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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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, December 29, 2006

Poetry Friday: Amy Lowell

The Green Bowl

This little bowl is like a mossy pool
In a Spring wood, where dogtooth violets grow
Nodding in chequered sunshine of the trees;
A quiet place, still, with the sound of birds,
Where, though unseen, is heard the endless song
And murmur of the never resting sea.
'T was winter, Roger, when you made this cup,
But coming Spring guided your eager hand
And round the edge you fashioned young green leaves,
A proper chalice made to hold the shy
And little flowers of the woods. And here
They will forget their sad uprooting, lost
In pleasure that this circle of bright leaves
Should be their setting; once more they will dream
They hear winds wandering through lofty trees
And see the sun smiling between the leaves.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Holiday Reading

Merry Christmas to those of you celebrating it!

As usual, my family was generous, and I got lovely and useful things. Several of those things were books, and I'm both thrilled and overwhelmed. Here's the list:

Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, Dianne Dugaw
Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Gerald Graff
Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt: Advice for Humanities Ph.D.s, Kathry Hume
Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson
The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson.

Anybody else gotten new books lately?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Poetry Friday: Wolcum Yol

Wolcum Yol, thu mery man, in worchepe of this holy day.

Wol be thu, hevene kyng,
Wolcum, born in on morwenyng,
Wolcum, for home we xal syng,
Wolcum Yol.

Wolcum be ye, Stefne and Jon,
Wolcum, Innocentes everychon,
Wolcum, Thomas marter on,
Wolcum Yol.

Wolcum be ye, good newe yere,
Wolcum, tweltye day both in fere
Wolcum, seyntes lef and dere,
Wolcum Yol.

Wolcum be ye, Candylmesse,
Wolcum be ye, qwyn of blys,
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse,
Wolcum Yol.

Wolcum be ye that arn here,
Wolcum, alle, and mak good chere,
Wolcum, alle, another yere,
Wolcum Yol.

From the MS. Sloane, no. 2593, fol. 79, ro, late 15th century. Text appears in Thomas Wright's Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: The Percy Society, 1841) and online at this webpage. I have exchanged the letter y for the letter yogh.

P.S. Two weeks ago, I posted Martin Walls's poem "Reformation." If you enjoyed that poem, you might be interested in the collection that contains it, Commonwealth. Especially since Mr. Walls is a kind supporter of poetry blogging, it might be nice for some of us to support him, too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

As if they'd let me into the aristocracy, peculiar or not

Still, this is amusing:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Her Royal Highness Ancrene the Loquacious of Gallop Hophill
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Picked up from Another Damned Medievalist.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dispatch from Old Home Sod

I'm safely ensconced here and am being ridiculously well fed. In addition to being reunited with Mom and Dad, I've been able to visit with two good friends I hadn't seen for a while and with a whole host of acquaintances, to boot. I have seen more trees than I'm accustomed to, breathed much cleaner air than usual, and encountered people playing bluegrass (very well, too) on street corners. And I think my holiday shopping is nearly done, which is good news for my bank account.

I've also been tearing through books that have nothing to do with my work. I seem to have a need to do this every once in a while, even (or maybe especially) when I have the kind of down-time which means that I should be trying to tackle little bits and pieces of projects between visits and shopping and present-wrapping and things. It's kinda like an intellectual and psychic palate-cleansing, I guess.

While it's true that I could probably do with an entire three weeks' worth of nothing but vegging and socializing, there's a certain amount of stress and anxiety that just won't go away unless I make at least a little bit of headway on the major projects that are casting their shadows over me. Hanging out with loved ones, running quotidian errands, and playing with critters and kids is deeply satisfying, but if I'm lying awake with guilt-and-jet-lag-induced insomnia for half the night afterward, I'm not exactly relaxing.

So I'm planning to set very small and well defined goals to get at least a few hours of work done on most (though not all) days. And I just might buy a small bottle of whiskey to help lull myself to sleep at night (easier said than done, I'm afraid--liquor licensing laws are still pretty strict down here).

Meanwhile, I've read these:
--Arthur Machen, Tales of Horror and the Supernatural (Knopf, 1948). I enjoyed this immensely, particularly when I realized that I could actually understand untranslated lines of Welsh in a few of the stories. See? Studying all those dead languages can come in handy sometimes!
--Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City. I initially thought Larson's intermittently flowery style was going to drive me nuts, particularly during the first half of the book. For instance, could this guy be any more obsessed with blue eyes? I mean, enough already with the "blue gazes" and the "blue calms" and "bright blue hopes" emitting from the serial killer's eyes! I also got irritated by several passages in which Larson made unwarranted assumptions for the sake of a more novelistic approach. But the book improved in the latter half, once the pace picked up and he seemed to become more confident about what he was doing.

I bought used copies of this, this, and this at a new bookstore nearby which, of course, I had to investigate. I'm saving this, which I bought earlier, for the plane ride home.

What are you reading (or planning to read) during the holidays?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Poetry Post-Friday: Monty Python

I'm off on an early-morning plane to Old Home Sod. Blogging will re-commence within the next couple of days. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this:

The Philosophers' Drinking Song

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'bout the raisin' of the wrist.
Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away,
'alf a crate of whiskey every day!
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
and Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am."

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Essay grading, Zork style

First we had Scott's Disadventure about writing dissertations. Now we have Eye of a Cat's take on grading the final student essays of the quarter.

>search for commas
Where do you want to search for the commas?

>search for commas around subordinate clauses
Surely you jest.

>search for commas prefacing speech
You spy a clutch of young semi-colons here, looking slightly confused.

>get semi-colons
You have the clutch of young semi-colons.

>throw semi-colons in direction of my own writing
I don't think you need any more of those, young lady.

>but I'm a Victorianist!
That's no excuse.

Thanks to Juniperus for the link.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A word on therapy and this blog

I do thank those who have responded to my last post with advice and sympathy. But concerning the comments that I should seek therapy: while I appreciate the kind intentions behind those recommendations, I also would appreciate not having them repeated.

Please understand that I am not just sticking my head in the sand here: I don't believe I've made a secret of my battles with depression. I don't harbor any illusions on that point.

My last post should not, however, be taken as an indication that I'm "hating on" myself in especially dangerous ways. I am frustrated and peeved with my lack of progress, but I have not lapsed into abject self-loathing. What I indicated is precisely that I'm aware Old Man Depression could drive me down that road unless I take care.

In the past, I have worked with therapists when I was having particular difficulty. I did find some aspects of those visits helpful. Unfortunately, my university-sponsored health-care package does not allow for anything close to consistent treatment for under $40/week, and that's simply not something I can afford unless I'm experiencing a serious crisis. That’s particularly true since most of the advice I’ve gotten from therapists is that I need to get out of grad school as quickly as possible because it tends to do a number on people’s mental health.

In fact, that professional observation may help to explain part of what I'm after in writing this blog. One of the reasons why I write here is that I find it therapeutic to do so. I do, however, want to avoid making this a space for endless self-indulgence, and I have some hope that my comments might have additional uses.

If the conversations I’ve had with friends and acquaintances and much of what I’ve read about other people’s grad-school experiences are any guide, the way I'm thinking and feeling isn’t particularly exceptional. In fact, I'm hoping to use this blog not only to offer myself a "safety valve" of sorts, but also to provide other grad students with the sense that they aren't either alone or crazy, to provide a frank forum for writing and thinking about graduate school, and to offer a snapshot of what it can be like to pursue a higher degree.

That last objective is especially important to me, since I think grad students suffer a great deal from misunderstandings of what we do for a living and how the very real pressures of our lives affect us.

There probably is no such thing as a representation of oneself or one's ideas without some aspect of performance. But I do my best to write this blog in a way that is simultaneously as honest and as ethical as I can manage. While it's not my intention, on the whole, to cause people alarm, being honest will sometimes do that.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pilgrim's (Nearly Entire Lack of) Progress

Uh, yeah. I keep thinking that I'm going to follow up on your comments or update my blogroll or produce something worthwhile for y'all to read, but it ain't happening. Much as I'm not producing anything worthwhile for my adviser to read.

This term has been a bit of a wash. I was, actually, doing okay for a while there at the beginning. I was really only piddling around with the dissertation, but it was productive piddling that seemed to be getting me somewhere, albeit slowly, since I have very nearly no idea what I'm doing. And then I got caught up in some unfinished, infuriatingly complicated administrative business from last year involving a cavalcade of clueless people which is still unfinished, but on pause. And then something truly awful started happening to someone I love. And then it was suddenly very near the end of the term, and I had bupkis. So I freaked out and descended into the Slough of Despond, with occasional visits to the balmy Isle of Denial.

I'm heading for Old Home Sod at the end of this week and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone there. But I am not looking forward to hauling around the metric ton of work I'm going to have to take with me in order to make up for some lost time, particularly since I also will have to lug around instructional videos and equipment in order to study up for my next belt test at the dojang, where I've also fallen massively behind.

I am frustrated with myself for letting stuff get in between me and my dissertation and pissed off by my general inability to focus on what needs my attention when it needs my attention. I think grad school has caused me to develop adult-onset ADD: it's become nearly impossible for me to deal with one task at a time.

I have managed to get a couple of papers accepted at conferences this term, which is something, because they'll be very useful for filling in certain gaps on my c.v. and forcing me to make some headway in important areas. I also have done a bit of research. I have had important conversations and survived some wacky shit and eaten some fried chicken. But I have neither produced very much in the way of New nor cleared up very much in the way of Old, and that's not okay.

The key now, I think, will be to avoid loathing myself so much that I decide to take up permanent residence in either Despond or Denial, rather than plodding on down the path to the Land of Beulah--or at least the Land of Minimally Gainful Employment at a Large Bookstore Chain.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Poetry Friday: Paul Muldoon

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Paul Muldoon's Horse Latitudes (with the lovely UK dustjacket, no less) in a drawing, and it came in the mail this week, so he gets my Poetry Friday spot this week.

I discovered Muldoon while looking through an anthology for teaching texts a few years ago. Not being a great reader of poetry means that I have a tendency to stumble across poets many other people have been following for years, somewhat like a mapless 16th-century mariner who's astonished to find a continent in his path. Who knew?

At any rate, I especially like this poem, which is about hearing a strange noise in the house and going far afield in space and time to locate its source. Like a lot of Muldoon's work, this piece pairs whimsy with a kind of pathos that verges on--and sometimes veers right into the middle of--horror.


Not the day-old cheep of a smoke detector on the blink
in what used to be the root cellar,
or the hush-hush of all those drowsy syrups
against their stoppers

in the apothecary chest
at the far end of your grandmother's attic,
nor the "my sweet, my sweet"
of ice branch frigging ice branch,

nor the jinkle-jink
of your great-grandfather, the bank teller
who kept six shots of medicinal (he called it "therap-
utraquist") whiskey like six stacks of coppers

stacked against him by the best
and brightest of the American Numismatic
Society from the other side of 155th Street,
nor the in-the-silence-after-the-horse-avalanche

heard by your great-great-grandfather, the Rebel yeller
who happened to lose a stirrup
and come a cropper

at the very start of the Confederate offensive in the west,
nor even the phatic
whittering of your great-great-grandmother ("such a good seat")
whose name was, of all things, Blanche,

nor again the day-old cheep of a smoke detector on the blink
in what used to be the root cellar
but what turns out to be the two-thousand-year-old chirrup
of a grasshopper.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

At least I've never had to ask a student to wear undies

Heather of Go Fug Yourself shows her composition-instructor chops in a critique of Lindsay Lohan's latest open letter here.

Just a warning: if you value your computer screen and keyboard, I'd suggest that you not click through while actively drinking any beverages.


I really hope the flu shot I got on Monday makes up for giving me flu symptoms for the past three days by keeping me from getting something worse later on.

In fact, I think I have to choose to believe that it will. Otherwise, I'd be forced to get cranky.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Poetry Weekend: Martin Walls

EDITED to note that, if you enjoy this poem, you might be interested in the collection that contains it, Commonwealth. Especially since Mr. Walls is a kind supporter of poetry blogging, it might be nice for some of us to support him, too.

I found this poem in a discarded copy of Field while looking for something to read on the bus one day. The idea behind it isn't all that unusual, but I like its use of sound and the way it breaks down boundaries and makes familiar things mutually strange.


It is fall in the woods. I go in.
A downed aspen is covered in ears: to what is it listening?

Crack of crisp leaves as I bend to them. The thrill of late cicadas.
A distant grackle testing the season with its pulse of song.

And something else, more feeling than sound. This light
Branch-sifted, granular. As if seen through a grille.

The sun's brass screw tightens. Cold places its shawl on my shoulders.
Slowly dropping leaves reveal vaulting boughs & vast limestone clouds.

Orb spiders have pinned web-theses to the trunks of ash & beech.
Upon our simple lives, they claim, you've built your philosophy.