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.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hey, Hey What Can I Do?

Today, at the dojang, the music was "Classic Rock" rather than "Easy Listening." This tended to provide fewer moments of surreality than last Monday as I transcribed copy about knife-fighting techniques and cleaned up after the weekend's sparring and testing. It did, however, provide several WTF moments, since Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots apparently now file under "Classic Rock." It also--thanks not only to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, but also the Doors and Led Zeppelin-- brought back a few too many high-school memories.*

As if I needed to feel any more decrepit . . . .

Anyway, Master Fuzzy Slippers** asked me how my training was going. I said it was okay, but that I was frustrated because I wasn't progressing quickly enough and had noticed on Thursday how weak my punches and kicks looked. And I added that I was thinking I ought to try doing some weight training.

He looked at me, quirked an eyebrow, and told me that I just needed to be patient and keep working on all the calisthenics we already do in class. He also reminded me that I had too little time as it was, that I wasn't really in this to be a professional athlete, and that being a perfectionist sometimes meant getting far too discouraged at not being able to do something as well as humanly possible and then giving up.

In case you hadn't noticed yet, Master Fuzzy Slippers is both smart and very perceptive.

So, here I am, back home following an afternoon of trying to corral a huge mess of student essays, prospectus drafts, handouts, forms, books, bills, emails, receipts, calendars, flyers, office supplies, and hardware into some semblance of order. I have succeeded, for the most part. I have even managed to send a few crucial and long-overdue emails, like the one to the person who's halfway through a dissertation that overlaps significantly with mine and the ones to advisorial types about how I'm going to need them to write me some letters of recommendation very soon. I also wrote up and emailed to myself the final paper assignment for my class.

However, I am postprandially gazing at a ginormous pile of ungraded essays and quizzes, realizing that I will probably be up for most of the night again. Although I seem to have come out of my Mariah Carey Moment on Sunday afternoon (when I actually made some real, measurable progress on the prospectus), I'm worrying that this may put me right back there again.

When I was trying to explain to Master Fuzzy Slippers why I thought I'd have more time to do additional training once I get through my prospectus defense, I realized that, in fact, I would not really have more time. So I said, "You know, I need to stop telling myself that I'm going to have more time at some point. It's never going to get any better." And he said, "No, it probably isn't."

So here is what I'm wondering: If it's not going to get better, but, in fact, will very likely get worse, how am I going to survive this career? For example, I may be teaching a very draining and labor-intensive course right now, but it's only one course, and I know I'll eventually be expected to teach three or four at a time. It seems unlikely that I'll be able to entirely jettison my tendency to take on more than I should and to do things more completely than necessary. And someday, I'd really like to have something more nearly approaching A Life, too.

It seems fairly obvious that I'm going about things in the wrong way if I keep having to stay up half the night, and I strongly suspect my perfectionism is a good part of the problem. I'll be darned if I can figure out how to work any harder or faster than I already am. And yet, I know I will have to, somehow.


* Why, yes, I did hang out with the potheads. Why do you ask?
** This is going to be his blog pseudonym because he keeps wearing the darn things and has therefore tempted me past the point of resistance. This blogular dubbing should, however, not be read either as snarky or as inspired by the sheer stupidity which would have to accompany my forgetting, EVER, that he is a singularly impressive and intimidating man.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Octavia Estelle Butler, 1947-2006

"Prodigy is, at its essence,
adaptability and persistent,
positive obsession. Without
persistence, what remains is an
enthusiasm of the moment. Without
adaptability, what remains may
be channeled into destructive
fanaticism. Without positive
obsession, there is nothing at all."

Octavia Butler died yesterday of head injuries she sustained in a fall outside her home. She was only 58, but in her short time, she changed the landscape of speculative fiction for the better, realizing its potential for exploring new realities in a way that honored diversity, depth, and complexity.

The verse I quoted above is one she created for her character Lauren Oya Olamina, the heroine of Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, my favorite of Butler's works. Like Olamina, Butler was a visionary, a leader, and a strong woman in body, mind, and heart.

Our world will be as much poorer for the loss of her active, "positive obsession" as it was made richer by it.

Bless her.

Photo credit: Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Mariah Carey moment

No, I have not shown up anywhere, much less on TRL, dressed in only a t-shirt and handing out Popsicles. Seriously, people: you should know better! I wouldn't be seen anywhere with Carson Daly, even at my worst.

Unfortunately for the purposes of this blog, I also have not started rambling incoherently on the Internet or had a feud with Eminem, both of which would probably provide some much-needed entertainment value.

However, I fear I am increasingly incoherent and shambolic since this past Wednesday, when varying types of caca hit the proverbial air-circulation device. For whatever reason, various portions of my cerebral-affective system went into a bizarre shutdown mode which the remaining portions of my frontal lobe have only been able to monitor in a kind of fascinated-yet-frustrated astonishiment.

My head gets fuzzier than it ought to, and no amount of caffeine- and protein-loading seems to help. I have self-diagnosed that nebulous state called "exhaustion" and am allowing myself to simply lie down and sleep whenever I start becoming even weirder than usual.

Unfortunately, because I'm no Mariah, really, I am unable to check myself into a posh hospital-and-rehab-center combo while putting my career/life on hold. I am reduced to sacking out on the still-broken couch with Mouse amid a periodically ebbing and flowing sea of clutter until I wake up to particularly vivid nightmares and try to go about my work again for a while.

I'm being astonishingly unproductive, but I'm hoping that my course of treatment will help me get through this little phase quickly so that I can get back to business. In the meantime, I apologize in advance to any of you--especially those who know me IRL and will probably have to witness more of my symptoms--in case I seem more than usually forgetful, strange, distracted, or discourteous.

And I absolutely, positively promise not to make a very bad movie about an aspiring academic who won't let naysayers, hardships, or stiletto heels stop her from chasing her dreams.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thoughts on dissertating

I'm in one of my not-sleeping periods and have been using it to virtually converse with a friend about the dissertation process and how one ought to tackle it. That, of course, is rather a joke, since I clearly have little idea what I'm doing and am just blundering around in the dark.

However, one of this squidgy little blog's purposes is to create a space in which grad students can talk to each other, in which prospective grad students can get a sense of what grad-student life is like, and in which people who've moved on to the pseudo-Elysian Fields of academic jobs can offer the rest of us their hard-won advice.

So, I will reproduce here part of what I've said to her, in the hopes that it will strike some chords (mellifluous or otherwise) in some of you and get a conversation going about this Glass Mountain some of us are trying to climb, while yet others of us are waving to that first group from bigger, badder Glass Mountains of their own.

"Many others have said what I'm about to say, but I can't repeat it to myself enough, so I'll say it again for both of us:

The dissertation doesn't have to be brilliant. It just has to be interestng, reasonably marketable, intellectually solid, and done. . . .

I am writing a dissertation that isn't what I really, truly want to work on. What I really want to work on is much wackier. But I have been singularly, astonishingly unsuccessful at getting anyone on the faculty to actually comment on the damn thing, even though it's unquestionably my best work. Because many of them think the subject and what I say about it are kinda icky. And I don't think I could form a diss committee willing to read it which would actually still be primarily medieval.

So, I have reconciled myself to writing a dissertation that will knock nobody's socks off, but which is on an interesting topic which makes people (medievalists and non-medievalists) prick up their ears and which will make good fodder for undergrad classes in the future. Furthermore, it's pushing me into new areas about which I know almost nothing and will necessitate my getting some sorely needed training, by hook or by crook. Which is a good thing.

I do not love this project. It does not compel me as much, perhaps, as a diss project should. But I think it's the one I can write in order to actually get a degree and maybe even get my ass a job.

I still intend to publish the other work somehow, somewhere, and I'm planning to work on that just as soon as I get through this last round of qualifiying exams. But it became clear to me that I could not write that dissertation here. It is, incidentally, also true that writing such a Super-Edgy dissertation might have limited my job prospects, but that was a secondary consideration."

What say ye, O Internets? Have I done rightly?

Honestly, it's too late for me to change course now, even if you think my reasoning is wonky. But, if you think I'm on the wrong track, you may still be able to step in and offer other grad students some sanity-saving advice.

Tip test

I took my tip test today: just a miniaturized version of what I will do for my actual belt test next month, but still stressful enough. My punches and kicks look weak, and I think I probably really ought to be lifting weights soon: I just have so little power. I also need to work on the finer points of my first half-form, which I keep trying to make look like ballet. But I passed.

As she put the tip mark on my belt at the end of class, my instructor said "Never forget where you started."

And I said, "Absolutely, ma'am."

Whereupon I promptly screwed up on the proper bowing protocol, which I thought was pretty neatly ironic.

Sigh. I am not at my best these days, at anything. I'm just too exhausted and demoralized.

So I'm going back to bed now, and I will wake up when I'm ready. Then I will do some work tonight and go back to bed again. And I'll start over tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dear Geoffrey?

Okay. This is funny:

1) John Gower: "Whatte a showe-offe. He kan be a drama queene in thre languages."

2) And, though it was cause enough for celebration when he got a blog, now Geoffrey Chaucer has an advice column!

Ancrene Unready

I promised Comp Class: Impossible that they would have a freshly graded set of papers tomorrow. I am not ready.
I teach Comp Class: Impossible tomorrow. I am not ready for that, either.
I have my first martial-arts test tomorrow. So not ready. And staying up most of the night to grade papers will probably not help me any.
I have a huge stack of weeks-overdue admin work to do for my student government post.
I have a prospectus to write and a doctoral exam to plan for.
I have a broken couch and a seriously messy apartment.
I have not really, substantially checked in with the folks on Old Home Sod in much too long and have entirely lost track of what's going on with Wonder Woman's chemo and surgery schedule.
I have three inboxes full of emails.
I have not eaten dinner.

I am a Very Bad Wiseass Indeed.

And what am I doing? Why, I'm here, practicing Internet-based denial and writing complainy posts with titles only a punch-drunk medievalist could love.

In my defense, however, this has been one hell of a day, and I may deserve a little denial :

Exhibit 1) I held student office hours in the morning, conducting two major paper interventions, as well as a major personal intervention with a bright young spark who's somehow convinced herself that she's not all that bright and can't do what I'm asking of her.
Exhibit 2) I composed and turned in a resignation letter for abovementioned student-government post because other people's decisions--and their decision not to consult me about those decisions--put me in the untenable position of being unable to do my job and of dealing with a toxic personnel issue which I had absolutely no institutional authority to address. I feel like donkeyshit about quitting ("winners never quit?"), but have some hopes that, at least, my resignation letter may effect some much-needed changes.
Exhibit 3) I went to therapy, after which I needed more therapy to deal with the therapy.


This is the Wiseass not coping.

This is the Wiseass realizing she had better damn well get off her ass and start coping.


An unpaid, non-celebrity accessory endorsement

If you're in the market for a very presentable bag/briefcase that can accommodate your laptop, will attach neatly over the handles of a rolling bag while you're zipping around airports or bus and train stations, and has loads of nifty, built-in features (my favorite is the easily accessible catch-all bag big enough to hold plenty of change, keys, and cards), you may want to check out this one over at eBags. Especially since it's on sale for $29.99.

In a panic over the scratched-up state of my beloved and recently ailing Vaio, while also realizing that I didn't have a good bag to take to the 'Zoo, I bought mine online Saturday night. It arrived yesterday and it's absolutely splendid. The laptop case is well padded, removable, and has its own handles so it can be carried separately or placed inside another bag; the lining and the laptop case are a nice shade of blue that both looks nice and offers the kind of contrast which guarantees I won't be blindly fishing around in it for things; and it's quite roomy.

Believe me, I have worked my way through a whole lot of bags in my time, and this one is a keeper.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I don't care.

So. Just taught another round with "Comp Class: Impossible."

The latest and most unified complaint about discussion from the last, attempted intervention (you know, the one after which I stopped caring?) was that too many of our discussions were open-ended and that the students wanted more direction. They also wanted to do more scansion, because they were confused.

Today, I did a structured, directed reading of a poem, involving a scansion exercise. And then I did some structured introductory discussion about Midsummer Night's Dream which included charting exercises to help direct their reading.

The response? Was atrocious. I got a few reluctant comments, which I had to draaaaag out of them by asking increasingly simple questions until it would have been blatantly dishonorable of them not to reply. On the other hand, I got loads of:
1) blank stares,
2) awkward silences,
3) sheepish grimaces, and
4) very vocal interventions by the kid who's decided I'm "closed minded"** and who now relentlessly challenges me, even when I don't disagree with him.

Can you tell how very much I don't care?

Because I don't. Not at all.

Here's something else I've decided not to care about:* This guy, who says that anonymous bloggers, especially those of us who got annoyed by our old pal Ivan Tribble, are just taking things too seriously. Because, after all, an anonymous Chronicle columnist questioning our ability to get hired after decades of study and career investment is no big deal. Plus, we're whiny and timid. In general, quoth our jovial friend, we're taking blogging entirely too seriously. Really, we ought to lighten up and crack some jokes every once in a while, like he does.

Nope. I don't care.

La la la, la la.

Now this, my friends, is something to care about. Because seriously? That's Just Not Right.

* Hat tip to New Kid on this one.
** This is because I told him that a theory which depended upon making up an entire narrative that neither exists in the poem in question, nor is alluded to by it probably wasn't the best possible theory. Hmm. I guess he doesn't shave with Occam's razor.

A martial-arts lesson

I used to think that, ideally, teachers should be taking classes as they're teaching classes, because being a student helps them remember what's effective in the classroom and reminds them of the value of practicing patience with those students who deserve it.

Now, I think that teachers should ideally be taking classes in something at which they are not naturally gifted while they're teaching.

It's a distinction that absolutely makes a world of difference. Whereas I might have demonstrated patience with struggling students before, I'm much more likely to actually be patient now.

Monday, February 20, 2006

When is a man in a yellow hat like a gay cowboy?

You have to go read this. Right now.

If you have ever graded a set of "compare and contrast" papers, you will shout out loud with laughter.

If you haven't ever graded a set of "compare and contrast" papers, you should know that this post really is horribly, awfully close to actual papers the rest of us have, in fact, graded. And you will still shout out loud with laughter.

Soft-style / hard-style?

Several of you have been requesting more martial arts stories, and I certainly have been remiss in that arena lately. I can't yet offer you much in the way of profundity, but I can at least offer an amusing anecdote:

Today's work at the dojang was a very yin/yang experience. The Master had changed the radio station from its usual "lunchtime disco followed by 80s hits" station to one of those "soft-rock" dealios.

So: I cleaned little traces of blood off a mirror to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England."

Later, I transcribed such sentences as "The knife has long been a favorite tool for silent interdiction," phrases like "tearing flesh with bare hands," and--my favorite--an injunction to "field-dress a beef carcass in a standard military jacket" to the accompaniment of Chicago's "Saturday in the Park" and that evergreen horror of condescending schmaltz, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings."

To top it all off, the Master was wearing a pair of fuzzy, leopard-print slippers today.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

This is not a rhetorical question

What does it say about me that I keep wondering whether it wouldn't just be a good idea to camp out on the Grad-Lounge couch overnight and see how much I could get done in here before morning?

Computing advances, dyspeptic dilemmas, and a Johari window

Thanks to the good offices of Boy Roomie, my computer is fixed. All hail Boy Roomie!

Of course, I'm so far behind in what I'd meant to get done that I literally feel ill. And the expensive registration-and-plane-ticketing process for Kalamazoo--which just dramatically increased my credit-card debt--isn't helping matters, either. In fact, I could really use some antacids right about now. But dammit, my computer's working, and that is cause for much rejoicing.

So, now that it's working, I'm going to harness its power to put up a Johari Window! Yes, I know I am way behind the curve on this one. Yes, I know this is probably rather self-serving. Yes, I also know that many of you only know me through this blog and that trying to judge a writer's personality via the persona she projects in writing is extremely tendentious stuff we urge all our composition students to avoid. But I'm curious to see whether your text-based (and, for a few of you, your IRL-based) impressions of me match up with my own.

Plus, I've already eaten too many chocolates this weekend. Now I'm forced to move on to shamelessly fishing for compliments as a way of combatting my ever-increasing sense of panic over how little I'm getting done and how much money I keep pouring into my "professional training" with absolutely no guarantee of reasonable results.


Because it cannot be said enough, I will close out this post by repeating: All hail Boy Roomie!

I like living with a scientist.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gang Agley

You know, I feel as though 85% or more of my waking life (which is a lot of my life, considering how little I've been sleeping this year) is dedicated to trying to clear out the other 15% so I can get "my own" work done. You know, the kind that will actually get me through my degree program and get me a job, as opposed to the stuff I get paid for. Trouble is, I'm so exhausted by the time I get to that 15% that I can hardly move or think, much less do anything productive.

And then, there's always the odd little incident which interferes, too. For example, I was welcoming the three-day weekend with open arms, thinking about how much work I'd be able to get done: the major project for my student government post, the stacks of papers that need grading, at least three new pages on my prospectus, the rising tide of unanswered emails in several accounts . . . .

But now, my computer's operating system and keyboard have decided to go on strike. Oh, well.

Fortunately, Boy Roomie is being generous about the loan of his computer--and about being nice to me while I periodically lie on the (broken) couch in a fetal position--but I think it's safe to say that this will be a much less productive weekend than I'd hoped.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I've had it.

I am beyond annoyance.

You have probably heard about the roller coaster that has been this term's composition class until you're exhausted by it, and Lord knows I am. I have been working my tail end off for the last few weeks trying to turn things around and have--in addition to acting like a hussy in class--held loads of extra office hours, staged an intervention with Ms. Entitlement which went smashingly (by the end of it, she was openly admitting that she had no real excuse for not speaking up in class, that her attitude toward the class and her fellow students was dismissive and disrespectful, and that there were actually a lot of things she didn't understand), passed out candy like it's going out of style to give them sugar highs and bribe them into talking, made loads of photocopies meant to help reinforce ideas on my own dime, racked my brains (and yours) to find increasingly inventive discussion and peer review techniques, and poured my heart and soul into offering as much detailed feedback on drafts and papers as I could possibly muster.

I tell you, this is one of the hardest classes I have ever had to teach. Every time I come out of that classroom, I am completely exhausted from having to do the vast majority of the intellectual heavy lifting. And I've tried everything I can think of to change the tenor of the class, with only temporary success. Every class, we start right back at square one: everybody either stares at me like I'm a particularly dull 2am infomercial or smiles like the Mona Lisa.

So. I asked for informal midterm evaluations last week, and they are the pettiest, whiniest set of evals I have ever received in my life, many of them about how nasty it is of me to make them do discussion. Why can't I just, you know, ask them really specific questions all the time? Why do I let them sit there in "awkward silences" instead of jumping around like a trained monkey every class? And hey, why do I make them spend class time working on mechanics and grammar and stuff? Why can't I give them writing assignments more than two weeks in advance of the final due date? Why am I so "closed-minded" about interpretations? Why am I so mean that I give them quizzes? Why can't I give them more feedback? Why won't I let them do re-writes of assignments they not only had loads of guidance and feedback on--both from me and from their peers--but already wrote two drafts of? Why can't I administer websites for them? Why can't I just scan things for them and email it as a PDF document instead of asking them to make one set of about 25 photocopies for one class?

I am really near the end of my tether, and I am seriously considering telling them that in class this afternoon. Normally, I am patient to the point of insipidity with my students, but I really have absolutely had it with them, and I'm wondering whether it might not be more salutary to tell them so than to do my usual Socratic method (i.e., "Okay, so why does the university designate this a discussion class and why might discussion-based classes actually be good for your education?")

Honestly, I just don't even want to see them today.

I have to admit that I might be less angry if I didn't know that the university's assessment of how effective I've been as a teacher this term will depend solely on the evaluations these students turn in at the end of the class (sound familiar, New Kid?). And if these evals are any indication, the university is going to decide that I did a very poor job indeed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Teaching Carnival VI

Teaching Carnival VI is up over at Science and Politics. There's enough good reading there to keep you happy for weeks! Go check it out.

There are loads of posts by folks whose work I already admire and quite a few by others I haven't been fortunate enough to encounter before. Man, I love a good carnival!

Now all I need is some cotton candy . . . .

A whiff of birdshot

You know, I'm kinda tempted to join in on making fun of Dick Cheney's recent--ahem--misfire. But that would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Or maybe even like shooting pen-raised birds in an exclusive hunting club.

And Michael Bèrubè and Tom Burka already did a better job than I could, anyway.

The Hasselhoff Juggernaut can't be stopped!

More genius from the new reigning King of Heterosexual Male Camp. William Shatner may still be king in our hearts, but I think that, in light of the Hoff's recent performances, it's time for the Shat to graciously step down and become an elder statesman in the new Hasselhoff court. (I mean, seriously, selling a kidney stone to an online casino? That's just not very, uh, regal, Shat.)

Hat (or, rather, shoe?) tip to Manolo.

Wake-up call.

Well, hell. Sorry, folks, but our friend Chaunticleer is here with an even less pleasant morning post than the one involving links to lots of scary, wiggly Jello pictures.

I really didn't want to see this (over at Academic Coach) while trying to drag my sorry ass out of the apartment to go to office hours today. It's even worse than I'd thought:

"(A) 1999 Modern Language Association survey found that only 37 percent of English faculty members were on tenure-track lines."

And, as we already knew,

"At institutions granting doctoral degrees, the bulk of the cheap labor was sucked out of graduate students -- 44.6% of the teaching staff in English departments and 47.9% in Foreign Language departments were grad student TAs."

In fact, some institutions rely on their graduate students to provide the majority of their undergraduate face-time.

Not to mention that these are old figures (from 1999), and the trend hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. I'd guess that things are actually worse now than these figures indicate.

Folks, this is a real crisis. This is not the way it's supposed to be: It's exploitative and just flat wrong.

And some people want to tell me we don't need unions?

Things don't seem to be much better in other fields--even in professional schools, if the painfully ironic listing for an adjunct position in business ethics Dorcasina found is any indication.

Lord 'a mercy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More Stuff this Blog is Trying to Do; Or, an Acephalic Response

Scott's got an interesting discussion going over at Acephalous about academic blogging and anonymity. And yeah, I know I recently posted about this, so I'm running the risk of being "all anonymity, all the time." But there's much to consider, my thoughts on this topic are still evolving, and you should all feel free to just skip this post if it bores you.

Still with me?

Okay, so my neurons are humming. Unfortunately, they're totally off-key, because this has been a singularly exhausting day. But let's see what I can piece together.

Scott's wondering (at least, this is what he's wondering insofar as I understand it) whether medievalists aren't such prolific bloggers because (1) we tend to be rather isolated at their home universities and therefore to desire the kind of community with other medievalists that blogs provide and (2) Kalamazoo offers a sort of "bonding spark" which gets us interested in keeping up with each other in such a way.

Not having yet been to the 'Zoo, I can neither verify nor refute the second thesis, though I hope my experience in May will prove him right. In response to the first thesis, I'm actually in a department which contains several medievalist grad students who have traditionally had a good sense of community. What I've lacked, however, is a sense of a wider community that involves more senior scholars, non-literary scholars, and non-medievalists ('cause, to be perfectly frank, most of y'all act like you think we've got Plague cooties or something). And that's part of what I came to the Internets in search of.

I'll echo the several people who've said that female academics' hesitation to post openly may well be due to pre-existing structural inequalities. Given the reality of Tribble-esque anxieties about blogs, I'm guessing most women in academe aren't interested in adding that to the "what-if-she-runs-off-and-has-a-baby" anxiety still rather openly exhibited by many a search committee. I'll admit it's a real concern of mine. Academia, as an institution, does not easily tolerate crossings of the personal/professional line, and it tends to view women as the most likely trespassers.

You may already know about some of my reasons for anonymous posting, but the discussion at Acephalous has made me realize that there are others. To echo the New Left, the Women's Liberation Movement, and Belle Lettre, "the personal is the political," and I think that's a dictum which holds true for many disenfranchised groups, including (pace David Horowitz, who apparently thinks we have all kinds of influence) both academics in general and grad students in particular.

I think that, partially because academia so frequently rewards at least the appearance of Brain-on-a-Stickism, most members of the general public think we're emotionally stunted twits entirely unconnected from "the real world" at best and a bunch of arrogant, self-serving ideologues at worst. I wish to do what I can to counter those misconceptions, and I think allowing people to see the interplay of our lives and our ideas may help accomplish that goal.

One of the reasons why I so admire Michael Bérubé is that I think he's already do this in a way that's simultaneously accessible and profound. But, while Michael is both established in his field and tenured, I am not. And, so long as I am neither of those things, staying anonymous is likely to be the most effective way in which I can help spread the word that we're neither affectless mannequins nor knee-jerk radicals without seriously compromising my ability to stay in the field. Ironic, no?

Furthermore, within this context, we grad students--especially in the humanities--are the disenfranchised of the disenfranchised. We're often prevented from having an authentic voice in the academy, despite "grad student panels" at conferences, unionization efforts, and grad student governments (all of which, of course, are laudable and necessary things that I actively support). This is because, even in these arenas, we're often prudently afraid to speak in any way that isn't muffled by diplomacy and abstraction. Blogging anonymously removes some of that inhibition, and having authentic grad student voices in the blogosphere provides at least three potential benefits I can think of right now:

1) It may give the general public a better sense of what it's like to be a grad student in the humanities (i.e., that most of us aren't lying about on the turf, reading novels, and winding daisies into one another's hair while plotting the overflow of All That's Decent and living on the governmental dime).

2) It may give prospective graduate students a realistic view of what it's like to be a grad student in the humanities (i.e., that, while grad school does offer some of the satisfactions we might expect from it in our less cynical days, the scenario in item 1 above really is a misconception, the phrase "the program is designed to take five years" does not mean the program will take five years for the vast majority of us, that we're shamelessly exploited as a source of cheap instructional labor, and that grad school is simultaneously likely to result in crushing debt and unlikely to result in a stable, well paying job).

3) It serves as a check on more senior scholars' and administrators' frequent wish to believe that life is much better for most of us than it is. I've intervened in several online discussions in which profs opined about grad students' failure to matriculate quickly as the result of poor self-discipline or a lack of hutzpah by reminding discussants that we face ever-increasing teaching loads; decreasing incentives to enter a depressed job market; and increasing demands for evidence of significant publications, conference appearances, course development, service activities, and the like before entering that market. I think those interventions have had a salutory effect at least on those particular conversations, and I'll have to admit that I haven't felt free to be as forthcoming when profs have said similar things in the non-virtual world.

So: part of the purpose of this blog is to conjoin the professional and the personal in a way that might, potentially, have some actual effect on the way people both inside and outside academia think about what graduate students do--and about how much of the workload we're shouldering. Maybe, if more of us feel able to speak up about our experiences through anonymous blogs or other methods, the change we affect in people's thinking will result in changes which make the world better for bedraggled graduate students, their undergraduate charges, and the intellectual and ethical quality of higher education as a whole.

Yeah, I know. I'm a hopeless idealist.

That's why I'm still a graduate student.

Maybe we just had an "off" day?

If your advisee comes to speak with you and, when you ask her how she's doing, she says she feels like she's barely managing, that she feels as though she has serial myopia and that every time she focuses on one thing long enough to get a sense of momentum going, she realizes she's overdue for doing about five other things and has to stop, so that she's making very little progress in any direction and feeling beyond frustrated . . . .

The most helpful and encouraging thing to say? Is probably not, "Welcome to the rest of your life."

Even if it's true, you know?

And if you have directed her to write a document which is exhaustive in a way that other students' versions have never been, she's been telling you the precise length of said document for months as it surpasses successive decade marks, you've been nodding saturninely at those reports while making remarks to the effect that she needed to "really make some progress," when she then presents you with a mostly finished draft of said document . . . .

Looking shocked at its heft and telling her that her committee is going to balk at reading said document and question its practical utility? Also not so helpful.

Just sayin'.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Literary Speed Dating Meme

I first saw this really neato meme over at Scrivenings, and now New Kid's done an expanded version of it. It's created by Julie and based on an actual speed-dating event at a Boston-area bookstore, in which singles bring and discuss three of their favorite books as a way of breaking the ice.

Julie says: "Let's pretend this is a literary speed dating event, and since we're not really going to date each other, I can have literary speed dating crushes on girls OR boys (the horror!), everyone can have a crush on Scrivener, Phantom Scribbler, or Mel even though they're all happily married (not to each other), and everyone can have a literary speed dating crush on Dr. B except me, because she loves Middlemarch."

Pausing to add that I, too, love Middlemarch, I'll recapituate what I said earlier at Scrivener's place. I'd pick:

1. The Body in Pain--Elaine Scarry
2. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
3. Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents--Octavia E. Butler.

Some might argue with the "literariness" of The Body in Pain, but I love this book so much precisely because it is philosophy which reads like a poem. A particularly earth-shattering poem, at that. And "speed dates" capable of making a good joke about S&M when they saw it on the virtual coffee table would get early extra credit.
SGGK is kinda a no-brainer. Who doesn't love it, really?
Technically, item 3 is two books, but it's a series, and you really have to talk about them together. I read them earlier this year, and they absolutely blew my mind.

And when Scrivener was dubious about my choosing SGGK, I responded:
Yes! SGGGK really is a no-brainer. It contains:
1) One big-ass green dude who can get his head chopped off with impunity.
2) One slightly annoying hero who realizes, by the end, that he's slightly annoying.
3) Aforementioned hero's additional realization, by the end, that the Arthurian court is kinda full of it.*
4) Seduction scenes in which the wife of said hero's host traps him in his bed each morning--because he (like most medieval aristocrats) sleeps in the nude--and demands kisses from him.
5) Said kisses must be rendered back to the male host (who turns out to be none other than the Green Knight himself). Oooh la la!
6) Said seduction scenes are very explicitly linked to scenes in which aforementioned host/husband is hunting down game. Sexy.
7) Morgan le Fay makes a cameo appearance. And Morgan is The Shit.
8) Gorgeous Middle English verse, which I would happily read aloud to prospective dates.What's not to like?
To imitate New Kid's expansion, I'll add my Kid-Lit list . . .
1) C.S. Lewis--The Chronicles of Narnia (which, like her, I'd buy as one volume so it'd count and because it'd give me an excuse to buy this version, which I've lusted after since it was published.)
2) Susan Cooper--The Dark is Rising (if box sets count as one volume, I'd bring the whole series, although I heartily despise the cover art on the new editions)
3) Alice and Martin Provensen--Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

. . . And my "Turn-off" list (i.e., a combination on someone else's table that would be seriously unappealing):
1) Anything at all by John Gray
2) Pretty much anything by Charles Dickens
3) A volume of William Wordsworth's poetry.

Ugh. I really feel a little queasy just thinking about that combination. And no, I'm not linking to any of those things. Blech.

*It must be said that not everyone would agree with me on items #2 and #3.

Blogroll Blogfriend

If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better place just because that person exists and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence on your blog.

As found on Bardiac and Dr. Virago, descending from Another Damned Medievalist.

(The idea is that you copy that sentence and don't actually give the name[s] of the bloggers on your blogroll who make your world a better place. Which is good, because this would be a very, very long, post indeed if I listed everyone who fits these criteria for me.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Academic Dreams of Imagined Syllabi

Scott's got a post up at Acephalous about signs that you might be an academic.

I think another one is spending lots of time daydreaming about courses you'd really like to teach one day, lovingly imagining syllabi as you sit on the bus, devising teaching approaches to texts you're not yet teaching as you drift off to sleep at night.*

In that vein, I've been thinking for some years now that I'd like to offer a course (preferably as a seminar) titled something like "The History and Ethics of the University."

I have some vague thoughts about what might go on the syllabus for such a course, but I'm curious to hear what you'd include.

Any thoughts?

*I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn't write a postmodern satire on this kind of thing, à la Calvino's Invisible Cities or Lem's Imaginary Magnitude. And then I think I should maybe write a satire about pompous academics who think about writing postmodern satires about syllabi. And then I realize that I really ought to be working on my prospectus.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In which being a shameless hussy in the classroom pays off

I must confess that I was a shameless hussy with my class last week. And my seduction plot worked brilliantly.

Given the leaden quality of my classes during the first few weeks, I have been striving to affect a turn-around. It has been working, slowly but surely, thanks to things like a venue change which put us in a room that had not only moveable desks, but enough room for moveable people and for me to access the blackboard without crash dieting.

But still, I was not satisfied. Too few people were speaking during class. Too many people looked like they'd just been confronted with a Jello mold in which a misguided chef had suspended flake coconut, pineapple, and anchovies. Many more looked like they were on sedatives.

So, last Thursday, I:
1) Bribed people into speaking by offering candy to those who commented in class (thanks, Bellwethr!)
2) Confessed that I have started martial-arts training
3) Sang this traditional ballad
4) Demonstrated my (limited) skills in poetic scansion and showed them how to scan, too, and
5) Read Middle English verse aloud.

Basically, I put on a bit of a one-woman show.

I promise that every single bit of this really and truly was relevant. In other words, I did not mindlessly pander: I mindfully pandered. But yes, most assuredly, I did pander.

I could tell that it went over well: that was easily the most satisfying class we've had, with the students piping up all over the place to say Interesting Things. People actually seemed to enjoy scansion--perhaps because they finally got it and it no longer seemed equivalent to decoding the Rosetta Stone.

And, today, the momentum continued. When I handed discussion over to my students with only a bean bag to guide them, they asked Smart Questions and gave Smart Answers, each to the other. For more than 30 minutes. And two of my students spoke in class for the first time without prompting.

But the real moment of joy came at the end of class. A very shy student came forward to tell me that she had been thinking so much about the ballad I sang that she bought an album by Jean Ritchie over the weekend, and that she had been able to bond with her medievalist sister for the first time in ages by talking with her about Middle English verse.

So yes, there are moments that make it worthwhile, despite all that the Ms. Entitlements of the world can do.


P.S. And TGB gets much love for running my copies for me before class, when I was so manifestly overwhelmed. Ain't life grand?

In which I try to end on a positive note

I forgot to show up for my administrative work session at the dojang yesterday and am feeling like a complete jackass. I also forgot to bring the top half of my dobok to class today. I think it's clear that I'm a little discombobulated: trying to set my prospectus exam date apparently is keeping some neurons from firing.

I will have to make up for Monday's missed hours on Friday, which means I'll be missing a talk by a Very Famous Medievalist that day. If I'm lucky, I may be able to find someone who'll record it for me, and I might even be able to make it up for the reception following the talk.

Things I am having a very hard time learning:
1) To not point my toes
2) To keep a wide stance, instead of pulling my body into one long line
3) To keep my hands in closed fists all the time
4) To not smack myself about the head and shoulders with the nunchuku (it's a good thing mine are padded)
5) To stop closely inspecting in the locker-room mirror how ugly and blotchy my very pale skin gets after strenuous exercise
6) To stop shaking my head and laughing derisively at myself when I mess up
7) To look an opponent in the eye.

One thing I expect to learn pretty quickly:
To hit the punching bag with the two knuckles at the base of my fingers instead of the middle ones. Why? Because I have a nice little hematoma going on my middle left index knuckle today.

One thing I have done I didn't think I could do:
Cartwheels. Mine are pretty half-assed, but still . . . .

Fear and Loathing in Grading

My avoidance of grading is entirely out of proportion to the enormity of the task, my ability to complete it, and my track record. While I still think it's good to keep a certain sense of "holy fear" while grading, I'm beginning to think my approach falls well into the realm of neurosis.

I really, really need to do something about this. Any suggestions?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bloggers Anonymous

Okay. So, I have been promising for months now that I was going to do some massive "rethinking-my-blog" post. And I think this here is gonna be about as good as it gets, for now.

The Happy Feminist has recently wondered whether anonymity is the key to blogging happiness, saying that she believes she can be "more authentic and honest than I would be otherwise. It's not that I am dishonest in real life, but I don't reveal everything to everybody in my real life either--because I want to maintain my professional reputation and avoid making waves in my family." I'm in hearty agreement with that.

I'd add, though, that undercover blogging also allows me to develop a persona--one which is a bit more frank and outspoken than the one I usually adopt in the non-virtual world. It's a persona that allows me to explore issues I have a hard time tackling quite so directly otherwise. And it's a persona that feeds itself back into my life in ways that I generally think have been very positive. In other words, one of this blog's purposes is writing myself into the kind of person I want to be--with a little help from my friends.

Another of my blog's functions is networking. How, you might ask, could I possibly network without revealing my identity? Well, for one thing, I'm learning and benefitting a heck of a lot from reading the work--and receiving the comments of--many other bloggers, anonymous or not. And I'm also not entirely opposed to the idea of "outing" myself to other bloggers I've come to trust. That's particularly true if those other bloggers are also anonymous, so we can rely on a "I-won't-tell-if-you-won't-tell" pact. (That's a strategy I learned from my little brother a long time ago, and it still works pretty well most of the time.)

Unlike Happy Feminist, though, I am very concerned about the possibility that people I don't want to discover my identity might manage it anyway. Some of you will remember a recent brouhaha over at Bitch, Ph.D. in which a misguided grad student took offense at the proceedings and threatened to "out" her as part of a potential lawsuit. Now, my blog is nowhere near as interesting as Dr. B's, and I have no over-inflated sense of my importance. Nonetheless, I was seriously rattled by the idea that someone with technical savvy and malicious intent could discover my identity and spread it around for all to see.

Why would I be so het up about that? Well, if you might want a reminder of the whole Ivan Tribble episode from this summer, I blogged about it here and here, then commented on here, among other places. If you don't relish reading all that, let's just say that there are plenty of reasons to be guarded about blogging when
(1) the job market in the humanities is so terrible that it's fodder for both nightmares and superstitions,
(2) Fear of a Blog Planet looms large for some search-committee Luddites, and
(3) Academia would generally prefer that her devotees minimize the appearance of anything which approaches Having a Life.
That's a trifecta which is unlikely to be friendly to blogs like mine, which promiscuously mix the personal, the political, and the professional.

To (rather annoyingly, I'm sure) quote myself from comments I made over at Belle's place,

"I blog anonymously because it gives me freedoms that blogging under my own name would not, and it's a freedom I sorely need if I'm going to do what I started blogging for in the first place.

Namely, I need to find a space where I can say things that I can't normally say within the sometimes claustrophobic world of my own department, where I can work stuff out partially by getting feedback from smart and honest readers, and where I can find the strength I need to survive grad school by staying in touch with my own voice. 'Cause otherwise, I might well lose it in the polished diplomacy and jargon of academic journal-speak."

In other words, this blog is meant to help me survive graduate school and find my way into a professional self I can live with so I can, one sunny day, make something that approximates a living. It is explicitly not meant to undermine my chances at getting a job once I finish.

While I'm still not sure that I want to work with or for people who'd categorically dismiss blogging as a frivolous pursuit, I'm also realistic enough to know that I have to be very careful.

And that a smart Wiseass tries to keep her options open.

I break my blogfast to bring you stuff that'll ruin your breakfast

Two good friends of mine, both much missed, recently moved away from Big City. Such is the nature of grad school, that we will sometimes meet people who not only don't drive us insane, but whom we love dearly. And then, one day, either they or we will move away.

Nonetheless, through the power of the Internets, one half of this fine couple has sent me a fine couple of links. Namely:

1) Uh, Spicy Gelatin Garnish? I think I'll pass. But if you want to make some, here's where to find the Ground Meat Cookbook.

2) And here is a stunning Gallery of Regrettable Food, featuring "The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization as Seen Through Jello." I can't look away. I have no choice but to watch it wiggle, see it jiggle.

In case y'all didn't already know, Jello and I have serious issues. I have an uneasy detente with mayonnaise, so long as it knows its place, which is clearly in various types of salads in very small amounts. But this Wiseass hasn't been on speaking terms with Jello for decades.

Seriously, people. Seriously. It is made from discarded animal parts and comes in colors not known to nature.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Processing . . .

It's been an eventful and exhausting week. More has happened than I can possibly process right now, and I can't blog about most of it, either. Most of these things have been good, but even Good Things can exert violence and create trauma. I'm feeling a little emotionally, uh . . . flayed, I think, is the best word.

So. I do still promise to get back to your earlier comments, because they are interesting and insightful and I care. But, for now, I need to go off somewhere and get re-situated in my own head. I need to go explore the Sensory Deprivation Chamber which Kindly Professor has helped me secure in the library, pull some books of the shelves, do a little work while I let things settle.

I may be back to blog tomorrow or it may well be a few days. But I'm still blog-addicted, so those of you with your own sites can probably still expect to hear from me there, even if I'm not posting here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Time keeps on slipping . . .

I have been to a place where Time has no meaning. A place where hours become minutes, minutes hours.

I traveled there over two days and three nights. During two of those nights, I hardly slept, for my work was piled both high and deep.

And verily, I tell you, I have seen visions.

Which is to say, oh gentle readers, that I thank you for your many words of advice and support, particularly on the last post. And that I shall return soon in order to reply.

But first, I must make one more journey through dense thickets of student essays and trackless swamps of class preparation.

Then, I will come back to you. And I will share with you what I have seen.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The importance of being absent

A student who's already been absent more times than she should have--and it's early in the term, mind you--came to tell me after class today that she would be missing the last half hour or so of our next meeting because of a work obligation.

And she wanted to know whether I could rearrange the class so she wouldn't miss anything "important." She suggested that I delay discussion of the readings from this spectacularly engaging and useful book--which we generally do at the beginning of class--because she doesn't find them interesting.

I explained that our readings on how to write were very important--this being, you know, a composition class--and that, in fact, everything we did was important. I observed that the only way to avoid missing important things was to be in class the entire time and that she might consider asking the folks at work whether they couldn't find someone to cover for her for that half hour.

She said that was just impossible--they have, you know, professional people showing up to do something important, and she needed to be there.

I said it was too bad she'd be missing part of class; that although I knew our class met at a potentially inconvenient time, she should do her best to attend all of every section; and that we would see what we would see about how the class would be arranged that day.

And she looked awfully exasperated by my inflexibility.

You know, even if you do think your instructor isn't really a professional, that her class isn't nearly as good an investment of your time as other enterprises in your life, and that portions of the course are both profoundly boring and unimportant, you probably don't want to let her know that quite so openly.

And it's really rather breathtakingly arrogant and inconsiderate to ask an instructor to rearrange her class schedule to accommodate both your absence for a non-emergency and your desire to be as entertained as possible for as long as possible before heading out the door.

I'm wondering whether I should write her a follow-up email to explain some of these things?