what have you.

C'mon, y'all! I like to give people stuff. It cheers me up. Besides, I already bought some things to send you. So if you made a reading suggestion, please feel free to send me an address to which I can post it. The email address is

Friday, December 09, 2005

Twenty assorted items, some of which help to explain why this blog kinda sucks right now

The World of Wiseass is topsy-turvy these days. I'm worn out and emotionally rollercoastered, and there's just a whole lot going on that I really don't even know how to write about or process or deal with. Some of that stuff appears below. Other things also appear below. None of this is in any particular order. Which is fitting, since my brain, my apartment, and my life aren't, either.

1. Wonder Woman's tumor is, after all, malignant.
2. The uncle who went into hospice care has passed away. I wasn't especially close to him, but I'd have liked to be there to say goodbye or at least attend the funeral, anyway. It gets harder every year to be so far from home.
3. Geek Boy and I are no longer a couple.
4. Left to my own devices, I will sleep for 14 hours at a stretch, every day--and still feel exhausted when I wake up.
5. I am still not done with the Bibliography That Will Not Die.
6. Kindly Prof is being very kindly and has complimented me profusely on my teaching, but is also getting just the teeniest possible bit impatient with me. Which is nothing to how I already feel about me, but is somehow managing to magnify my own impatience and self-loathing about a thousand-fold.
7. Several of my students are taking their inevitable end-of-the-quarter angst out on me. This is also inevitable, I suppose, but I'm so worn out I can hardly muster enough righteous indignation to call them on it.
8. I just finished teaching the last class of the term, but still have well over 75% of the grading for the course left to do during the next two weeks.
9. Weirdness is still afoot in the wacky world of student government.
10. I am back to losing things again. (I almost typed "I am losing my shit again," then realized that implied something rather different than I meant, then realized that maybe was actually more "what I meant" than what I'd thought I meant, and decided to include it in self-indulgent, self-referential parentheses instead. Ha.) For example, I lost--and then found again, thank Heaven--my planner, which also included my phone/address book and my passport.
11. There are now more than 100 unanswered emails in my inbox.
12. I talked to Stan for the first time in more than six months about some practical arrangements last weekend, and he wants to talk again tomorrow morning. I can't decide whether I actually want to hear anything he has to say or am just allowing him to say it because it might make him feel better or because it makes me the Bigger Person or something. And I am not sure I give enough of a damn to try to figure it out.
13. I scared the bejeezus out of an unsuspecting undergrad who asked for advice on graduate school yesterday. I worked hard to be both honest and encouraging. But he still looked pretty dazed by the end of the conversation and said, "Uh, I think I'm a lot less prepared to apply than I thought I was."
14. The holiday cards I ordered many moons ago never arrived, so I'm giving up on them and making handmade stuff from construction paper and whatnot with TGB tomorrow afternoon. I probably will only be able to make about 20 of these before I fall asleep on the couch, so please forgive me if you'd normally expect a greeting from me this time of year, but don't get one. I promise I still love you.
15. I feel as though walking to the bus stop, transferring from one bus line to the other, and then walking home may require more physical exertion than I can handle.
16. I have made my bed exactly twice in three weeks.
17. My laundry pile is only about a foot shorter than I am.
18. Boy Roomie took me to a lovely Italian place I'd never been to last night, which was very nice of him.
19. I still don't know what I'm doing with the class I'm teaching next quarter, but many, many thanks to all of you who commented on the last post very much for your excellent suggestions. Presents all 'round! Please email me an address at so I can send you some material gratitude.
20. A lot of other stuff I am forgetting.

In sum, blogging is likely to be both infrequent and fuzzy-headed for a while. Please bear with me; I hope I'll be up to offering sharper, more pleasing wiseassery in the not-so-distant future.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Help me develop this course, and I'll send you a present!

My latest professional obsession-by-necessity is the syllabus for the composition/intro. to literature course I'm teaching next term because the library gig fell through and which I have to develop pronto since the book orders are due, like, yesterday already.

I'm planning to use folk tales (including fairy tales and myths) to introduce students to major genres and issues in literary studies. I taught a similar course before, but for reasons which include not only my own tendency toward ambitious projects and perfectionism, but also a sense of what did and didn't work last time, I'm ripping the old syllabus to shreds.

I'm having a hard time finding the types of material I want in order to adequately develop the scope and diversity of the class. For example, it's incredibly easy to find many lovely feminist revisions of fairy tales, but following that lead skews the class material in the direction of white women working in a single genre, and I want to avoid that.

If you suggest a text or film that I end up using in the course or if you offer me a good lead, I will happily send you a nice little prize of some sort. Given that I'm a grad student, it won't be very grand, but I have pretty decent gift-giving abilities, so I promise it'll be something appealing.

I'm especially interested in suggestions of movies (especially if you can point me in the direction of a good critical review or article on that film), short stories, shorter poetry, novellas, and shorter novels (max. 250 pages). And I'm hunting for a diversity of perspectives, ethnic, gendered, geographical, temporal, and otherwise.

In case it's helpful, stuff I'm strongly considering so far includes:
Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber"
Shakespeare, "Midsummer Night's Dream"
Jorge Luis Borges "The House of Asterion"
Nalo Hopkinson, "Greedy Choke Puppy" or "Tan-Tan and Dry Bone"
Sandra Cisneros, "Woman Hollering Creek"
A handful of traditional ballads
John Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
Marie de France, "Lanval" and/or "Bisclavret"
Anne Sexton, "Snow White"
Judith Wright, "The Beanstalk, Meditated Later"
C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Fran Ross, Oreo
Bernard Malamud, "The Magic Barrel"
Adrienne Rich, "The Knight"
Thomas Hardy, "Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?"
Paul Muldoon, "The Lass of Aughrim"
Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Wife's Story"
A.S. Byatt, "The Thing in the Woods"
Osamu Dazai, Blue Bamboo

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Notes from the Education of a Blue-Eyed Devil: A Post for Blog Against Racism Day

I went away to a Southern college in what would become the year of the L.A. Riots and got an education I wasn't expecting.

The African-American student caucus wanted a free-standing cultural center of its own, but the administration was more inclined to fund a multicultural center. Some of the more radical members of the caucus said that was a racist action. The president of the caucus, a small but formidable woman, began walking through the campus wielding a large cane, often followed at a short distance by a group of large, male athletes.

Several huge rallies on campus featured the same men wearing paramilitary uniforms and standing with their arms behind their backs in a readiness stance, sizing up the crowd as speakers took the podium.

An alternative campus paper run by another African-American student group ran articles that called for black women to "support their men" by returning to traditional values in this time of crisis. Sometimes, those articles were written by women. Other pieces proclaimed the truth of Elijah Muhammed's doctrine that white people were the demonic creation of an evil scientist, while yet others explained that black people could not be racist because only the oppressor could be racist in any effective way.

Meanwhile, campus conservative publications--which tended to attract a fair number of the folks who liked to hang Rebel flags out their dorm room windows until they were confiscated--started openly campaigning for the formation of a kind of "Caucasian Caucus" whose offices should be housed in the new center.

Things heated up in the pages of the more mainstream student paper, too. Conservative white students wrote op-ed pieces expressing dismay that the administration would even consider devoting "already scarce resources" to such a "luxury" as a multicultural center. Black students wrote in to protest courses including aspects of African-American literature, history, or culture being taught by non-black instructors, arguing that those people could never understand the culture and should not be allowed to teach it. Some of these students boycotted any class meetings in which an instructor who was not black presented such material.

I hadn't known I could simultaneously feel such deep shame because I looked like--and probably benefitted from the efforts of-- people who actively promoted social injustice and such profound distress because I disagreed so strongly with methods and ideologies employed by a group of black people seeking cultural redress. I don't think I'd encountered a political situation nearly that complicated before.

My first college roommate was a black woman. We had very little in common and had some difficulty living together: she wanted to party; I wanted to study. Both of us were too single-minded in our pursuits.

I was nonplussed when her friends called and left messages on our answering machine that closed with "Death to the white man. Peace out." But I got the shock of my life when I went home over the winter break and a beloved relative of mine--a gentle, kind woman--said she wasn't surprised that I wasn't getting along with my roommate, adding,"they're not very clean, are they?"

I had never seriously considered the possibility that a person I knew to be a decent, loving human being could say something that awful and mean it.

I hadn't known it was possible to be a good person and a racist at the same time.

Meanwhile, having been fascinated by Richard Wright's Black Boy and Native Son, Toni Morrison's Beloved, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Linda Brent's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Albert J. Raboteau's Slave Religion, Charles Joyner's Down by the Riverside, and recordings of Rev. C. L. Franklin's sermons, I started seriously considering a concentration in African-American literature.

By then, I'd also read Beowulf, Boccacio, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, and taken a Chaucer class, so I was starting to feel the pull of the medieval, too.

I decided to enroll in the only Af-Am literature course on campus--an upper-division class which combined advanced undergraduates and graduate students--in order to help me make a decision.

On the first day, our African-American professor gave an intimidating 20-minute speech, explaining that he expected his students to already understand the major movements of literary theory, to be able to tackle complicated postmodern texts, to have very little fun, and to write 25-page papers. Within the first 5 minutes, flocks of people began to leave. By the time the professor finished, only about 10 of us were left in the room.

"All right," he said. "Let's go around the room and do introductions. Tell me what your name is and whether you're a graduate or an undergraduate student."

We did as he asked, and once he'd isolated the three remaining undergraduates, he challenged each of us to explain why we thought we deserved to stay in the class.

The first student said she planned to be a writer and wanted to understand her literary heritage. The professor nodded in approval.

The second student said he'd thought it seemed like a "fun" upper-division course to fulfill a requirement. The professor nodded, slightly less approvingly.

I said that I planned to go to graduate school in literature and was seriously considering a concentration in African-American studies. He glared at me silently, then cleared his throat and said "Uh-huh. Right."

I was the only non-black, undergraduate student left in the classroom.

After that class meeting, I thought hard about whether I ought to stay enrolled. I didn't want to let this professor get away with his discrimination. I didn't want to be intimidated away. And I wanted to prove myself to him.

But I reasoned that I already had a difficult term ahead of me, that I couldn't afford the possible harm an irritated professor could do to my GPA if I wanted to go to grad school (I said I was too single-minded, didn't I?), and that it just wasn't worth it.

Later, I decided that I didn't need the grief of having to defend my choice of study to nearly everybody I encountered and that I might not make the best possible teacher in the field if students might be inclined to resent me, to shut me out, because of the color of my skin.

I have wished, every time I've thought about it since, that I hadn't dropped that class. And, though I do love medieval literature, I've often wished that I hadn't given up on Af-Am as a concentration.

After all, if I was trying to avoid being on the defensive about what I'd chosen to study and having to push through student resentment, the literature of the Middle Ages wasn't exactly the way to go.

I think I chose medievalism because of some of the same things that drew me to African-American studies: the pull of difference, of a complex, interesting culture that had deeply influenced my own, but which was still far outside my own range of experience. I never was particularly intrigued by the idea of studying something I thought I already knew relatively well: I wanted (and still want) to spend the rest of my life studying things that constantly surprise me, that push the boundaries of what I understand, that ask me to reconsider who I am, and that challenge me to look at the world from a shifting array of angles.

But when I look around me in medieval courses or at medieval conferences, I see little diversity, and it makes me uncomfortable. Though a few of my fellow trainee medievalists are from minority backgrounds, medievalism is still an overwhelmingly white field of study. I'm pretty sure I can't hope to see much more diversity among my colleagues during my career. And I'm not sure I can ever seriously hope to cultivate more than maybe one or two students of color as advisees, even if I do win the job lottery and get to stay in academia for the rest of my working life. And, yet, I truly believe that the field needs diversity; that it needs to be shaken out of a certain complacency.

And so I find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum from my professor-for-a-day: wishing I could help to diversify my discipline, and despairing of ever really having the chance.

I love and thrive on the cultural and temporal frisson that medieval literature offers me. And I don't, by any means, think I'm through being educated by and about race. But I do sometimes wish I'd been willing to embrace that challenge more thoroughly.


This post responds to Chris Clarke's post here, which rightly points out that "the responsibility for discussing racism has long been relegated to those people most directly affected by it. In other words, people who aren't white. Us white folks have the luxury of not thinking about racism on a daily basis. As a result, most of us don't. I think it would be helpful if we started to do our share of that particular chore."

I don't know how much this post will aid the conversation Chris wants us to have. I know I found it terribly difficult to write, that it forced me to reconsider some things I hadn't thought about for a long time, and that I'm looking forward to learning from other BAR posts and from comments other people make on mine.