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, February 23, 2007

How can we reward ourselves?

I'm trying to learn to be more, uh, "positive."

(Brief pause to accommodate the gag reflex I instantly feel as images of glittery pom-poms, powdery candy hearts, and punchy motivational speakers dance through my head.)

Sorry 'bout that. I think I might have to come up with a different word.

While I consult the thesaurus, I'm also consulting you. I'm trying to come up with small ways to reward myself for minor accomplishments. I have a feeling that I might actually be a lot more productive if I weren't always so hard on myself that I simply dismiss whatever I do manage to accomplish as having been unimportant. And maybe there are a few other people like me reading this blog, too.

So, what are your suggestions? How do you reward yourself? How do people you know reward themselves? All comments are welcome, but rewards that don't involve food, don't take up more than an hour, and don't cost more than $10 will be especially helpful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

News for Medievalists and Military History Buffs

Peter Konieczny has asked that I put in a good word for his News for Medievalists blog: I've just gone over to check it out, and it's a very useful compilation of what's new in medievalism.

Those of you interested in military history also might want to look into De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History and The Medieval Warfare Blog, which also is edited by Mr. Konieczny.

Email addiction

Mary McKinney has a dead-on post about email addiction here. I personally have got to work on reclaiming a lot of the time I spend obsessively and unproductively futzing around with email.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Syllabus of Terror

I still haven't gotten around to writing The Post in which I explain my earlier declaration that I might stop blogging altogether, explain why I ultimately decided not to stop, and address some of the concerns I raised with my characterization of blogging's evolution. I really should still comment on that last issue, but, so far as the first two are concerned, I'll just say, none too eloquently, that I am facing down an awful lot of stuff right now.

It has become obvious that I cannot finish my degree by going at it as I have been, that my dissertation (or, as the General aptly calls it, The Beast) demands a whole host of changes from me. Some of those changes are financial, logistic, and methodological. Some of them are more internal. Some of them are relational. Most of them need to stem from an acceptance that this degree-earning process is not just some "phase" I will grow out of in time. I need to gain the practical resources, the support, and the patience and wisdom to accept this as part of a larger career, as well as part of a fuller life that I should not wait to begin until I'm "done" with the Ph.D.

My high-school English teacher told me, when I visited with her over the holidays, that this year--my 33rd--is my Jesus Year, and I think she's right. At least, I hope she's right: if I'm going to move forward, I have to transform.

Some of you know that I've been looking for mantras as a way of helping myself through some of the blockages I'm facing, and that one I adopted was Eleanor Roosevelt's "Do one thing every day that scares you." I particularly like this one because it helps to push me in the right directions, but also because it rations things a bit. After all, it does not say, "Do nothing but stuff that scares you all the time." And this helps, because I think I avoid doing things that scare me in part because, well, just about everything about my life frightens me right now, and if I tackle everything I think I ought to every day, I might just collapse from the emotional exhaustion.

Today, I am trying to push through my fear over the syllabus I'm devising as part of a Big City U. program in which grad students who've advanced to candidacy are eligible to teach a seminar course. It's quite obvious that I will not be on fellowship next year, and teaching will probably be my best option. If I'm teaching, I need to be getting more diverse experience, so this seminar program would be very good for me. Since the course I'm plannng is closely connected to my dissertation and I'll probably be expected to have a dissertation-related General Education course syllabus ready when I go on the market, it's an important exercise even if I don't get the seminar.

So it's important, which is part of why it's scary. This class, as it's evolving, also is pushing the boundaries of what I think I'm qualified to do by crossing lots of disciplinary, geographic, temporal, and linguistic lines. Interdisciplinary work gets a lot of lip service in the academy--and, in fact, the guidelines for the program actively encourage interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches--but my experience has been that this sort of thing isn't all that well received in practice. And I'm worried that those involved in the departmental decision-making process will pooh-pooh my course as a practice in Jungian or folkloristic archetypes, both of which are very much out of fashion. I'm trying very hard to avoid the kind of essentialism which those approaches encourage, but that's exceptionally hard to do when you're trying to build a GE course open to all majors, even if it is a seminar. I guess I'm scared both of being unjustly criticized and of being justly criticized.

Writing a syllabus is an exercise in authority. As Richard Lanham has said, it's also an exercise in devising utopias. Because I distrust authority and utopias--and because I distrust myself--this is a potentially paralyzing task.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Sappy Day! Or, a Single Cat Lady's Guide to Surviving Valentine's Day

Okay, even my cynicism and indignation at the national guilt-trip for the unhitched that Valentine's Day has become quails in the face of this story.


(Maybe it's more palatable to me because it involves skeletons? I do admit to being somewhat morbid at times.)

In other news, when I wake up in the morning, I am driving Boy Roomie's car straight to one of these places to buy myself some lovely things, chief among them being bath bombs, so as to offer myself a long, luxurious soak at the end of the day. I will then proceed to purchase a large box of chocolates and, if they can be found, a bouquet of daffodils. I may even surprise myself with another nice thing or two, though my credit card balances may suffer for it.

Work will wait until I have wooed myself as I deserve to be wooed.

I also will re-read the beautiful "Valentine" that Beautiful Boss gave me today--a compilation of nice things my co-workers had to say about me--and listen to the CD she burned for me. Have I mentioned how beautiful she is?

And I will also spread about a few very silly, very fourth-grade Valentine's stickers featuring absolutely horrendous puns. And send messages to all the people I love most in the world to tell them I love them and to all the wonderful single people I can think of to tell them they're wonderful.

Armed with such powerful magics, I hope to make it through the commercialized onslaught of hetero-normative, pre-fabricated, blood-diamond-sponsored, "old-maid"-outing, "Take-Back-the-Date"-promoting, self-righteous-coupledom-celebrating crap we'll inevitably find waiting to ambush us in the likeliest and unlikeliest of places.

Here's hoping yours is a good one!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I decided, some time ago, that I wasn't truly going to abandon this blog for good, and I've been thinking of posting something saying as much ever since. But, for whatever reason, the time hasn't been right. There are several weighty issues I have to tackle as I re-think the role Ancrene Wiseass is going to play in my life and career, and I think the time still isn't quite right for a full explanation.

But recent events in the blogosphere have made me feel, for the first time in a good while, that I have something to say which actually merits posting here. It may also go some way to explaining one of the reasons why I'm currently in re-evaluation mode.

In case you haven't been following the latest blogging crisis, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister have resigned their posts as blogger and tech support, respectively, for the John Edwards presidential campaign. Why? Because their efforts on Edwards's behalf were being consistently undermined by a particularly nasty specimen of humanity, Catholic League president Bill Donohue. Donohue seems to see no irony in pinning these women to the wall for making specific critiques of Church politics on their own blogs (not sweeping condemnations of Catholicism under the Edwards banner, as he'd have you believe) when he himself has said all manner of vile things about Jews, liberals, queer people, and women who don't know how to keep their mouths shut. If you're interested in just some of the details, you can look here.

Maybe he missed Matthew, Chapter 7:3-5 and Luke, Chapter 6:37-42?

Thanks to the acknowledged "liberal bias" of our media, Donohue managed to get himself plenty of airtime and column inches in which he bloviated about how horrible Edwards was for hiring these awful "anti-Catholics." Unfortunately, the witch-hunt approach paid off.

Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice gave an interview to Rebecca Traister of Salon in which she discusses Donohue's latest "victory," noting that

there is something about this man and his attacks on women that is frightening. There was a while when I refused to go on air with him [for television appearances] because -- you know I am a very strong person -- but I felt physically threatened by this man. He never physically threatened me, but I felt like I was in the presence of an abuser. So for a long time I just refused because it was too degrading to be in his presence. I got over it eventually and have done a few things with him since. I understand that he is so offensive that he does himself damage; as long as I can maintain my equilibrium with him attacking me in the most vicious ways possible -- that only does me credit and makes him look like the abuser that he is. But the glee with which . . . he has gone after these women marks him as an abuser.

There's no doubt in my mind that she's right. There's also no doubt in my mind that a fair number of people will read that paragraph and think that Kissling is blowing things out of proportion. "She herself admits he never threatened her physically! Why in the world would she have this outrageous reaction? I mean, maybe he sounds kinda like a jerk, but an abuser? Isn't that taking it a bit far?"

No. It isn't. And I know exactly what she means.

This is precisely the feeling that I and many other people--a large percentage of them women--got from the harasser I had to face down in a university hearing last term. And those few of us willing to speak out about this bully's behavior (which was, in fact, quite physically aggressive at times) had to listen to exactly the same stuff from people in the university administration who just wanted it to go away. "You can't legislate against people being jerks," they told us. "You needed to gain your voice as a woman and just confront him, one-on-one," they said. When we explained that common sense and the prickling hairs on the backs of our necks didn't recommend that approach, they quirked an eyebrow and consigned us to their mental "hysterical woman" file. One of them suggested that we should apologize to our harasser for not having "given him the benefit of the doubt" and "been real with him." Another wanted to discuss with us the trauma that had been inflicted on our harasser by us, his "accusers." And that was after a university investigation had substantiated our claims and he'd physically threatened a number of people.

No, you can't legislate against people being jerks. But you sure as hell can feel it when a dangerous, vindictive bully with no discernible conscience makes you his target. And, dollars to doughnuts, when you face up to somebody like that, you'll find very few people standing behind you--especially if you're a woman confronting a misogynist. They'll claim that you're out of line, thin-skinned and hairy-legged all at once, a troublemaker with a chip on your shoulder. They'll claim that you ought to apologize to the person who attacked you for "provoking" him in the first place.

So, Amanda, Melissa, and Frances, let me say to you what I wish more people had said to us: Good for you. You for fought the good fight and spoke the truth. You also realized when the fight was rigged and backed out so you could fight another day.

Good for you.