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.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, Kalamazoo!!

Mom has, sadly, returned to Old Home Sod. And Boy Roomie is abroad. If I weren't so damned busy getting ready for K'zoo, I'd feel lonesome. As it is, poor Mousie is the one feeling lonely, while I toil away on campus in a desperate attempt to get ready for the conference, meet with students to discuss papers,* prepare a paleography report, grade quizzes, plan a class, meet with my substitute, send a blizzard of emails, write up a packing list (I packed once last night and am going to have to re-pack after seeing the weather report), gather last-minute information, make last-minute plans for dinners and meetings and shindigs, and--yes, at some point--actually start revising my 20-some page paper into a 9-page talk. Lordy.

The thought of how much fun I'm going to have meeting people and seeing friends and listening to fantastic talks is floating me through the preparations, grueling as they are, with something much akin to glee. It also puts me in a fine mood that this has replaced this as my mental soundtrack. And that is not even to mention the prospect of The Dance! Or The Fabulous Black Pantsuit of Power! Or The Shoes, which are, hands down, the most gorgeous pair I have ever owned and which I will unveil at the conference. I am so proud of those shoes that I would gladly post a photo of them here, but they are so superlatively marvelous, memorable, and noticeable that I'm afraid the image would give away my sekrit identity. So only a select few will be fortunate enough to see these aesthetic marvels on my newly-pedicured tootsies.

Needless to say, things will probably continue to be quiet on this here blog. I'm looking forward to seeing and meeting many of you at K'zoo and will promise the rest of you an insider's account of the mystery-shrouded ritual that causes hundreds of medievalists in garb of varying anachronicity and newfanglenesse to shake their individual and collective booties on the dance floor.

* Yes. On a weekend. And yes, I prophetically heard your cries of dismay through the computer screen while I typed this.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Josephine Miles

Preliminary to Classroom Lecture

My quiet kin, must I affront you
With a telling tongue?
Will not a mission or request content you
To move as you belong
The fields of doubt among?

The voice to burden down a tale upon you
Were indolent with din.
Would better ask and have the answer from you.
And would you then begin
Querying too, querying, my quiet kin?

Pop quiz

What is most wrong with the following sentence from a current AP news story?

"Rosie O'Donnell is expected to make a surprise return to daytime television by taking over exiting Meredith Vieira's slot on the talk show 'The View.'"

Is it
A) The existence of "The View"?
B) The existence of something called "daytime television"?
C) The career of Meredith Vieira?
D) The fact that a "surprise return" cannot also be "expected"?
E) None of the above? (Feel free to offer write-in answers)

My reaction, by the way, was D. Which is not to say that everything else on that list doesn't definitively qualify as "wrong."

I am such an English teacher.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good news and a thank-you

I probably won't be posting as frequently as usual for the next little while, what with Mom's visit (which we're working hard to make the most of) and the upcoming trip to the 'Zoo (not to mention the little matter of actually editing my paper down into a talk for the conference). But I want to be sure to tell you about a bit of very good news I got today: I've been awarded a fellowship for next year!

This is truly marvelous, since it should allow me to get a good three dissertation chapters written before the end of the year, as well as work up some languishing projects for publication, putting me in good shape to enter the job market in 2007. Honestly, I am more relieved than I can possibly say.

I want to thank those of you who offered sympathies, condolences, advice, and encouragement during the process of applying and waiting for this news. This little blog, blotchy and bitchy as it frequently is, has allowed me to participate in a truly challenging and inspiring online community that has helped me immensely during a very stressful period. I want to be sure to tell you about the happier times, too--and to tell you how much I appreciate your help in getting to this point.

Seriously, I totally love you guys.

And I'm not saying that because I'm drunk, though I do plan to have a couple of fingers of Talisker on the rocks later tonight by way of celebration.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Random Bullets of Crap: Because I Just Need to Download Some of This

There is A Lot of Stuff going on right now.
  • Mom is in town, and we are doing things that need to be done. One of which was getting me a haircut. So I no longer look like somebody whose hair hadn't been cut in three months and had gotten a ringed effect from differently faded dyes. Seriously, it was so bad, I imagine a botanist could have told you in which year there'd been a drought, just by looking at my hair.
  • This is good, since the Zoo is coming up, and I'd rather not look horrible at my Medieval Conference Debut. I have not yet revised my paper for presentation. I cannot tell you how many other things I have not yet done to prepare for the Zoo. Because, if I told you, it would make my head hurt more than it does already.
  • Master Fuzzy Slippers gave me the day off from working off my tuition to hang out with Mom. Master Fuzzy Slippers really is a good sort of person.
  • I have been able to order my sparring gear, at last. That shit costs a lot of money, folks.
  • The exam and associated trauma seem to have turned parts of my mind into a tabula rasa. I can remember almost nothing I learned at the dojang before this past Tuesday. Seriously: every time I go in to train, I feel as though I've suffered some kind of brain damage. And, indeed, perhaps I have.
  • On the other hand, we've started doing some real grappling in class, and I kinda love it. I rolled a fitter, stronger, heavier partner twice and felt stupidly pleased with myself.
  • Paleography is driving me mad for any number of reasons. Honestly, I love the material, but there are some weird dynamics there that aren't so good. Sigh. Sometimes grad seminars just become so bizarre.
  • I think I am going to have to fire Dr. Ms. Suffice it to say that she's just not helping me and she's costing me a lot of money. Anybody who has tips for firing therapists, please feel free to weigh in.
  • I have two students who've had massive personal crises of one kind or another and who've missed an entire week of classes. I am sympathetic--I truly am. And yet, what can I say, other than that I'm very sorry, that I am happy to listen to them if they want me to, that I can direct them to helpful resources on campus, but that they still have to show up to class and turn assignments in at some point in order to get decent grades?
  • I have so much work to do this weekend that it literally can't be done. It makes my head hurt.
  • Suddenly, it's all bright and summery in Big City. Sigh. I was not made for hot weather. It makes my head hurt and my skin prickle.
  • Much better news is that I am the departmental candidate for another University-wide award.
  • Word on the street is that we should hear news about a fellowship I applied for this Monday.
  • I have no idea how I'm going to support myself through the first three months of the summer.
  • After months of silence, Stan has re-surfaced to say that he has finally mailed me the things I left with him and which he promised to send or bring to me in May of 2004--and to say that he realizes he is an "inexcusable" asshole. Stan's sackcloth-and-ashes routine over serial recognitions of his assholery--following his decision to jilt me via an international phone connection last May--have only helped him to become The Ex Second Most Likely to Make Me Question My Sanity for Ever Having Been With Him in the First Place. And folks, first prize goes to my ex-husband, to whom I dedicated a deeply ironic karaoke rendition of "Stand By Your Man," and who served me with divorce papers during exam week in order to save money on his tax return. So you know being in second place ain't no little thing.
  • The women at the salon today looked at me agape when, in response to their woeful cries about how hard it was "to deal with men" and their questions about my own relationship status, I simply said I'd given up on the whole thing altogether; that I refused to pursue relationships and also refused to worry about them any more, because I'd done enough worrying about them already. Apparently, escape is not supposed to be an option in the world of Hair Salon Heteronormativity.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Poetry Friday: Three Swedish Spells

Spell Against Predatory Animals

I read for wolftooth and bearclaw
that they won't touch my sheep, my cow,
neither large nor small.

I pray them away, past the very last crag
where the swan darkens
and the raven whitens.

A Spell

When meeting a bear, say:

You are bear and I am human.
You were not baptized in the same baptismal as I.
Run in the woods and bite a tree.
Not me.

Spell Against Twisting an Ankle

Dave rode across a bridge.
When he came to Tive Wood,
his horse tripped over a root,
twisted a foot.
Odin came by:
"I will cure the twist
of bone, flesh and limb.
Your foot will not ache
and never more break.

Anonymous, c. 800-900, Translated by Siv Cedering Fox

Found in World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time, ed. Katharine Washburn et al.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fanfare, please! K'zoo Blogger Meetup Plans are afoot!

After some delay--for which both Dr. V. and I apologize--and with assistance from the marvelous Elisabeth Carnell, we're pleased to announce that the K'zoo meet-up plans are finalized! All hail Dr. V. for pulling this together while I was wandering about in exam-induced woodnesse.

A few thoughts on race in the blogosphere and an encouragement to look elsewhere

So, I finally have both the time and the internal permission to think about something other than my diss project, every once in a while. And since I woke up very early because I was (ironically) replaying nearly every second of the exam in my sleep, dreaming about answers I should have given and questions I need to think about more fully, I've come to the blogosphere to see what's cookin' elsewhere and to post about some things that've been on my mind for a while now.

Recently, there's been a fascinating discussion in the blogosphere, spurred on by posts like this one from blac(k)ademic. The primary accusations against white, liberal, often feminist bloggers in this conversation, as I understand it, are two:

  • First, that white bloggers tend to want to talk about race almost exclusively when the issue at hand is white people's racism, rather than a broader range of the concerns of people of color.
  • Second, that, when dicussions of race that interest them begin on the blogs of people of color, white bloggers tend to co-opt discussions of race away from those blogs.
I take both of those points very much to heart, and I've been thinking about them a lot lately. I think they're both right on the money. In fact, I think I'm probably guilty as charged, and that disturbs me.

I am still mulling over the implications of that first item. I do intend to work hard to correct my own tendency to view race issues primarily through the lens of white racism. I think it's the straight-up truth that there are many more points of access to the dynamics at play here, and that my tendency to look at race through the lens of white privilege--in whatever form--is keeping me from more fully understanding other people's experiences.

On the second point, it is true that, when a fellow blogger says things that get me het up about an issue and I want to write about it at some length, I sometimes feel as though I ought, out of courtesy, not to hog the comments thread. So I might simply post my response to that issue on my own blog.

And this, one would hope, is where citation comes into play: such posts should always let their readers know who inspired them. I try to explain to my students that learning how to cite things correctly isn't just a silly academic convention. It's about an ethical stance of trust, respect, and honesty: giving other people their due, not trying to claim their thoughts for one's own, and acknowledging the inspiration that others give you. I think I've been pretty good about that in the writing I've done on this blog. But . . .

When it comes to issues involving race, citation can get especially complicated. It's undeniable that the history of race is also a history of appropriation, and I think that really establishes a different ethic we have to think about. Maybe, in the kind of scenario I mention above, it's not only less appropriate, but actually politically unhelpful, to take our comments back to our own blogs. I've commented on blac(k)ademic's post here in this format only because, in the time beween my initial reading of it and my post-exam ability to actually respond, the discussion on her post has nearly petered out. But you all should head over there to have a look around and join in on the conversations she has going now. She always has extremely interesting and insightful things to say, as do many of her commenters.

I also want to encourage y'all to go read a post and a comment thread that really got me going over at Angry Black Bitch's place. Of course, I fully realize the irony of having said what I did about the charge of a Caucasian one-track-mind about race and then directing you to a discussion of the Duke lacrosse scandal. After all, that's certainly a very clear example of racial issues getting loads of airplay and attracting loads of discussion because a group of white people acted like unbelievable asshats. Still, you really, really ought to go read what's going on at ABB's. Why? Well, this passage from one of her posts is a good example:

This nation is young, but the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and the unique exploitation and abuse of women of color is woven into our fabric. It lingers over our history like the stench of a rotting corpse…clinging to our great moments and indicting our bad ones.

Now that, my friends, is some mean writing. It is also some serious home truth. And there's more where that came from, so head on over there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wiseass, A. B. D.

I passed. And most of the questions and responses were actually, genuinely quite helpful. It was, altogether, quite lacking in trauma. I'm guessing they figured I'd been through enough of that already.

So I am now able to put three more letters after my name.

Thank God.

Exam eve

Just to let you know--in addition to the wonderfully supportive comments of friends in and out of the blogosphere, coming across this picture of two unlikely collaborators helped a lot. Something about the discordant looks on their respective faces, that wacky pose, and the "JESUS SAVES" sign in neon in the background, is making me deeply happy. In fact, this photo is almost so priceless that Jessica's commentary couldn't make it any funnier. Almost.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Peeps Ascendancy

The ever-provocative Bitch, Ph.D. has posted on yet another controversial subject: Peeps.

I, for one, welcome our new Peeps overlords.

In fact, at my recent pseudo-dissertation defense, the refreshments included wine, Easy-Cheese-and-Triscuits crudités, and Peeps. This wasn't, initially, my idea, but I can't say that I didn't agree to co-organizer Morgan's proposal with some glee. You see, Morgan knows well my tendency toward what someone once called "a cardboard palate and a cast-iron stomach." Bless her.

Honestly, Peeps are marvelous. And the ranks of Peeps "festishists," as the New York Times article calls us, are swelling--much like a Peep heated in a microwave or toaster oven.

Click here to find punkasspunk's "Peep destruction" website, featuring the marvels of Peep jousting. I must add, of course, that Mr. Punk seems to be going about it in a rather unorthodox way by piercing his combatants with the toothpick lance. Witness the Wikipedia article, which describes the process thus:

One takes two Peeps, and licks the right-hand side of each until sticky. A toothpick is thereby adhered to each Peep, pointing forward like a jousting lance. The Peeps are then set in a microwave, squared off against one another, and heated up. As they expand, the toothpick lances thrust toward each opponent, and the winner is the one that does not pop and deflate. Ties (both fatal and harmless) are common. Both usually are eaten after the competition, however, regardless who the victor was, calling into question the nature of "winning" in such a circumstance.

It is my personal ambition to one day hold a Peeps jousting tournament, complete with appropriate music in the form of fanfares--or at least Queen's "We Will Rock You," a la A Knight's Tale.

You may also wish to visit geekbabe's marvelously comprehensive Big List of Peeps Links, which features many marvels, including the Lord of the Peeps, which is not to be missed.

And, of course, one ought not to neglect the official website, which features graphics so hallucinogenic they give the Teletubbies a run for their money, and where you may register to join the fan club!


UPDATE: Easter turdurken! Okay, really, that's kinda, uh, "ewww." Even for me.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More Not-Friday Poetry Blogging

Something about Poetry Friday seems to be eluding me these days. Anyway, here are three lovely short poems about Spring to make amends:

I. Spring Thoughts Sent to Tzu-An

The mountain road is steep, the stone steps are dangerous;
The hard climb hurts me less than thoughts of you.

Ice melts in a far stream: your voice in its sad tune.
Snow on cold peaks like jade reminds me of you.

Don't listen to the singers, springsick with wine.
Don't call your guests to play chess at night.

Like pine or stone our promise stays,
So I can wait for paired wings to join.

I walk alone in the cold end of winter.
Perhaps we'll meet when the moon is round.

What can I give my absent man?
In the pure light, my tears fall: a poem.

--Yü Hsüan-chi, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

II. Spring View

The willows trail such glory that the birds are struck dumb.
Evening clouds balance above the eave-shaded hall.
A friend comes, not for conversation,
But to lean on the balustrade and watch the turquoise sky.

--Tran Nhan-tong, translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

III. The Spring Is a Cat

On a cat's fur soft as pollen,
The mild Spring's fragrance lingers.

In a cat's eyes round as golden bells,
The mad Spring's flame glows.

On a cat's gently closed lips,
The soft Spring's drowsiness lies.

On a cat's sharp whiskers,
The green Spring's life dances.

--Yi Jang'hi, translated by Chang-soo Koh

All taken from World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time, ed. Katharine Washburn et al.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The "But-that-doesn't-really-apply-to-me!" syndrome

I've noticed a pretty high occurrence of this syndrome in my classes. Here's an example:

I explained, very emphatically and on more than one occasion during the first week of classes, that I would not over-enroll my courses for three reasons:
(1) Over-enrollment in discussion-based composition classes makes them less successful for everyone involved.
(2) Over-enrollment is explicitly verboten by the department.
(3) TAs who allow over-enrollment forfeit some of their workplace protections.

I then told the waitlisted hopefuls--both in class and during office hours--that I could make them absolutely no guarantees they would get into the course, even if they were first on the list. I encouraged those who particularly needed the course to keep searching the online registration lists a couple of times per day to see whether a seat appeared in another section of the class.

Today is the day on which waitlisted students will be automatically dropped from the rolls. So, guess what?

Yep. I got an email in which a student (whom I hereby dub First Runner-Up) said s/he'd done a little sleuthing and noticed that some other course sections were over-enrolled, so s/he knew it could be done. First Runner-Up therefore opined that it would be really awful nice of me if I'd just enroll her/him, even though s/he knew I'd lose my union protections.

Here' s a little multiple-choice quiz for you:

What part of

(a) this Wiseass is not necessarily "nice,"
(b) there is no way in hell it makes sense for the Wiseass to lose workplace rights in order to grade extra papers, quizzes, and exams, and
(c) having apparently been an exception to the rules with one's parents and former teachers does not mean one gets an out with the Wiseass

does First Runner-Up not understand?

The answer, I suspect, is actually "All of the above."

So I replied that I was well aware of other TAs who ignored both departmental and union rules by enrolling extra students, losing their workplace rights in the process, but that I'd made it perfectly clear from the beginning that I was not one of those TAs. And I wished her luck.

Sorry, First Runner-Up. No tiara for you. That's just the way things work.

Somewhere, right now, this Wiseass is almost certainly being called "a bitch." To which she says, "Damn straight!"

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Headless Wonder Strikes Again

Have you seen Scott's send-up of the dissertation-writing process as located in a universe strangely similar to those of Zork and Adventure? It's beyond funny. So funny, in fact, that it's hard to pick out just one section to excerpt, but here's my best attempt:

> work on dissertation

You spend three hours reading five articles which have nothing to do with the dissertation.

> work on dissertation

You spend twenty minutes online reading about baseball.

> tear out hair

Taken. You find the Elvish sword.

> in my hair?

I don't understand that.

> work on dissertation

You spend five minutes playing online poker.

> work on dissertation

You pick your nose.

> work on dissertation

You go to the kitchen and eat cheese.

Go here to read the whole thing. And just a friendly warning: in order to protect the welfare of your keyboard, you should avoid drinking any beverages while reading this parody.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What's up

Yeah, so I'm not posting so much lately. That's likely to continue for a bit, seeing as how my exam falls on the 18th and this also happens to be the beginning of a new term, high season for applications various and sundry, tax time, and the period during which grad students have to figure out how they're going to put food on the table and keep paying rent during the summer. So I'm rushing around trying to put out lots of fires.

Best news I've had all day: Tax day has been pushed back to the 17th, since the 15th falls on a Saturday. Of course, that only delays the news that I'll somehow manage to owe the IRS a huge wad of cash, despite being pretty damn broke, by two days. But there you go. Small blessings are still blessings.

I am starving and must go in search of snack food until I can get home, since there is much ado at the library (recalls galore, among other things). More (though probably not much more) later.


UPDATE: Thank God for these. And thank God I had the sense to stash a few of them on campus. Honestly, I'm so hungry that I don't even care that I also ate one for lunch. In fact, I'm rather excited about discovering this site and am wondering whether buying a whole case isn't a good idea . . . .

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Not-Friday Poetry Blogging: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I'm late with the poetry this week, but this one's very nice indeed, so I hope that makes up for my tardiness.

Some of you probably the title of this poem, but I'm withholding it for the moment, because one of the reasons I especially like this poem is for the qualities it shares with Old English riddles: short, cryptic, evocative. If you want to try guessing the title, make sure not to look below the poem's last line before you have your answer ready.


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in azure lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.


The poem's title is "The Eagle"

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Some thoughts on the first week of teaching

Cautiously, I am going to say . . .

/knocking on wood

. . . that I think this will be a considerably better teaching quarter than the last one.


1. Same time of day, much stuffier room, and yet, these students already are much more engaged and talkative than the last set.

2. I know how to teach the material better this time around.

3. I've come up with several new ideas for ways to structure the course on-the-fly (sometimes while actually standing in the class) that I think are going to make a positive difference. My favorite new idea, so far: looking at the three very short texts I asked them to read on the first day several times over the course of the quarter for maybe 10 minutes after we've discussed new skills and concepts. That means we don't have to uncover everything in these texts at one go, they get an idea of just how dense even very short pieces can be, they see a demonstration of how what I'm teaching can help them toward new insights, and they'll have an indicator of our progress as a class.

I asked the students to do some diagnostic writing on those first readings. I may ask them to answer the same question on the same pieces at the end of the course so they can see the difference--not so they can feel abjected before the wonders I have revealed to them, but so they can see how they've improved and be reminded that reading and coming back to things over time, from different perspectives, is important.

3. I have Theater majors in the class this time! Several of them, even! God, I love those kids. Why?

  • They have a sense of what it's like to perform in front of an audience and therefore try to look interested and encouraging while you're talking--at least, so long as they don't hate you.
  • They understand things like persona and setting and voice--and they apply their understanding to literature. They may even talk about characters or narrators addressing the audience as "bringing down the fourth wall," Lord love 'em.
  • You don't have to worry that there will be a long and awkward silence when you ask whether someone will read a passage out loud.
  • Why are most of them so enthusiastic! about! everything!? I don't know, but damned if it doesn't do my hardened ol' heart a lot of good.
  • They are not afraid to improvise, to experiment, or to talk in front of other people.

Now, don't get me wrong, folks. I love kids from other majors, too. I could wax philosophical about the virtues of science majors or PoliSci majors or even English majors, too. And I have personally and intellectually adored plenty of my shyer students. And yeah, I know I ought not to deal too much in major-based stereotypes. But I also know this, having drama kids in the room sure makes my job one hell of a lot easier. The only trouble is trying to make sure they don't literally upstage everyone else.

4. I have discovered where they hide the colored chalk.

On another note:

I think I have a class which doesn't need so much prompting this time. So I am going to work hard to make myself more a part of the background this quarter. Sometimes, I can be more of a control freak in the classroom than I like. I find myself re-phrasing students' words just a little more, maybe, than I should, because I'm so eager to help them push their ideas further. And then I risk not hearing what they're really saying. Or I just end up doing little mini-lectures because I want to make sure we cover all the bases and I don't really trust the mechanisms of discussion to allow us to do that.

Ultimately, though, I don't I can discount the major motivator behind control-freakism: insecurity. It's true that I've become a much more confident classroom teacher in the past year and change. But I need to trust the students, the process of discussion, and especially myself more. I need to learn to get out of the way and let it happen more frequently, but I also need to realize that I will be able to handle it if we really, truly get into a heated discussion.


Thanks to yet another intervention by Boy Roomie, who surely deserves some kind of medal at this point, all is well. It is done.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nightmares really do come true

Uh-huh. 'Cause I was on campus, making penultimate edits to a print-out of the prospectus, happily printing out apparatus and cover letters, thinking I'd turn it all in by six (a bit late, yes, but I thought my committee members probably would forgive me) and head off for class at the dojang to work out all the angsty kinks in my back, when I discovered . . .

. . . that my computer had somehow managed to lose five pages of the nearly final draft and the back-up file.

Oh, joy.

Honestly, I almost lost it. I had to sorta hug myself and rock back and forth a little in my chair for a few seconds to keep from dissolving. But I didn't dissolve. I'm okay.

I took a break, moved to the grad lounge, since it's obviously gonna be a long evening, emailed my apologies to Master Fuzzy Slippers, and walked to the student union to buy dinner and some fancy envelopes to put the final product in. Hey, I figure if I'm gonna be this late, I might as well do it in style and on a full stomach.

I am hoping three things:
1) That most of my committee members won't really notice and that those who do will feel that a 12:01am deadline, rather than a 5pm deadline, is okay.
2) That I can stay alert enough not to type a welter of stupid typos and nonsensical sentences.
3) That Master Fuzzy Slippers will forgive me for missing three classes in a row (I already missed two because I was too sick to breathe well).

I am grateful for three things:
1) That Boy Roomie installed that printer.
2) That I printed a copy of the prospectus before I left the house.
3) That I am not lying on the floor blubbering and actually think this is kinda funny.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ask the Wiseass: How to deal with Q&A?

The final push for the prospectus continues, but I'm surfing the Internets in order to decompress after the first day of teaching and taking classes (about which more later). Checking in at several of my usual haunts, I read an interesting request. In an online community I subscribe to, an undergraduate medievalist who's giving her first conference paper--which is expanded from work she did for a class--asks how to prepare for a Q&A session.

I remember being utterly, abjectly terrified by my first upcoming Q&A session. Like many other academic hurdles, the actual event was anticlimactic, but I got some very good advice from friends and have paid close attention to the tactics of good Q&A respondents since then. So here's what I said in reply:

To prep, I'd suggest going back over your class notes and skimming through the most important material you read to compose your paper, as time allows. But I suspect your real worry is more about handling the questions you're not sure how to answer on the spot. So . . .

Here are some suggestions for handling the Q&A (or oral exams, for that matter):
1) Be willing to say you don't know the answer to a question if you don't. Don't be afraid to enter into dialogue with the questioner to get more specifics, either. That can often buy you enough time to think up something more specific to say. And you can always resort to: "That's very interesting. I'll have to look into it, because I can see how that would affect my investigation here [in X way] and push my thinking further. Thank you!"
2) Another deflection strategy: "I'm not sure about that particular aspect of the problem, but here's what I'd say about [generally related event, passage, character, author, etc.]." By this time, you've bought yourself a little time and may be able to say something more specific about whatever they actually asked you about through the lens of what you just said.
3) Yet another: "You know that's really very insightful/fascinating/helpful. What you just said made me think about [X] . . ."
4) Take notes on people's questions, especially if they're rambling. That will help you remember what you need to address, give you a chance to collect yourself if you're feeling nervous (since you're looking at a piece of paper and focusing on what to write down, rather than looking a stranger in the face and thinking "Oh, shit!"), help the neurons fire, and make you look coolly professional.
5) Q&A can be a very good chance to mention things you didn't get to include in the paper and/or how you'd push your ideas further if you kept working on them: could this become an article? A book? In what way? You can use such statements to segue away from or into question responses, and you can also use them to burn up some time, if need be.
Obviously, figuring out how to deal with Q&A is important for academics at every level. I'd like to know what you think about this, both for the benefit of one laudably ambitious undergraduate and for the rest of us. What are your strategies for preparing for and handling Q&A sessions?


Sixteen messy pages of prospectus narrative draft.

Two appendices which should be ready to go.

One very long bibliography which (I hope) has only a few items to add.

One long list of items to track down in the library once it (finally) re-opens tomorrow.

One wonderful Boy Roomie who hooked both our computers up to a working printer today.

One finalized class syllabus.

Five readings for next week located and ready to photocopy for my new students.

One lesson plan written and teaching materials gathered.

One set of final exams and one set of papers collated with a grading guide and placed in folders to be dropped off for last term's students to pick up.

One (of about five) readings done for the first meeting of the class I'm taking this quarter (ack!).

Three bags packed and ready to take to campus tomorrow.

Now I'm off to bed with a colored pen, the prospectus narrative draft, and a stack of feedback and info of various kinds that needs integrating into it.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fool

Bleh. Not gonna hide it: I was an absolute wreck for the last day and a half. After suffering what must have been sinus-infection-induced dizzy spells and nausea all day Thursday while racing against the clock to get materials out of the library before they unexpectedly shut down for an entire three-day weekend right before the beginning of the term and having my computer try to quit working--at which point I had a wee anxiety attack--I couldn't sleep at all. So I stayed up all night and finished my grading. Good, yes?

Well, not so much. Because when I finally fell asleep at 9am, I didn't wake up until 4pm. So that's one of three days left to work on the prospectus gone.

I promptly fell into an abject spiral of despair that resulted in spending too much money on a not-quite-rare-enough filet mignon and drinking Scotch (TALISKER!) to forestall an impending crying jag. But I ended up weeping all over long-suffering Boy Roomie, anyway.

Somewhere between the wish to simply wink out of existence and this morning, I thought, "Ah, what the hell. Honestly. Whatever. I seriously give up. This is just not going to be a particularly good prospectus. I am going to stop worrying what other people think about it and work on it until I'm satisfied that I've done all I can possibly do, under the circumstances. Which aren't good. And if anybody complains, I'll just tell them that, if they can do better while combatting a particularly vicious and ill-timed sinus infection, they can go on and do it. Otherwise, they can shut the hell up."

So there. And I'm gonna do it, too.

Okay, well maybe I won't say the last bit quite like that if one of the committee members complains.

Meanwhile, something very odd is going on over at the Making Fiends site. It seems that Amy's left a fiend in charge while she went out of town. I hope it's a short trip . . . .