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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: A Tone-Deaf Troubadour

If I singe, ye will me lakke* blame
And wenen* I wer out of min wit; believe
Therfor smale notes will I crake;* croak
So wolde God I were quit.

Syne* me muste take this mery toin* since / tune
To glade* withal this cumpany, gladden
I rede* or* ony swich* be don, advise / before / such
For Godes love, tey* up your ky!* take / key

Forsothe I may not singe, I say;
My voys and I arn at discord;

But we shul fonde* to take a day try
To taken min avis* and min acord. advice

Found in Middle English Lyrics: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Maxwell S. Luria and Richard L. Hoffman (p. 156)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

How this week just got worse.

My computer appears to be dying.

Gower strikes back!

Thanks to Dr. V., I've just learned that John Gower has staked his claim in the blogosphere and is fighting Maistre Geofroi Chaucere's crewel appele against him.

Excellent! It's a Dead White Male Celebrity Blogosphere Deathmatch!

P.S. Can you tell I'm reading blogs because I'm trying to avoid confronting this again? Maybe just a little bit? Have I mentioned that I think I'm totally screwed?

A fantastic post on the Duke story by a Duke student

I give you a link to a post on the Duke story by Duke student Allison Clarke, neice of the marvelous Chris Clarke, who clearly has inherited both a familial fire-in-the-belly and some mean writing skills.

Here's an excerpt, but you really ought to go read the whole thing.

The bottom line is that, despite all its high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, Duke consistently promotes the creation of a society where its residents have no respect for the law or the consequences of their actions on others, because this respect is never forced upon them. So despite the horror of it, the utter evil and heinousness of the acts performed that weekend, no Duke student or official should be able to pretend that this rape is an aberration from the spirit of this school. Regardless of whether alcohol was involved in the rape (though it was), this is about how Duke creates a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard of the law. Alcohol is just the medium.

And Aaron, upon proofing this post, has driven home the point that not all people who make illegal alcohol-related decisions are rapists. I know that. I drank underage on occasion myself, and I didn't get in trouble for it either, and I am not evil because of it. But Duke's alcohol policy serves to reinforce the pre-existing sense of entitlement some of our students come packaged with, and it's that sense that was in play two weeks ago when this rape happened. If Duke took its mission to create the new giants of this world seriously, it would impress on them that there ARE consequences for transgressive actions.

THIS is what causes the strain in Duke-Durham relations; THIS is what ensures that Duke will never have the undergraduate population of intelligentsia to which it aspires, and will instead continue to play daycare to a bunch of drunken, spoiled brats with the moral intelligence of two-year olds; THIS is the dynamic that creates a subgroup that
will go out and drink themselves into oblivion, cheering themselves all the way, just after having been accused of raping a woman who was just putting herself through SCHOOL, for Christ's sake. And in doing so, the university that seems to pride itself so on creating America's Future Leaders will vomit up a subgroup of young men and women intent only on getting away with whatever it is they happen to have done this time.

UPDATE: Justice 4 Two Sisters, a blog dedicated to following the story and supporting the victims.

Dark Night of the Soul #1,456: Prospectus Edition

Okay, it's nearly 2:30am. I feel as though somebody's using my head as a compressed air cannister, I've been toiling away at a painfully slow pace for hours, and I just have to quit.

Honestly, I don't think there could have been one single week this calendar year during which I could less handle being with cold for four or five days. For the grading, which has to be in by the end of this week, I've managed to do everything but one set of essays and the final calculations. I've managed to get most of my materials written or ordered for the class I have to start teaching on Monday. I haven't started reading the last-minute assignments I got for the course I'll be taking, but I do at least have all the stuff I'm supposed to read. I did all these things days behind schedule, but there you are.

Now, the dissertation prospectus narrative--one of the most important documents of this sad little thing I call a career thus far--is in baaad shape. It is due next week. It is supposed to be 20 pages long. I was supposed to have a minimum of 15 pages done today.

It is a scanty 11 pages long.

I could keep flailing around at this, but hell, I'm still sick, and I have to sleep. Kindly Prof is just going to have to be appalled by how little I've accomplished when he sees that the early draft he requested is so pathetically stubby.

Can I just whinge at you a bit more? Okay? Good.

Writing this thing has been unmitigated hell. Sure, I have 30+ pages of bibliography, 'cause I have no problem with combing databases, library stacks, and footnotes for sources ad nauseum. But I have only 11 pages of narrative after months of work and years of back-burner thought. Why?

Because writing a document in a genre with which I'm completely unfamiliar and in which I'm compelled to pretend that (a) I'm absolutely certain I know what I'll find when I actually read all that stuff and (b) that my discoveries will, in fact, be important for any purpose other than getting my butt out of graduate school feels like a big fat lie. And it goes against most of the impulses that made me a scholar in the first place. You know, the ones that impel a person to actually thoroughly read and research things before shooting her mouth off about What They Mean.

I hate this process with a passion which could fuel a dozen pallid emo bands.

This grad school thing, man. Seriously. Just when you think it's made you feel as small, as foolish, as lonely, and as fraudulent as you possibly can, you realize you don't know the half of it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Fruits of Entitlement

Still sick and very hazy, so I apologize for not being more on the ball with posting on the Zoo meet-up and for not having sent several of you emails I owe you. But this is something so awful and needing such immediate action that it cuts through even my cold-induced fog.

I learned about this horrifying story--the result of a toxic mixture of entitlement and race, gender, and class issues--via medievalist. On March 13, white members of the Duke University lacrosse team allegedly strangled and raped at least one of two black women they hired as exotic dancers for a party after shouting racial slurs at both women and threatening to rape them with a broomstick. The woman who's spoken out is a single mother of two who is working for an escort service in order to pay her way through college at the neighboring, historically black N.C. Central University. The lacrosse team has closed ranks and refuses to offer any information about the incidents: Durham authorities have had to order DNA tests for all team members in order to discover who was directly involved in the crime and are asserting that they'll also bring charges against those who stood by and did nothing.

Rachel of Alas, a Blog is urging other bloggers to post about this in order to make sure the news gets out. "Why?" you might ask. Because, as Rachel points out, major media outlets like ABC are glossing over the most heinous aspects of this hate crime, and as Word Munger notes, are reporting on how it negatively affects Duke's lacrosse team "at the height of its season." Yeah. Because that's what we ought to focus on here.

Apparently, this is far from the first illegal incident at the house where the lacrosse players lived. Duke had gotten so many complaints about this house and other off-campus party houses that it simply purchased them--rather than having to deal with the town-gown issues that arose over them--and rented them back out to the misbehaving students. Q Grrrl comments over at Rachel's place about many prior events at the lacrosse house, reporting

I lived across from the main lacrosse house for 7 years — and I can no longer count my calls to 911. In fact, a call I made a few years back resulted in 67 citations for underage drinking — the coach didn’t bat an eye. Similarly, I know that at one point, campus women were aware of sexual assault and harassment by lacrosse players. The house they lived in was repeatedly toilet papered — and once, upon seeing the black-clad women tp-ing the house, I asked why. Their reply: to warn other undergraduate women that a woman had been assualted while at a lacrosse party.

The Univ. has always rather palidly responded to the actions of the lacrosse team(and other student partiers).

So. There are things we can do about this, folks. To quote Rachel:

I encourage people to put up the story on their blogs, and put pressure on the University to investigate the team and level some sort of disciplinary actions, and of course this legal system also needs to do its part to put these men behind bars. I think one way people in the blogosphere may be able to help, in addition to agitating for the full force of the law to come down on these men, is by setting up some sort of fund to help this young woman pay for college (if anybody knows how this can be done).
I know blogging communities have been able to set up PayPal funds to help others before: would anybody who knows more about the logistics be willing to do something along those lines? I'm down to the last $23 in my bank account, but you can believe I'll kick some money in once I get my paycheck for next month.

Meanwhile, here's contact information for Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead. Let's inundate him with letters telling him precisely how much this image of predominantly wealthy, young white men verbally and sexually assaulting working-class black women does for Duke's reputation. Let's make sure he knows how much of an outrage it is that Duke has helped to so indulge these children of privilege that they believe they're entitled to treat people with less socioeconomic power as their punching bags.

Blogs can be powerful tools for getting the word out on issues like this, powerful organizers of grassroots activity to make the world a better place. Let's prove it.

And, for those of us who are university teachers and administrators--or who mentor young people in other ways--may this serve as a reminder of why we cannot allow students to persist in the all-too-prevalent sense of privilege many of us are witnessing in the classroom. It may seem far-fetched to compare students who expect to get high grades for poor work to students who expect to rape women with impunity, but the sense of superiority some of Duke's lacrosse players demonstrated last week doesn't come from nowhere. We have a moral responsibility, both to our students and to our society, to make sure that young people understand that they are not above reproach and that they do not deserve to be treated as exceptions to the rules by virtue of who or what they are. It's a smaller leap than we might think from students who believe classroom or university policies don't apply to them to students who believe the law doesn't apply to them, either.

P.S. I will second Pinko Feminist Hellcat's promise to put the verbal smackdown on anybody who dares to imply that the women involved share any portion of the blame for what happened that evening. "No" always means no. Even if you're a sex worker so desperate to support your kids and get an education that you'll go back into a house full of dangerous assholes to do it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

More 'Zoo meet-up news soon

Watch this space for further discussion of the 'Zoo blogger meet-up, an event which promises to be so smashing that it's already induced envious reactions from several of our non-medievalist blogger friends and one bean-spilling clearly calculated to create reciprocal levels of envy.

I will compile a list of possible venues and open them up for voting soon, so if you'd like to add a potential space to the list under consideration, please feel free to do that in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I have fallen under the malign influence of a head cold just as I'm trying to finish up one term, plan for the next, and get a semi-final draft of my prospectus finished. Bleh. So Scott may expect retaliation for his attempt to eclipse the fabulousness of the medieval blogging meet-up in the form of one seriously half-baked dissertation proposal, headed his way within the next few days.

ElectraPress and academic publishing online

An especially exciting development: Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Planned Obsolescence and others are working toward the formation of ElectraPress, an online publisher of academic work. They're planning an April 24 meeting to discuss how to proceed, and you can read about the questions under consideration here. You also can view Prof. Fitzpatrick's proposal here and her very interesting January Valve post on the issues surrounding it here.

She sees ElectraPress as a way of addressing the current crisis in academic publishing, as well as a way of facilitating quicker and more thorough intellectual exchange: I think it's certainly an idea whose time has come.

Hat tip to Michael Bèrubè.

Geting Virtual on Gower's Ass

Geoffrey Chaucer's blog has now moved here, and he's also hawking some splendidly obscure and funny t-shirts!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I got my orange belt!

To be honest, I'm not as happy about it as I want to be, because I did not perform as well as I'd have liked during the majority of the test. I was sloppy, I was not focused enough, I was not confident enough, and I screwed up too much. I was nervous, the testing scenario made me far too self-conscious, and some of the things Master Fuzzy Slippers said before we started hit home in a way that threw me off my game. But I should have been in better control of myself, physically and mentally.

I would not have passed myself, had I been asked. But I trust Master FS's judgment, and I guess it's fortunate that my opinion didn't matter in this case.

I know nobody expects that much of me yet and I'm probably being too hard on myself: I'm an absolute beginner with no prior training. But I do expect more of myself than I demonstrated today, and I want others to expect more of me, too. I want to be a person to be reckoned with. That, after all, is why I'm there in the first place.

Still, I am proud of one thing: we had to break a fairly thick board with our fist within three tries in order to get our belts. I decided that I was damn well going to redeem myself during that portion of the test, and I guess I must have.

I rolled up my sleeves to remind myself of the bandages on my elbows, talismans of my ability to kick some ass when I put my mind to it (even if the ass I kick is usually my own). I ran forward promptly, bowed to Master FS, and broke the board on the first try with enough force and a loud enough kiyap that I got not only the traditional applause, but an audible murmur of approval from the crowd and several on-the-spot words of praise from senior students.

One of the most advanced students told me afterward that he had been very impressed: that he was always a bit worried about white-belt women who had to break a board for the first time, because they tended to get intimidated and lose focus. He said I had not just broken the board; I'd broken it with authority.

I liked his compliment very much, and I've been mentally rolling that phrase--"with authority"--around like a particularly nice Everlasting Gobstopper I don't want to finish. But his comment also felt unintentionally backhanded. I think that, despite Master FS and his dojang being very enlightened, people still expect less of me. And although a lot of that has to come from my being in pretty bad shape and far from physically intimidating, I think some of it comes from my being a woman, too.

I am going to work very hard to make people re-think those assumptions. And I am going to work even harder to make sure that I offer them no excuses for maintaining them, at least when it comes to me.

Friday Poetry Blogging: The Unquiet Grave

I'm late with Poetry Friday, this time. This is partially because I had plans to post a Rita Dove poem I especially like, but I couldn't find it. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, here is something else I love very much.

Used to be, people memorized a lot of poetry as part of their educations. We don't do that so much anymore, and maybe that's to the good in some ways--I'm not big on rote memorization, really. But it's also too bad that most of us don't have much poetry "on call" when we might want it to wrap around ourselves.

I don't have a lot of poetry off by heart. The first sixteen lines of the Canterbury Tales. Portions of the opening to Beowulf. Bits and pieces of Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium." At one time, I also had Byrhtwold's speech from The Battle of Maldon, Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," some Shakespeare (Portia's speech on mercy; Juliet's fantastic and rather macabre speech on cutting Romeo up into little stars; and later, when I got tired of memorizing what I thought were boring "girly" speeches and was confronted with an Old Guard professor I wanted to be a bit cheeky to, Henry V's speech before the battle of Agincourt).

But I do know a fair number of traditional ballad poems, because I've learned to sing some of them as songs. And they're remarkably easy to remember, after all: they're designed to be passed along orally and carried in the back of the mind until they're needed. If I tried, I might even be able to type out the rather excruciatingly long full version of "The Turkish Lady / Young Beichan" I learned some years ago, in which an appallingly caddish hero gets to marry a feisty and lovely gal he clearly doesn't deserve. But I will spare you.

Instead, I give you this one. It's not quite my favorite, but it ranks right up there. Some might accuse me of being morbid for loving this song so much, but I'm afraid those folks are missing its point entirely.

The Unquiet Grave

The wind doth blow today, my love,
With a few small drops of rain.
I never had but one true love,
And he in the cold grave lies slain.

I'll do as much for my true love
As any young maid may.
I'll set and mourn all on his grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.

The twelvemonth and a day bein' up,
The dead began to speak.
Says, "Who is this sets on my grave
And will not let me sleep?"

"It is I my love, sets on your grave
And will not let you sleep.
I crave one kiss from your clay-cold lips
And that is all I seek."

"You crave one kiss from my clay-cold lips,
But my breath smells earthly strong.
If you had one kiss from my cold-clay lips,
Your time would not be long.

Oh, down in yonder's garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The fairest flower that ever did bloom
Is withered to a stalk.

The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So must our hearts decay.
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Write down this date: I'm in a good mood!

Okay, so I know this will probably come as a real shock to regular readers of this blog, but I'm actually in a rather fantastic mood. Here's why:

1) Wonder Woman's surgery today went very well, and the doctors believe she is now cancer-free!

2) One of the unfortunate things about grad school is that you meet some wonderful people, grow to love them, and then have to watch them move away--or move away from them yourself--to some part of the country very far away from wherever you happen to be. But I have just gotten the news that a couple who are good friends of mine are going to be moving to my hometown! Which means I get to see them every time I go home! Hooray!

3) I worked at home today and got lots of quality time with Mouse. We opened up the patio door and let the Spring breeze and sunshine in during the late afternoon.

4) I'm thinking that the 'Zoo blogger meet-up is going to be an almost ridiculously good time, and I'm excited!

5) I had my hardest class yet at the dojang tonight. Master Fuzzy Slippers himself led it, and I think he was trying to prep us for testing this weekend, because he was very tough. I screwed up frequently and awkwardly. However, I also absolutely refused to quit.

I just got mad--not mad at him for asking us to do hard things, but angry with myself for not being stronger, and absolutely determined that I would at least make up for being a weakling by being tough enough to keep going. So I did.

We did some basic grappling techniques, and most of us sucked at it, so we got yelled at a lot. This first involved attempts to arch up into the air from a position on one's back, making a bridge with one or the other of our shoulders, then shooting one leg underneath the other and winding up in a squatting position. Many, many times.

Then we had to partner up with somebody, either sitting on top of that person or allowing him/her to sit on top of you. (My partner was a teenaged guy who was clearly profoundly embarrassed by the whole proceeding, and I felt badly for him.) If you were on the bottom, you had to try to throw your partner's leg aside with both hands so you could wriggle free. If you were on the top, you had to try to scoop your partner's arm up from below and then force it straight out and away from your knee, using leverage rather than muscle power. Not easy.

Far more difficult, though, was having to hop around on the balls of our feet with our hands in front of us in ready position, then react as if someone were kicking for one of our legs, throw that leg back and the corresponding hand forward, and then throw the other leg out and back, hurling ourselves to the ground. And then hop up again as quickly as possible, get in the ready stance, and do it all over again. About 20 times.

Next we had to lie down flat on our stomachs and pull ourselves the entire length of the studio using only our arms. As quickly as possible. Four times. About halfway through the third time, I was in some serious pain and could hardly move at all. And then I just got deeply pissed off: "This is not acceptable! I will not let myself be this weak. No." So I rested for half a second, and forced myself to do it the rest of the way. One of the instructors actually got a little concerned because I looked so mad, but I just used the energy to make it happen.

When I got to the dressing room after class, I noticed that there was blood all over the elbows of my dobok: I had skinned myself on the mats. And I also had striated bruises all over my shoulders from doing the grappling forms over and over. I hadn't felt any of it.

I was still a little pissed off and embarrassed when I got home, but within about half an hour, I realized what I'd accomplished: stuff I honestly would not have thought myself capable of if you'd asked me before that class, but hadn't even thought twice about making myself do once I was there. And then I felt pretty damn good.

You know, I kinda wish every class were that hard.

6) Once I got home and had showered and settled down a little, I expressed the wish for a slushie. Boy Roomie promptly drove me down to the local 7-11, where I got a great big cherry one. When we got home, we put rum in them. So low-rent. And so deeply wonderful. Ah.

We subsequently decided that the Best Party Ever would involve a slushie machine, an open bar, Easy-Cheese crudites, and a bouncy castle. So now y'all know what you're in for when I finally get my Ph.D.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The First Annual Kalamazoo Bloggers' Guild Meeting: What Say Ye?

Dr. V and I are beginning to plan the First Annual Kalamazoo Bloggers' Guild Meeting, but we're running into some logistic difficulties and would like your input on several matters. To wit:

1. If you're thinking of coming, please let us know in the comments thread below. If you're thinking of bringing a friend, colleague, significant other, familiar, or minion, please let us know that as well. We'd like to get a sense of how large the gathering will be.

2. We've been told that it would be best to meet early in the conference so's we can keep meeting and greeting over the weekend. This means we should probably aim to converge on either Thursday or Friday evening. Which night would you prefer, and what time frame would be best?

3. The location of our guild-hall has yet to be determined, and we'd very much appreciate your suggestions. The shelter in the park near the pond is one possibility, but we'd have to cross our fingers and hope for good weather. Any other nominations?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Substantively Insubstantial. Or, What I'm Up To.

--this and
--about a fourth of this.

--this (yet again; Boy Roomie hadn't seen it, a state of affairs that had to be rectified) and
--this, at long last. (I've had it through Netflix since November; odd how one rarely seems to be in the mood for a postmodern reworking of bloody Elizabethan revenge tragedy. Even if the "one" in question rather likes said revenge tragedy. Verdict: Interesting, sometimes brilliant, but often weirdly over-done--which I'm not sure I knew was possible--and with a "rehabilitory" frame narrative that made me a little pukey).

On the home front:
--Assisting in the repair of one chronically broken and aging futon couch
--A bit of laundry
--Feebly battling the forces of entropy with the vague awareness that I ought to care a lot more.

Fretting about:
--Wearying politicking on several fronts.
--My inability to simply write said politicking off.
--Still not having done anything very concrete about this.
--My upcoming orange-belt test, for which I'm woefully underprepared.
--My continued impulse to eat whatever presents itself, especially if it involves chocolate (not, by the way, a craving I'm usually prey to).
--The piles of stuff littering my desk.
--The more than 100 emails in my inbox.
--Finding the motivation to grade stuff, prep my new syllabus and reader, and write my prospectus, now that I have the time.
--Wonder Woman's surgery this week.

Pleased about:
--Seeing an old friend from out of town this weekend.
--Rainy afternoons at home with Mouse, a novel, and cups of milky tea.
--Late afternoon naps.
--How much better I look when I've gotten enough sleep.
--Wearing an old barn jacket with a book slipped into the inside pocket.
--Finding a new angle of approach for the dissertation that promises some exciting reading/thinking in the future.
--The prospect of new research projects to pursue once the prospectus and defense are behind me.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Shel Silverstein

Before I knew about Edward Lear (who may make his appearance here yet), I had Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic. This one always made me giggle, especially:


I'm the Dragon of Grindly Grun,
I breathe fire as hot as the sun.
When a knight comes to fight
I just toast him on sight,
Like a hot crispy cinnamon bun.

When I see a fair damsel go by,
I just sigh a fiery sigh,
And she's baked like a 'tater--
I think of her later
With a romantic tear in my eye.

I'm the Dragon of Grindly Grun,
But my lunches aren't very much fun,
For I like my damsels medium rare,
And they always come out well done.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Tinfoil Hat Brigade is on the march

La Lecturess posted a link to Michael Specter's article, "The Bush Administration's War on the Laboratory." It's infuriating. And, like many of the administration's campaigns against science, this one will hurt women most. This time, it's a callous and concentrated effort to deny women access to a vaccine which could save thousands of lives.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States; more than half of all Americans become infected at some point in their lives. The virus is also the primary cause of cervical cancer, which kills nearly five thousand American women every year and hundreds of thousands more in the developing world. There are at least a hundred strains of HPV, but just two are responsible for most of the cancer. Two others cause genital warts, which afflict millions of people.
Why work to prevent access to such a godsend (and I use that word advisedly) as a vaccine which would prevent death and suffering?

Because, well, they need to make sure that godless whores and wannabe godless whores--especially the ones under the age of 25--are terrified of sex:

Religious conservatives are unapologetic; not only do they believe that mass use of an HPV vaccine or the availability of emergency contraception will encourage adolescents to engage in unacceptable sexual behavior; some have even stated that they would feel similarly about an H.I.V. vaccine, if one became available. "We would have to look at that closely," Reginald Finger, an evangelical Christian and a former medical adviser to the conservative political organization Focus on the Family, said. "With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition"--a medical term for the absence of fear--"would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care." Finger sits on the Centers for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which makes those recommendations (emphasis added).
'Scuse me, y'all. I got to put on my Tinfoil Hat of Godly Truthiness here for a minute.

Okay, there we go. It's on nice and tight, cutting off all the circulation. Just the way it should be when we want to block off dangerous Rationality Rays. Ahem.

That's right, Reg! What all those secularist bitches and fags need to scare them onto the straight and narrow is a good, healthy dose of a communicable and deadly disease. Good thinking! Anyway, who'd want to stand in the way of God's cleansing vengeance?

Our heroic President Bush and his administration are right behind you, buddy. And why stop with vaccines? Let's get rid of birth-control altogether. Then, womenfolk will be forced to behave themselves like they're supposed to, and men can return to their rightful place as wife-subjugating, virus-infected agents of the Lord.

Despite the official silence, the Bush Administration has been relentless in its opposition to any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex. It has made every effort to diminish the use of condoms as a method of birth control in the United States and throughout the world. Government policy requires that one-third of H.I.V.-prevention spending go to "abstinence until marriage" programs. Since George W. Bush became President, the United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on abstinence programs, and it has cut almost that much in aid to groups that support abortion and the use of condoms as a primary method of birth control. (Family-planning organizations in the developing world are denied U.S. grants if they so much as discuss abortion with their clients.) The Administration's opposition runs so deep that at one point federal health officials replaced pages from a National Cancer Institute Web site with information that suggested, without evidence, that there might be a correlation between abortion and breast cancer.
Okay. No. Enough with the hat, already.


What are we going to do about this? This is not acceptable. These people are insane. They are denying people in developing countries the ability to control their own destinies as a condition of offering "aid." They are lying to us in order to control our behavior, and they are actively working to make people sick--and dead--whose behavior they cannot control.

We have to do something, folks. This is wrong, and this is still our country, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Heartwarming curtain calls

Okay, so after all that, one of my students told me during a meeting today that all his other English classes had been "a joke;" that I'd forced him to work hard, but that he'd started to see how he needed to improve and how treating writing as a process could "make decent ideas into great ideas." He said he really didn't mind getting lower grades from me than he had ever gotten in a lit class before because my critiques were thoughtful and helpful. He even said that, although he wants to be a doctor, if he'd had more teachers like me, he'd probably have majored in the humanities. Then he gave me a nice big box of chocolates.

Honestly, he almost made me cry, right there in the Generic Campus Dining Facility. And I'm a little teary-eyed all over again, just blogging about it.

Then I had another meeting which I'd expected to be an utter nightmare: the student in question has been giving me a bit of a hard time lately (i.e., sending ill-advised emails in the throes of end-of-term frustrations) and was resisting my feedback on her last paper. But we talked through things and came up with some solutions that made both of us happy, talked about strategies for dealing with her fear of scansion, and discussed the difficulties of punctuation. She said she was grateful that I'd explained punctuation to her; she hadn't understood she had a problem with it before and was starting to pay attention to how punctuation was used in her textbooks in order to improve.


There's nothing like a newly born punctuation-spotter to warm the cockles of my heart.

Okay. So maybe it wasn't quite as bad as it seemed. Maybe some of them really were getting something out of it.

I just wish I could've figured out how to get them to talk about it in class.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It (almost) endeth

So. I feel like a real person for the first time in about, oh, I dunno. Some weeks. It's like I can see colors again.

What's my secret?

Apparently, I actually slept well last night. Why last night of all nights, I cannot explain. But I am not going to question it, either. I'm just damn grateful.

The last discussion meeting of Comp Class: Impossible was today. I'll see them once more, for the exam on Thursday.

They were the same old inimitable group. Even while I was giving them explicit advice on how to take the final exam and offering tips on exam-week preparation more generally, many of them looked like they were ready to roll their eyes heavenward at any moment. Ah, the darlings.

I did, finally, get a halfway decent response out of them on Till We Have Faces, though Mr. Disloyal Opposition felt he had to explain at some length that he had always liked the protagonist (who creates some very rocky times for herself and several others, but is redeemed in the end) all along, and had never thought her behavior was selfish at all. This despite my distinctly remembering that he and many other members of the class said otherwise last week. And, I might add, despite it being quite obvious that Lewis wishes us to understand his protagonist is selfish at times.

But Mr. Disloyal Opposition, he is never wrong. Or, at the very least, he is always much more right than I am. And he must make that very clear to all of us whenever he gets a chance, the poor thing.

Ms. Entitlement asked me questions she'd asked before--and which I'd answered before--about the last paper assignment. They are questions, in fact, which were answered by the assignment sheet itself. I suspect she was trying to "participate" in the last class, so as to make a "good impression" right before I assign grades.

I had to explain twice--because someone wasn't paying attention the first time--that there would not be an answer key for the practice exam (yes, that's right, folks: I gave my students a practice version of the exam, and yes, I am an utter creampuff) because I gave them a practice exam to help them begin reviewing on their own.

I asked the students to volunteer the passages I'd directed them to look up at the end of our last meeting, and about a third of them looked at each other, right in front of me, and smirked that lopsided, "yeah,-I-didn't-do-it,-either"smirk. Another quarter looked confused and stricken. Most of the rest simply remained impassive. Two or three students had page numbers to offer, so we made do with that.

Honestly, I find that I'm becoming almost nostalgic about them already. Taken together, they're so stereotypically bad that they're actually kind of funny.

That's even true for Mr. Disloyal Opposition and Ms. Entitlement, the one thinking he's profoundly original when his role's been enacted just as unconvincingly by a dozen different students in my experience already, and the other thinking that asking insincere questions we both know I've already answered actually will bump up her participation grade because she's just that damned charming. Both of them thinking, all the while, that I'm incredibly gullible while they are devilishly clever.

Alas for the follies of our youth.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's time for . . . plagiarism!

Yep. I caught one.

I asked my students to do a creative piece, and one of them did a rewrite of a text I happen to know quite well without acknowledging the source. Given, what this student turned in to me is only a draft, but it's still a formal assignment, insofar as it was turned it in to me with the expectation of receiving credit.

Oh, why do they do these things when it's so easy to avoid doing them?

Hey! Look over there!

To give you something more interesting to do than listen to my whinging:

Belle has a post up about her 14-year-old nephew, who's having trouble with his writing. I'd argue that he's mostly having trouble with the arbitrary dictates of that Great Horror, the Five-Paragraph Essay, and I've proposed one potential approach. Anybody else have advice to offer?

La Lecturess made me aware of this professional wiki during the weekend: nifty! That could come in handy.

A very good explanation of "why academic dishonesty is bad" for students as well as for instructors and schools over at Casting Out Nines. (Thanks to Prof. Howard of Schenectady Synecdoche for bringing it to my attention.)

Back to the grading . . . .

The end is nigh

So, I am still unsettled about that thing I mentioned in the last post, but I have written and rewritten the application until I really can't imagine how else to make it better, and many kind but sharp-eyed people have read it over to help me. So that is all I can do.

A big thank-you to the kind but sharp-eyed folks, and yet another to those of you who offered your sympathies and encouragement. Your help means a great deal to me.

Even if I don't get the fellowship I was hoping for, as Morgan reminded me, I now have a good application ready for the other funding sources that are still available. And I also have been forced to answer some important questions about what I'm trying to do in the first place, which will only benefit me as I finalize the prospectus and prepare for the exam.

Though I wish I'd known about the potential, hidden criteria for this fellowship earlier, at least I knew early enough to apply for the few things that are still available--including non-teaching jobs which might be less draining and time-consuming.

Meanwhile, having been thrown off course by this means I'm behind in getting feedback to my students' paper drafts. And it's feedback that's sorely needed, let me tell you. I also have half an overdue set of papers to grade for them. And, of course, there's the fellowship application to print out and turn in.

A student wants to meet with me at 6:30 this evening, which may be do-able, if I'm being especially charitable. Several more have emailed to ask for--or demand, in one case--meetings earlier today which I can't manage, and they're annoyed enough that I expect my "accessibility" rating to plummet on my evaluations. La.

Man. Gotta love the end of the term, right?

I am grateful that it will be over soon. With some luck, I will have all my students' work in hand by Thursday and will be able to focus on grading, planning, and writing. Glorious.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Paul Muldoon

I knew nothing about Paul Muldoon when I ran across this poem in an anthology (I said I wasn't a poetry person, right?). I have been using it in classes ever since. It's fantastic: brief, but so packed full of meaning and so meticulously crafted that I usually spend at least an entire hour unpacking it with my students.

The Lass of Aughrim

On a tributary of the Amazon
an Indian boy
steps out of the forest
and strikes up on a flute.

Imagine my delight
when we cut the outboard motor
and I recognize the strains
of The Lass of Aughrim.

'He hopes,' Jesus explains,
'to charm
fish from the water

on what was the tibia
of a priest
from a long-abandoned Mission.'

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Remind me: Patience is a virtue, right?

So I lied about the light blogging, after all. I need to vent, because Comp Class: Impossible has gotten to me again. And you, O blogospherical buddies, get to hear all about it. Aren't you fortunate?

Honestly, I've done a very, very good job of worrying less about this class on a collective level, privileging my own work more, but still managing to care about individual students and help those people who are making an effort succeed.

So, okay. I know it is nearly the last week. I know we only have two classes left and that everyone is very tired. But this is precisely why I have assigned them a wonderful, moving novel which is ethically complex, yet not stylistically or structurally difficult, for the last couple of weeks' reading. It also ties together many of the themes we've encountered over the course of the class and should, therefore, help the students to begin reviewing for the final.

It's C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, a book I personally adore. And it's not just me. Everyone I know who's read it thinks this novel is pretty fantastic.

It would be difficult to imagine a lazier response from a group of students. It would be even more difficult to imagine how they could make it harder for me to bother. They were, if anything, worse than they have ever been today. So much so that I very nearly just threw up my hands halfway through and said, "Forget it. I give up. I am not wasting any more time with you. You clearly don't give a damn, and, by God, I am tired of busting my ass to introduce you to lovely things and teach meaningful classes when you are so openly uncaring. Just show up for the final exam, and let's get it over with."

Fortunately, I have more self-control than that. I know, however, that my facade cracked enough to show that I was disgusted with them. I've lost the capacity to pretend that their cow-like blankness is not infuriating.

This is a group of intelligent people, all of whom are under the age of 25: they are too smart for me to believe it when they play dumb, and they are too young to have earned the right to that much ennui. I'm sick of their "Seriously,-it-is,-like,-so-incredibly-uncool-to-have-to-be-in-class-right-now,-dude,-'cause-I could,-like,-so-totally-be-hanging-with-the-band-instead" poseurdom.

I may simply turn our next class into a 45-minute lecture, give them some information about the exam (which will happen during our last class session), hand them the evaluation forms, and leave. Frankly, I would rather hear my own analysis of this novel than keep dragging reluctant responses out of them, endure their mock-stupidity, and bear up under their apathy toward something I love.

A question

Things are still quite thoroughly insane. The fellowship applications continue to eat up vast amounts of time. My students are still freaking out, being needy, and demanding to have stuff graded Right. Now! Despite my best efforts, I've gotten sucked into a political crapfest that has to do with my now-resigned student government post. And I had a dream, a couple of nights ago, that involved Ayn Rand wearing a tie-front, midriff-baring top.


So the blogging will continue to be light until at least this weekend.

However, in the meantime, a question: If your cat seems very healthy and has never had difficulties with the litter pan, but suddenly craps all over the floor, that probably means he's pissed off at you, right?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Just Checking In

The Wiseass Professional To-Do list from this weekend:
--Write draft of dissertation fellowship application due in the middle of the month and send to Kindly Prof and Second Reader
--Write draft of travel fellowship application due in the middle of the month and send to Kindly Prof and Second Reader
--Write paper abstract for conference (due Tuesday)
--Send all the above drafts to sympathetic friends who might be willing and able to proofread them for me.
--Re-read texts assigned to my comp students for Tuesday
--Grade one set of quizzes
--Grade one set of papers

I have finished all but the last two items and must now, somehow, complete those tasks and come up with a decent lesson plan by 4pm tomorrow--without skipping class at the dojang.


Really, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping on task by playing Absent-Minded-and-Perhaps-Even-Vaguely-Discourteous with pretty much everyone who crossed my path, by not returning a hell of a lot of phone calls and emails (for which I apologize, if any of you happen to be among the ranks of the neglected), and by wearing whatever happened to be lying around my bedroom when I got up in the mornings. But one of those applications took much, much longer to research and write than I'd thought it would, so I got thrown off my pace.

All of which is to say to you, my blogfriends, that I may have to absent myself from your company for a few more days. But I promise to return and reply to all your recent comments, as well as read entries over at your places, just as soon as I can.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging 1: Philip Larkin

So, I am very late to jump on this particular bandwagon. That's because I have an inferiority complex when it comes to poetry.

Poetry, especially the more modern kind, has not come easily to me. I haven't read all that much of it, because I didn't really "get" it for a long, long time. My formative influences with people who taught poetry also were not very good, starting with my first-grade teacher who refused to let us read poems out loud because they had to be read "in a special way" that was apparently too arcane for mere amateurs.

Fortunately, having to teach poetry has forced me to get my head around it a bit more, and I'm finally starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Becoming poetry-friendly so late in my career does, at least, have the salutory effect of rendering me very sympathetic to my students when I teach scansion and they look at me like I am asking them to split atoms using a pair of pliers.

Even when I was taking my dreadful modern poetry class as a callow undergraduate, though, I really liked Philip Larkin. In fact, I liked him so much that I went out and bought an expensive volume of his collected poetry and read things which weren't on the syllabus. I love his biting sense of humor, his gruffness, his self-deprecation, his flashes of anger, his compassion. Whenever I'd begin to think he'd irretrievably shocked me into frustration with his curmudgeonliness, he'd promptly take my breath away with his candor and tenderness.

He was one of the first modern poets who made me think, "You know, I'd really like to have met that guy." So I'll make my first Friday Poetry Blogging entry in his honor.

Take it away, Mr. Larkin.

Church Going
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.


Photo found at "Today in Literature."

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have . . .

The weather in Big City feels a lot like Ireland's today, which is both good and bad. Bad because it makes me want to be there, rather than here. Good because it reminds me that there are climates more amenable to me than Big City's. Good and bad together because nostalgia is always a mixed bag. (Any Lacanians in the house? Can I get a "Jouissance"?)

Such musings, in addition to tangentially prompting me to hum "The Facts of Life" theme song* at odd moments, lead me into this very sloppy post about what's going on in the World of Wiseass:

--Octavia Butler's death is still haunting me.
--Badger's eviction is on my mind, and I so wish I could do anything at all to help.
--Wonder Woman's next surgery may or may not be necessary, but it will certainly inflict real and permanent damage.
--This stuff in South Dakota--and the necessity for posts like this one--make me want to howl out loud with rage. How have we lost so much ground?
--The news that our president was apparently not so much incompetent and unaware as actively unconcerned about the Katrina disaster is only adding to my urge to howl.
--I can't find the battery recharger for my digital camera anywhere.
--My attempts to beat back the forces of entropy in my apartment keep failing. Badly.
--Weeks ago, I saw pictures of myself which were so unflattering that I can't shake the feeling that I look both ludicrous and disgusting.
--The term is nearly over, which means a drastic increase in student complaints as they realize what their grades are likely to be, an increased grading load, and increased flakiness on everyone's part as we all work hard to (a) care and (b) not fall apart.
--I'm having recurring, painful headaches which Excedrin does nothing to banish.
--I'm sleeping very badly and having terrifically vivid dreams about things which are either horrifying or focused on a profound sense of longing and loss.
--I have to write two fellowship applications, a paper abstract, and at least three pages on my prospectus this weekend. I also have to grade a set of papers and a set of quizzes.

--Crafty Jew, Dr. V., Morgan, and I are going to have a road trip to Kalamazoo, which not only means that the phrase "medievalist road trip" may be deployed in earnest, but also that I will get to visit a truck stop and buy all the beef jerky, Easy Cheese, and weird trucker hats I could want.
--A 'Zoo blogger meet-up is in the works.
--An Ancrene Wiseass CafePress store is in the works. It will include some profoundly goofy things.
--It looks as though I'm going to be able to get published by writing an encyclopedia entry about something which excites me terrifically and which I've been wanting an excuse to research further.
--A wonderfully smart person who has finished a book I didn't know about on a fantastically exciting topic gave a talk here recently which helped me re-frame some of the questions I want to ask in the dissertation and, indeed, figure out what the hell I'm trying to do, anyway.
--Partially as a result of that, I got some real work done on my prospectus Sunday.
--I got to have brunch with Gorey Gal (a.k.a. Map) last weekend, and that was very nice, because I don't get to see that much of her anymore.
--I am getting out of what turned into the Student Government Post from Hell.
--Theory Prof is a wonderful, beautiful man. And he is actually reading and responding to the Unspeakable Project upon which other faculty members won't deign to comment.
--Daffodils are in season again.
--Mouse has this way of rolling over on his side and looking at me with his paws crossed in front of him that just makes me go all gooey inside.
--Boy Roomie has been very nice to me, despite my being whiny, grumpy, flaky, and just flat weird in turns (and sometimes all at once).
--The term nearly over, which means I will soon be able to say goodbye to a class which had Very Bad Chemistry Indeed and hunker down for a whole week (Oh! The joy of Spring Break!) to work on finalizing my prospectus.
--There is a very pretty European man serving coffee in the nearest campus cafe. He is fun to look at.
--I've had a week of good classes at the dojang, during which I made discernible progress and didn't feel idiotic the entire time.
--I wore this shirt with my neon orange Chuck Taylors today and discovered that one of my favorite scarves matches the shoes perfectly.
--I'm having dinner with Morgan, Bellwether, and Boy Roomie tonight.


*By the way, did y'all know that the first season's theme song was even worse than the one we know and "love"? Seriously. Take a gander at this.

An inappropriate shopping spree gets medieval

Two t-shirts. One magnet. One calendar.

Because what better to do, when you can't sleep and you just got a paycheck? And how could I possibly have resisted these, anyway?

Here's where to get the black-and-white designs. And here's where to get the other one.