Grading Hell

I'm sick as a dog -- people keep calling and laughing out loud when they hear me -- and then they quickly apologize because they're convinced I'm at death's door. I don't feel bad as I sound, which is like a 400 lb trucker who has smoked 4 packs a day for fifty years -- that is when voice can emerge from this tortured larynx of mine. But, I'm not at my best.

Worse, I have until 11 p.m. tonight to finish my final grades. I've got 12 more papers to grade, and 45 grades to actually calculate. And since I didn't do any numeric calculating throughout the year, that means translating those oh so vague check, check-, and check+ into numbers. Groan.

But, in the midst of this craziness, I just had a hysterical moment of laughter that I thought I should share. Some words of wisdom on the American Revolution from a student paper:

"Patrick Hennry (sic) warns that if the British don't refrain their legislation they will be faced with the full furry of the colonies."

While no one out there doubts the importance of the fur trade to the development of the American colonies, I doubt that Patrick Henry was threatening the British either with the specially trained American attack squirrels, or with the naughtier connotations the colonists' "full furry" implies. Somehow, "Give me Liberty or We'll Give you Beavers" lacks the punch of the original.

Bad, bad jokes, I know -- I blame it on the fever.

Real update to follow shortly....

I thought that a whole week off from teaching would renew my energy, revive my enthusiasm, and make me all a-rearin' to go for the last two weeks of classes.

So, a week came and went - complete with a visit from friends with two small children (fun, but I don't know how they do it!), a small surgical procedure that's left me with three stitches on my back for the next two weeks, (all I can say about that is ick, ew, and yaaeggh), a completely devastated organic free-range turkey carcass (brined in honey, thyme, and garlic - it went fast), remnants of pumpkin-bread pudding with caramel sauce and bourbon whipped cream (yum), and a 2-foot high stack of grading that didn't get done as I downloaded and watched half of season 1 of Lost, discs 2 and 3 of Season 3 of Buffy, read 2 (or 3?) novels, napped, snuggled Spousal Unit, and moped.

And now, it is Sunday and I have to go to work tomorrow to lecture on the experience of ordinary Americans during the Civil War, face up to the fact that I didn't finish the grading I was supposed to do, and basically return to that thing they call a job. And, I am not refreshed, revived, or rearin' to go. I'm pissed, grumpy, and bitterly resentful that the real world seems to be insistently intruding on my leisure time. So, I've been moping about today doing anything but the things I absolutely have to do. Like grade or actually write the lecture I have to give.

When my Mother called this morning, she asked how I was, and I told her honestly that I was grumpy about having to teach tomorrow. Her helpful response was to say, "Well, Honey, that's why they call it work."

Gee. Thanks, Mom.

I suppose, though, that when your adult college professor of a daughter is acting like a spoiled toddler, it is appropriate to let her know it, in so many words.

But, can I just say, for the record: "Wah! I don't wanna go to school! I wanna stay home and play!"

Cell Phone Policy

The dedicated readers who have persisted through the horrific recent lack of blogginess on my part, will recall that at the start of the semester, I told my students that if their cell phone rang in class, I would answer it and cause them some slight embarrassment that they may wish to avoid.

Well, Friday, I got the chance to put my money where my mouth was.

We were having a (rather sluggish) discussion about the causes of the Civil War, when one of my favorite student's phone rang. The whole class looked at him, then they looked at me. He looked at who was calling, rolled his eyes, and said, "It's Jane,"* and smilingly handed the phone over to my outstretched and eagerly awaiting hand.

"John's* Phone," I said.

In a slightly bitter and hostile tone, a young woman's voice replied, "Is John there?"

I said, "He's in class right now and can't talk. He'll have to call you back."

She said, in an increasingly bitchy tone, "Well, he can't call me back. I'm not at a place where he can return the call. Can you just tell him that Jane called?"

I said, "Sure." Then I paused for dramatic effect and said, "This is his professor."

Dead silence. And then, " OH.... MY.... GOD...."

I cheerfully told her I'd give John the message and then handed the phone back to John, who was clearly getting a kick out of the whole thing.

The other students were looking on with varying degrees of amusement -- since John was ok, it was clearly fine. And, I have to say, it was probably the most fun I've had in a sluggish discussion on the Civil War. The other students got a kick out of it, and John was definitely enjoying himself too. And, then, they all jumped right back into discussion.

It was clearly a good technique for dealing with this issue. But, without a doubt, the best part was the fact that Jane thought I was "Another Woman" with access to John's phone while she was busy on a trip out of the country and then realizing that she had been treating a Professor like a skank who was trying to steal her boyfriend.

*Names have been changed to protect the slightly innocent.

So, remember that talking-to I had to give my first year students last month? It worked for a while -- people were pretty quiet, paid better attention, and were seemingly engaged. We had a great couple of discussions. So that was pretty heartening.

Then, a few days later, I had to pull aside two of the three worst troublemakers after class for talking to each other and horsing around in class instead of paying attention. I was pretty annoyed. But the situation was pretty funny. Here I am, all 5'6 of me, wagging my finger up at these two huge linebackers telling them they had to stop talking to each other in class because it was rude and disruptive. They looked sheepish and said they would stop. Then they stopped coming to class for a couple of sessions. Well, I guess that's one way to make sure you don't talk in class.

The third troublemaker was able to hold it together for a little longer. Then last Friday, while I was lecturing, he started making kissy faces to another guy across the room. I was totally distracted. So, I stopped the lecture, and asked if they needed to get a room. Or if they just needed to go outside to talk to each other. The receiver of the kissy faces had the grace to look abashed. But the kissy face maker pulled this "I'm hurt and offended that you would think I was misbehaving" face. He was all like, "Who? Me?" Yeah, you, punk. I told him to cut it out. Then, as I resumed the lecture, another student joshed the kissy-face maker, saying, "Dude, are you gay?" Sigh. So, I successfully quelled the horseplay by opening the door to homophobia. No exactly what I had intended.

Then, yesterday, Linebacker Troublemaker # 1 asked me after class if I could grade his paper before Friday, since he has until then to drop the class if his grade didn't improve. I told him I'd be glad to. Linebacker Troublemaker #2 was not in class. He stopped by my office hours with the paper to sign to drop the class.

So, with 1 less troublemaker in the class, perhaps things will go a little more smoothly. I'm not exactly happy that the solution to this situation has been that the students who are disruptive (and failing, I might add) have left, instead of working to improve their work and their behavior. But, maybe it is best all around. Now, if only troublemaker #3 will get it together...

A professor can dream, can't she?

(NOTE -- just so you know it isn't all troublemaking and kissy faces here in Stewgad's world, I've had three students in the last week tell me that they had hated history classes, if not all of their previous college courses, before my class. And that they were really enjoying the course -- could they take my classes next semester? Which, of course, was really nice to hear.)

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Well, I had my first official public gaffe at the College here last week. I wouldn't share my pain, except it is pretty damned funny, and since I've been a delinquent blogger, I must pay for my bad, bad blogging track record by revealing painful incidents in Stewgad's stumbling steps up (and down?) the ladder of academia.

Last week, as a new faculty member, I was invited to attend a fancy-schmanzy dinner with the trustees and active alumni who were in town for the annual money-grubbing (oops, I mean fundraising) and socializing weekend. I didn't really want to go, mainly because I had to come back on Saturday for a conference I was involved in -- so that meant I'd stay late on Friday, drive home for an hour, get up the next morning, turn around and come back. I had a place to stay lined up, but it fell through at the last minute. I thought about a hotel, but Spousal Unit almost had a coronary when I told him how much the Motel 6 cost for one night. I almost didn't go, but when I asked around, I was informed in no uncertain terms that I SHOULD attend this fancy dress party dinner thingey if I wanted to justify my beloved tenure-track job.

Now, before I tell the story, let me assure you that there is a reason I became an academic. While I can schmooze if I absolutely have to, I'm pretty lousy at it. And, I hate it just about more than anything... except maybe grading. I'm awkward, when I get nervous I tend to babble or clam up, and I'm just a touch agoraphobic, so being stuffed into a room with a ton of people isn't a picnic for me. (That is, unless it is a picnic, then I'm fine.) Anyway, I became an academic so that I could spend my life hidden away in a dusty library filled with books. And then emerge occasionally for interesting and enlivening exchanges with young people who are learning about the kinds of things I'm learning about too. I did not want to be a corporate player. I did not want to have to exist in the full-court-press business world. So, it was a bit of a rude awakening when that world suddenly crashed my safe, insular academic universe at this dinner last week.

But, none of this is the humiliating part.

I love my job and I love the place where I work, so when the time came, I put on my suit and some lipstick, plastered on a big smile, and walked into the reception area room where the before-dinner-drinking and schmoozing was going on. As I walked through the doors, I realized that there were about 500 people crammed into this space that could hold 300. It was basically elbow to elbow people and I knew exactly 10 of them, and none of those very well. I gulped, and pushed my way to the bar, looking for a seltzer to give my hands something to do. On my way there I sort of bumped into a trustee. He turned around and started to chat with me about what we both did and who we both were. I started flailing. In these situations, it always takes me a while to warm up -- to adjust to the din of a billion voices, to be ok being in such a crowded space, and to switch gears from teaching/lecturing or just being me alone to performing and being smart. Well, I wasn't yet warmed up for this guy. I was not smart. He told me he had just given a talk on a really interesting and important area of his field. I asked if he was a practitioner of his field or a scholar of that field. He said, both, really. I said, and I quote, "Hm." That was about all I had. He asked what I worked on, and I told him it was an area of Constitutional history. He replied with something that he was thinking about, and I tried to differentiate what I did as Constitutional history, from what he did, and I failed badly - and wound up making a statement that revealed how truly stupid I was at that moment. At which point, he politely disentangled himself from the awkward, and dumb, new faculty member and moved on to greener pastures. As he walked away, I realized that his name was the name of a very big and new fancy building on campus. I had just blown it with a very important guy for the campus.

As I stood there, crammed in between all of these people, feeling awful, and looking down at my seltzer, trying to figure out a way to redeem myself, they made us all quiet down for a group of students to sing to us. And then the A cappella started. It was so awful -- the humiliation of me, the stuffed-in nature of the billions of people in this room, and then the ridiculousness of people going "btthff btuhff bttff" to simulate rhythm while others hum along and one dude belts it out. I almost started laughing, and crying at the same time. It was clearly my punishment for blowing it with Big Time Donor. (But, maybe not. To paraphrase BtVS, nobody deserves a cappella.)

Soon they let us out of the packed loud room, and we went in to dinner, where the new faculty were divided between tables of trustees-- one new faculty person per table. Clearly we were the performing dogs and ponies at this crazy show. We were there to show off for the college, and to show off for ourselves, and to justify the boatloads of money these generous folk give to the school. Anyway, the food was good, my dinner companions were lovely, and the conversation manageable. But, I was exhausted. Finally it was over and I could drive home.

By the next day, I had promptly forgotten the humiliation of the whole thing. I was pretty much willing to write it all off as an oh-well, better luck next time Stewgad kind of a thing, but it gets worse.

Today, I was telling a close colleague about my embarrassment at letting myself down in front of this big-time donor, trying to get a laugh. My lovely new colleague politely informed me that not only was this man a big-time donor, and important man on campus, but that he was one of the most important people in his field in the 20th century and a major figure in public America. He told me that there are scads of books written about him, and that he has been depicted in at least 2 major Hollywood films.

But the kicker that make my humiliation complete is his field: American Constitutional History and Law. Yep. The very thing I had tried to proclaim my expertise in. And I can't even blame the liquor, because, dammit, I was drinking seltzer.

So, give a big three cheers for The Stupendous Stewgad - the Diving Daredevil Trick Pony with the Stumblingest Career in the East.

Middle of the Road

Thank you all so much for your incredibly helpful comments and advice about the unruly, unprepared freshmen (UUFs). They totally helped me -- not only to feel like I was not in this for the first time all alone, but also to have some really incredible constructive suggestions for dealing with the the UUFs. I think a really interesting thread has developed around this issue -- and I'd love to continue the conversation -- so keep the ideas coming!

In case you've been dying to know what I did, I decided on a fairly middle-of-the-road speech, with some drop-and-give-me-twenty undertones. It wasn't the harshest I could be, it certainly didn't reveal how truly pissed off I was as them, but it was what I was most comfortable doing. So, that seemed like it would be the best.

I decided that while I was upset that they were coming to class unprepared, and that they don't contribute to discussion, what really pissed me off was how they behaved to the wonderful library staff person who gave his time to help them learn how to do research. While the in-class stuff sucks, I can deal with in subtler ways than the full-frontal attack. Like pop-quizes -- the Passive-Aggressive Professorial Attack.

But, the way they treated the librarian was trully horrific and absolutely had to be addressed. So, at the end of class on Friday, I told them the following:

"I just want to take a minute now to talk to you about your behavior during the library computer session on Wednesday. While most of you were engaged and diligent about the exercises that Amazing Librarian provided for us, some of you were not. Your behavior during that session was immature, disrespectful and inappropriate.

When you are on a sports team, it is absolutely expected that you will respect the coach. You pay attention when the coach is speaking, and you do not talk while the coach is talking. [There are a lot of athletes in the class. Thanks to Cleis for suggesting this approach.]

In a classroom, it is absolutely expected that you respect the professor. You pay attention when the professor is speaking, and you do not talk while they are talking.

In the library, the expectation is the same.

Now, I’m not talking about everyone, but some of you, and you know who you are, did not live up to this expectation of maturity and respect. And it did not go unnoticed. The Librarian commented on your behavior to me afterwards.

Look, college is your first step into the professional world. It is your training for becoming adult professionals. Start acting like it."

So, that's about as hard-ass as Stewgad gets.

I can't yet report what their reaction was, but I can tell you that they were absolutely silent while I was talking. So, that was good. Some of them looked sheepish, and one of the unruly ones made sure to tell me to have a nice weekend.

It was less elaborate than Prof. Bastard's amazing "You don't have chicken shit or car-bomb related jobs" speech, but it was the best I could do given my midwesterness and my inherent aversion to conflict. In fact, when I started talking, I got the shakes big and bad. I had to put my hands in my pockets so that they wouldn't see. And I shook for a good few minutes aftewards.

Anyway, I'm lecturing on Monday, so that will further reinforce the "I'm In Charge" mode. We'll see how discussion goes on Wednesday.

Thanks again for the advice -- I'll chime in on the comment thread to the previous post when there's less grading to do. (I've got 2 sets of papers right now, and another set coming on Wednesday. Sigh.)

Well, thank goodness from my Wednesday Sophomores. They totally dug the exercise and got really into it. In fact, one of the students who is doing least well in the class actually pulled out his textbook to look something up while analyzing the cartoons so that his group could better understand what was going on in the image. He used the texbook as a resource! I almost cried. They talked to each other and to me for 85 minutes about these materials and had some really interesting interpretations and a lot of ideas. It made me very happy.

So, this leaves me with a serious problem. I think I've lost control of the MWF class. (Which was reinforced yesterday by the students' behavior in the library tour and computer lab exercise yesterday. I had to tell one kid TWICE to stop checking his email DURING the reference librarian's presentation, and I had to walk around and poke and prod MANY of the other students into actually doing the activity the librarian had developed -- which was a good one for finding secondary sources on the web.) I was completely frustrated. If I had wanted to monitor the behavior of my students, I wouldn't have spent the last decade of my life attempting to get this freaking degree. I would have gotten an education degree, (the M.uchlesshard A.ctually degree) been in and out in a couple of years and gone on to teach junior high. I did not take this route because I do not want to teach children. I want to teach adults. But, here I am, having to teach children.

In addition to this unruly library tour behavior, the number of stupid disruptive things that happen in the classroom have increased in the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure I can really articulate it, but I have this strong sense that the MWF class isn't engaged, and that they have just decided to write the class off and ride it out for the last half of the semester. I feel like they don't respect my authority, nor do they feel challenged or stimulated. But I don't know and/or can't tell if it is that they are too challenged -- that the material is too difficult for where they're at. I'm suffering all sorts of existential angst about this. And am not really all that surprised to discover that it really matters to me that this group of young men and women seem disengaged from the materials and from the course.

So, I've got a couple of questions that I would love some advice on:

1. What do you do when you think you've lost a class? I've got 7 more weeks to go -- I clearly have to do something. But what?

2. Should I scold the whole group for the behavior of a few students during the library tour and tell them that I was embarassed and really unhappy about the disrespect they showed to the librarian? (In the students' defense, there were a lot of computer problems with the library links, so this made things awkward and kind of disjointed in his presentation and in their ability to work through the exercises.) The last time I scolded a class, it was bad -- it turned them against me and led to mutiny. Seriously. It was that first horrible class and after I scolded them for not doing the work a few weeks into the semester, a group of them got together and went to the head of the program to complain about how much reading I had assigned. Which, FYI, was WELL BELOW the parameters set by the program for weekly reading assignments. To my eternal gratitude, the program director told the mutinous ones to get the hell out of her office and to be grateful that they had a good teacher. But, regardless -- this experience left me skittish about public expressions of dissatisfaction with the students. Plus, as a good midwesterner, I avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. So, my question is, what do you guys do when a class has misbehaved? (And I still can't believe that I am having to ask this or deal with it. It is so bloody stupid.)

3. I've never been a big fan of mid-semester evaluations, but I'm thinking about doing one to get some feedback from them about what they think is going on. Do you have a format that you like that elicits constructive feedback and not just griping? I have the sense that these kids would love the opportunity to complain about the quantity of reading and workload, but I don't want to give them that chance. I'm well aware that they feel pushed by the amount of work. (The same amount that the WF students seem well able to manage.) But, I do want to know why they seem to have checked out recently. Can I include that on the form? (Question 1: What is working well in the class so far? Question 2: What do you want to see more of for the remainder of the semester? Question 3: Why are you all turning into petulant children?)

I really don't know what the best approach is going to be here. I just have to hold my nose, close my eyes, and dive in. But, man, right now I'd really love to get my hands on that "Here's How To Teach Correctly" manual that I was looking for way back in August as I worried about, ironically, what to teach on Friday, October 21. I must have had some kind of prophetic sense that I'd be in trouble on this day.

Anyway, anybody out there who has that manual, look up Unruly Classroom for me in the index, and send me what it says.

Spellcheck is down -- sorry for any stupid mistakes.

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Bad Luck Bullets

Ever had a run of bad luck? Just were everything you tried to do was made just a little bit harder by the fates for no apparent reason other than to bedevil you and make you moan and curse and explode with frustration? I'm in a bad-luck rut right now, and it is driving me batty. Here, in a nicely organized powerpoint-friendly bulleted list are my bad luck moments:

• When I left for work yesterday, I turned the corner off of my block onto the main street and it was --- closed. I had to detour around 6 or so blocks and backtrack to get to the coffee store.

• My decaf Americano was awful. Far too watery and not enough umph. And, what's worse, I knew it would be because I had had bad luck with this barista before -- but I thought I'd try it anyway. Because, hey, it's coffee. I was driving. I wasn't having breakfast. I needed it. It sucked.

• I got back into the car, and turned down another street to head to the big road that takes me to work an hour away -- closed. Construction. I had to wait for 15 minutes while cars crept slowly by on the one lane that had been stripped down to concrete corduroy.

• Driving on corduroy road jostled the bad coffee into spilling because it was still completely full because I didn't drink it.

• When I finally found an open road that was actually paved, I got stuck behind a large produce truck on a long stretch of the road where passing was verboten. While no vegetables actually attacked me, but the way my luck was going, I wouldn't have been surprised.

• After I got out from behind the vegetable truck, I had to slam on the brakes and honk to get a couple of deer out of the road before I hit them.

• Then, in class, the EXTENSIVELY prepared exercise I had worked out for Monday's class on political campaign materials from the 19th century tanked utterly and completely. I had these great (I thought) group exercises -- where one group looked at ballots from the 1820s-40s like these and these, one group looked at campaign songs Tippecanoe cause he's our guy, he killed all those Indians and drinks hard cider, that'll make him a great president... etc. You can hear a few here), and another group looked at political cartoons like this one. I had them work in small groups and analyze the images/text, then get back together as a group and I had large images printed out -- and they were supposed to share their ideas about it while we all looked at the cool political stuff. Two students fell asleep IN SMALL GROUP, and the rest of them didn't have really much of anything to say at all about these things. It was awful. I did my best to talk about how cool these images were, and what they told us about 19th century politics, but it was pretty much like beating a dead horse. Or attempting to engage bored students. In other words, impossible.

• On the way home I had to slam on the brakes and honk to get a four deer out of the road before I hit them.

• When I finally got home, to ease the bad-teaching-day pain and deer-created anxiety, I made myself a yummy drink (variation on a fuzzy navel -- plus apricot juice. mmm.), and tried to take a HOT bath to have with my cold drink. But, our giant cast-iron tub didn't fill all the way with hot enough water because Spousal Unit has been worried that our energy bill is going to be a bazillion dollars this winter so he turned down the temperature on the hot water heater tank. So, I sat there in lukewarm water nursing my drink and cursing the bleeding environmentalists, because I know they're right and I shouldn't use so many of the earth's resources just to sit my bad-luck butt in 20 gallons of excruciatingly hot water, as well as cursing my tightwad, oops, I mean, frugal, concerned, and earth-conscious husband because I know he's right that we should be conserving energy right now to help our budget as well as the earth. What's worse? While I was upstairs grousing about the cold water, he was downstairs making me an amazing dinner. It even had a salad. So not only was I cold and grumpy, but I was a bad, mean person.

• This morning I faced a number of hard things that I have been putting off. I decided I would dedicate a whole day to doing all of the shit I hate to do. Such as calling people, making appointments, and dealing with campus bureaucracies. First, I scheduled a doctor's appointment (I HATE the doctor beyond almost anything except grading -- all that poking and prodding. Is it really necessary?). Then, I tried to turn in my "I'm taking a leave" form to the graduate school registrar. I flew up to Old Campus make it before noon, I double parked illegally in a disabled space (Yes, Mom, I know.... I'm going to burn in hell. In my defense, there were 4 others at the exact same place that were open), ran into the school, all prepared to do battle for my Leave -- and the office was closed until noon for meetings. So, I had to come back. Which I did, then turned in the form, with little fanfare or resistance. Then, I went to the Cage for the first time in FOREVER, and purged it of books that were charged to my account. Now, I think I only have 2 books checked out to my Important University account. The rest are either returned or charged to my Cage.

• Just now, trying to make this post -- I can't get any of the links to work. I got an error message for EVERY SINGLE ONE.

None of these things are really horrible. In fact, they're just normal everyday stuff that we deal with as humans existing in the world with other humans. But, just today, I am wishing that there were fewer other humans making obstacles for me like closed offices, closed roads, closed minds, bad coffee, and cold water.

And grading. Item # 2598 that I've been putting off...

Updated to fix the strange extended words that blogger added with the spellcheck. Sorry guys for the earlier illegibility.

Fall/ing Away

Fall is my favorite season. I love it when the air gets crisp and clean, and washes away the fog of summer humidity. I love the way the light feels and looks -- both cool and warm at the same time. I love sweaters, jeans and wool socks. I love it when it finally gets cold enough to bake and make soup. I love having the excuse to be cozy at home.

I also love the way the trees so graciously shed their leaves -- offering them a last chance to show off, to explode with painful beauty, and then letting them go their own way, perhaps carried off by the wind, perhaps settling gently nearby. But this shedding, even though I love the beauty of it, is always a touch sad. While it is this amazing gift the trees give us -- a memory of vivid color to hold with us through the greyness of winter -- it is also, of course, the last gasp for the poor leaves themselves. And it is a clear reminder that another year is ending.

Today, I recognized in a very visceral way for me that another year had ended. I took a huge emotional leap and returned all of my library books to Very Important University. My library privileges have been revoked because I'm no longer registered as a student (I'm on leave to teach). While they allowed me to keep what I had already checked out, I'm not able to renew. A few of these books were starting to become overdue, and I just thought that maybe it was time to let them go. I thought that maybe, since it is the fall after all, it was time to just graciously shed these things that I have been carrying around for far too long. To let them fall away from me now.

It wasn't that I was using them. In fact, some of them I've had checked out for a decade and haven't cracked open in a couple of years at least -- but it was their presence that was important. As long as I had a lot of books that had to do with my dissertation, then I was still a student. Since being a student was vital to my identity, the books were a close link to that sense of myself. As well, as long as I had this huge shelf-consuming batch of books, it meant that I was still "working" on this project -- even if I wasn't working on it, really.

Getting rid of them was hard -- really hard. But, it was good. Now, to actually work on my dissertation, I actually have to WORK on it. I can't use the fact that I have so many sources of other people's knowledge in my nominal possession as an excuse for not using and writing up my OWN knowledge. I know I'll need some of them again when I return to the dissertation in December. (I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I won't really be able to do much until then.) And I've written down the titles. It turns out, I even had my own copies of some of them already. The others, I'll get and use when I need them, one at a time -- so that I actually read them in a targeted way for what I need them for -- to help me advance my own argument. I'll do this instead of having them all around me serving as an excuse not to work on my own argument because "before I write anything, I have to read all of these books..."

While it was hard to let them go, it was definitely the right thing to do. (And besides, I can always check the same ones out without due dates or fines at the new, smaller library!)

I just checked out a book from New Small College's library.
Here's what the conversation looked like:

Librarian - -"Here's your book. Thank you."
Stewgad -- "Ok, thanks. When is it due?"
Librarian -- "Due?"
Stewgad -- "Yeah, like, when is it due back?"
Librarian -- "Um, really, actually never. Unless it is recalled by another user."
Stewgad -- "Never?"
Librarian -- "Never."
Stewgad -- "Woah."

Did you guys all know that faculty don't have to return books ever? This was all news to me. And quite welcome news, at that. I swear, I have owed about $10,000 to Self-Important University over the years for forgetting to renew all of my books. Then, I would have to go and grovel to the Library Shrew who would scold and yell and tell me I was a bad, bad girl, and that she would NEVER forgive my thousand dollar fines again. Until the next time six months later when I would again forget to renew the 300 some books I have charged out. So, now, wow. No fines. No shrew. Just privileges.

This might just make up for the whole weight of the faculty world crap I was just moaning about. Perhaps.

Lately, it seems like blogging is the last straw that just might break this camel's increasingly overburdened back. I'm finding it sad, and am mourning the loss of this regular part of my life. It seems to have gone the way of many me-related things this semester: exercise, vegetables, mowing/pruning (man, does my lawn need mowing!), household care, personal hygiene (man, do I need a haircut!), sleep. The only reason I am wearing clean underwear and can eat off of clean dishes is because Spousal Unit is the best partner in the whole wide world.

I had a 4 day break starting last Saturday and I did NONE of the things I had planned to do -- like cut the lawn and get a haircut. Let alone, work on my dissertation. I did briefly clean the bathroom, but that was purely motivated by fear that the flora multiplying at a phenomenal rate in our toilet was going to mutate and become sentient. Other than cleaning the toilet, the only thing I did was sleep. I took a 3 hour nap each day Saturday and Sunday and then went to bed at 9 or 10 and slept until 8 or 9 the next day. I was so beyond exhausted. I was bone-tired: so tired my bones ached. Yesterday, I managed to stay awake all day by reading fiction and watching Buffy. {Sidebar: Stewgad's top 5 favorite Buffy Episodes*: 1. Tabula Rasa - s. 6; 2. Fool for Love - s. 5; 3. The Zeppo - s. 3; 4. Something Blue - s. 4; 5. The I in Team - s. 4.} So, as a consequence I'm at work today on a deserted campus and I'm having trouble making myself actually work. I have 200 papers to grade and a lecture to write, a unit to plan, stuff to scan, and I can't seem to make myself do it.

I had a horrible thought yesterday, as I realized that my sleep/fiction/tv time was coming to an end. Is my life going to look like this for the next 7 years, until I get tenure? Is this all there is? Will I be so exhausted that I sleep for two days every time I get a break? Will I be behind forever? And then, sneaking into that line of thought are questions like -- How on earth can we get a dog/and/or other dependent if I don't even have time to pick my clothes up off of the bathroom/bedroom/living room floor? Or, how on earth will I have time to do the other things I want to do like write a novel, learn to play the banjo, garden, blog, read other blogs (159 unread in my bloglines), or paint?

All of these things are distant fantasies, really, but I guess what I'm struggling to come to grips with is the shift from a horizon of endless possibility to a more constrained and limited future. Yes, it is a future I am choosing, and yes, I am pretty sure I don't want a different one, but in Graduate School the only thing before you was possibility -- which is often as oppressive as constraints -- like when you're in the desert or a Midwestern field and you feel the weight of the sky pressing down upon you because of the vast emptiness. Now, I don't have endless possibilities. I have probabilities and responsibilities. These feel far heavier than that emptiness ever did. More secure, safer, and noble somehow, but still, heavy. Perhaps heavier than I can carry. I guess I'll find out.

*Disclaimer -- I'm sure I'm leaving out my real favorites -- like Once More with Feeling, Hush, Becoming1/2, The Gift, The Wish, etc. but these are the obvious choices and I'm going for a little originality in my unoriginal geekdom.)

This week, I am drowning in student papers. To give myself a break between one bad paper and the next, I came up with a list of the things I hate more than grading. It's pretty short:

1. Needles.

I'm a fainter. The woman who draws my blood at the doctor's office when I have to have it done says that I have the smallest, trickiest veins she's ever seen. Thus, attempting to put anything into or take anything out of these slippery little suckers often leads to fainting on my part. Perhaps so I can just check out and avoid the whole process.

2. Insects.

Why do they always go for eyes, noses, and mouths? I got back from class the other day and idly rubbed the eye booger crusty stuff out of the inside corner my eye and out came a bug. The gunk was actually a bug. I was so icked out. How long had he been in there? What the heck was he doing? Did he put up a condo and lay in a garden? Did he leave behind friends or children or neighbors? AND, more importantly, did anybody see this colonizing bug setting up shop in MY EYE and just not say anything because they thought I KNEW he was moving into the neighborhood??!!@#??

3. Emotional Ambushes.

Those are the things that happen when you think everthing is OK, but it really isn't, but you had NO CLUE that it wasn't ok, and you suddenly get informed of this at the worst possible time in a way that gives you absolutely no warning about what is coming and no way out once it all begins.

4. My Dissertation.

Yep. I'd rather grade that write my dissertation. I really hate that fucker right now.

5. .... Um.....???

I couldn't even think of 5 things. I hate grading so much there are only 4 other things in this whole world I like less.

How about you? What do you hate more than grading?

I've had a pretty rough week - some of which I can't share, and some of which I can and will at a later time, but I've been a delinquent poster in consequence. So, here's a meme to tide you all over until a real post. (Which may be Monday or later. Tons of Grading, a Paper proposal, and a lecture come first.)

Saw this on Overread and Sappho's Breathing

So, in honor of banned book week, I'll chime in and add to the books I have read my assessment of why The Man (the evil dude behind the curtain responsible for all bad things in the Universe) opted to ban them.

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier {Hated it, but it was clearly banned because The Man must perpetuate the bizarre use of children to sell handy fundraising products like Chocolate.}
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume {or How I Learned the Details of Sex, age 10. I tried to talk my mom into buying it because it was a "Judy Blume" book. She saw through that one toot-sweet.}
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel {or How I Learned More Details of Sex, age 13. I'm sensing a theme here to the banning... Clearly, The Man is opposed to young women learning anything about Sex.}
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle {The woman has written about spiritual values in childrens literature, as well as a prayer book. So, clearly The Man decides her work is evil and must not be read. }
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak {Because The Man doesn't want kids sneaking out of bed at night to watch the giant bakers who make the world out of dough and ordinary objects.}
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry {Because The Man doesn't want odd-ball smart girls to have their own stories. They should remain silent and unnoticed. Either that or the Man's Secret Name of Power is One-Ball Reiliy Krupnick and he's pissed that Lois Lowry figured it out.}
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane {Because The Man doesn't want us to know what apartheid was like.}
Blubber by Judy Blume {Because The Man wants us to continue our social torment of larger sized folk and not know how hurtful it is.}
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood {Clearly, to prophetic to permit.}
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras {or How I Learned about Puberty. Give it up to my Mom for buying me most of these banned books. (except Forever, damn it.)}
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume {Oh, definitely because The Man doesn't want anybody to masturbate.}
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein {Who could ban Shel Silverstein??? It would be like kicking Santa. The Man is so, so evil.}
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley {Also too prophetic to permit.}
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl {This one, I really don't get. Because The Man doesn't want anybody to buy magic worms and fly across the ocean in a giant peach with some giant bugs? Because it is too close to an acid trip? Because Peaches so luscious they must be the work of the De-Vil?"}
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume {Oh, this one's got to be because The Man believes that Men-Stru-Ation is Evil, and that God definitely shouldn't be bothered with it.}
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende {One of my all-time top ten favorite books. Read it, if you haven't. Banned because The Man wants us not to think about South American dictatorships that he sends big time money to.}
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle {The Man wants to keep that Stork story alive. Or maybe he's pissed about the drawing of a sperm in a top-hat. No snazzy sperm for him, no siree. Only ordinary sperm in his world.}
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford {The Man doesn't want us to find him, because Waldo is a top-secret CIA agent, responsible for the produciton of all of the nation's "intelligence," so if we find him, his cover is blown. Or maybe its because The Man hates red and white striped socks.}
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell {The Man wants to preserve the worm population? I must confess it did occurr to me to try to eat fried worms after I read it, but I didn't think I could manage the stove. I was 8.}
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Three cheers for banned books, without which nobody would know anything about sex, understand the secret lives of peaches, bugs, bakers, and teenagers, or know exactly how idiotic some people are who try to prevent the spread of knowledge and literature.

Spousal Unit has headed off to camp. I'm on my own and therefore can't use him to avoid my grading and courseprep. So instead, I thought I'd do this meme I saw a long time ago at La Lecturess that I've had as New on my Bloglines for weeks now.

[ ] I've run away from home.
[x] I listen to political music.
[ ] I collect comic books.
[ ] I shut others out when I'm sad.

[X] I open up to others easily. (Depends what about.)
[ ] I am keeping a secret from the world.
[ ] I watch the news.
[ ] I own over 5 rap CDs.

[x ] I own an I-Pod.
[ ] I own something from Hot Topic. (??)
[ ] I love Disney movies.
[ ] I am a sucker for hair/eyes.

[x] I don't kill bugs. (Unless there is really no alternative. Except for fruit flies. Love to vacuum those suckers. Oh yeah, and those GODDAMNED EVIL brown moths that get in all food and propagate like bunnies and eat holes in my cashmere sweaters. They definitely aren't on the prisoner release program like spiders and ladybugs are.)
[x] I curse regularly.
[ ] I paid for that cell phone ringtone.
[ ] I have "x"s in my screen name.

[ ] I've slipped out a "lol" in a real conversation.
[ ] I love Spam.
[x] I bake well.
[ ] I would wear pajamas to school.

[ ] I own something from Abercrombie.
[x] I have a job.
[x ] I love Martha Stewart. (Love is a bit strong. But, I do love the aesthetic. And I think that it is a big fucking fascist chauvinist conspiracy that she got thrown in the clink for the same shit that male CEOs do with consequence-free regular abandon.)
[x] I am in love with someone. (With the same guy for sixteen years now. It (and he) constantly amaze me.)

[x ] I am guilty of tYpInG lIkE tHiS.
[x] I am self conscious.
[x] I like to laugh. (This one is kind of lame, I mean, who doesn't?)
[ ] I smoke a pack a day.

[ ] I loved Go Ask Alice.
[ ] I have cough drops when I'm not sick. (Ew. I hate those suckers even when I am sick and need them.)
[ ] I can't swallow pills.
[x ] I have many scars. (Emotional? Many. Physical? Only a few.)

[x] I've been out of this country.
[x] I believe in ghosts. (Believe? I don't know. Willing to admit there's stuff I don't understand? Absolutely. Could some of that stuff be spirits, faeries, Mojo, and juju, sure. Why not?)
[X] I can't sleep if there is a spider in the room. (I can't sleep if there is any bug in the room and so Spousal Unit usually gets recruited to manage the insect prisoner release program.)
[ ] I am really ticklish.

[x] I see/have seen a therapist. (Duh.)
[x] I love chocolate. (Double duh.)
[x] I bite my nails. (When they rip and are hanging off and getting caught on stuff. But, worse, I bite my cuticles. They're always shredded)
[x] I am comfortable with being me.

[x] I play computer games/video games when i'm bored.
[ ] Gotten lost in your city.
[x ] Saw a shooting star.
[x] Gone out in public in your pajamas. (Once I was "sick" for Halloween.)

[ ] I have kissed a stranger.
[x] Hugged a stranger.
[ ] Been in a fight with the same sex.
[ } Been arrested.

[ ] Laughed and had milk/soda come out of your nose.
[ ] Pushed all the buttons on an elevator.
[ ] Made out in an elevator.
[x] Swore at your parents. (Well, not so much AT as in NEAR and ALONG WITH)

[x ] Kicked a guy where it hurts. (When I was in 6th grade. I was immediately sorry. It was awful.)
[ ] Been skydiving. (Oh hell no. Spousal Unit went in college. I stayed home. I told him I'd rather remember him as he was then, than as a tragic splat on some field somewhere. As you may have surmised, he was fine.)
[ ] Been bungee jumping.
[ ] Broken a bone. (Wrist. Twice. Once as a really young kid - my parents still don't know how. And again, same wrist, in grade school playground incident.)

[x] Played spin the bottle.
[x] Gotten stitches. (Forehead-- I was 1, and fell into the edge of the fireplace. I don't remember.)
[ ] Drank a whole gallon of milk in one hour. (No, but I probably could. I'm a milk girl.)
[x] Bitten someone. (In play or in anger? Play, and, ahem, other stuff, yes. Anger? No.)

[x] Been to Niagara Falls. (The last time, when I was about 13 with my family plus our 2 dogs -- the collie mix and the Newfoundland, Shamu. We were walking along on the nice Canadian side of the falls, when the Newfoundland frightened by all of the people, took a 2 ton dump in the middle of the sidewalk. My brother and I ran screaming in the opposite direction, and my Dad took off with the dogs to a grassy area just in case more poop was forthcoming. This left my poor mom to manage the huge poop pile so that no one would walk in it. Bewildered and humiliated, in the tight crowd, the only thing she could think of to do was to straddle it. So here she is, a grown woman in a nice sundress straddling a giant animal sized pile of poop, looking for all the world as if SHE had had a major accident on a public sidewalk. Looking for something to clean it up with, she asked one woman who walked by with a baby stroller if she could have a diaper or a diaper wipe to clean it up, and the woman got all frightened, and ran off, as if this crazy, mad public pooper was going to do something truly obscene with one of her baby's unused diapers. I don't know how she did it, but mom eventually got it all cleaned up and tracked the rest of us down for a right and proper scolding for ditching her to deal with the Shamu poop all on her own. )
[x] Gotten the chicken pox. (When I was in 1st grade. I was at a Montessori school, and so could choose what I wanted to study each day. When I got the chicken pox, my parents went in for my homework and realized in consultation with the teachers that it had been 6 months since I had visited the Math area. This was bad news for me, with my very mild case of chicken pox, it meant that I had to sit at my little desk and do Math the entire time I was sick. -- At least that is what I remember about it)
[x] Crashed into a friend's car. (Or rather, crashed a friend's car. While babysitting 3 kids for a family I totally loved, I crashed their Mercedes into the side of their garage, neatly removing some brick and destroying the garage door track, not to mention damaging the car. All the while the parents were in Vegas gambling away all of their money. It was a very bad day.)
[ ] Been to Japan.

[x] Ridden in a taxi.
[ ] Shoplifted.
[ ] Been fired.
[x] Had feelings for someone who didn't have them back. (Oh, way back when over 16 years ago. I guess high school crushes count?)

[x] Stole something from your job. (But I'm not sure that taking home a sticky pad for use at home on academic projects is REALLY stealing.)
[ ] Gone on a blind date.
[x] Lied to a friend.
[ ] Had a crush on a teacher/coach.

[ ] Celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans. (This one takes on a whole new level of poignancy now.)
[x] Been to Europe.
[ ] Slept with a co-worker.
[x] Been married. (Just the once, although Spousal Unit and I have had many different marriages as our relationship changes)

[ ] Gotten divorced.
[x] Saw someone dying. (My dad was a doctor, so we had to stop at a lot of roadside accidents when I was growing up. Once I watched him unsuccessfully give CPR to a very large man who had crashed his small Chevette into a stone wall. Another time, on the way to his father's funeral, I saw him protect a wrecked motorcyclist who was probably paralyzed from being moved by other onlookers. We're not sure how that man fared. It was kind of a grim part of my childhood.)
[x ] Driven over 400 miles in one day. (Many, many times.)
[x] Been to Canada. (See above Newfoundland Public Poop story)

[x] Been on a plane. (Hate it.)
[ ] Seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
[ ] Thrown up in a bar.
[x] Eaten sushi. (Love it.)

[ ] Been snowboarding.
[x] Been skiing. (Since I was six, almost every winter.)
[x] Been ice skating.
[ ] Met someone in person from the internet. (But, I'm willing to give it a go -- any takers? :) )

[ ] Been to a motorcross show.
[x] Gone/Going to college. (Still going... like the freaking energizer bunny...)
[ ] Done hard drugs. (Does Advil count? )
[x] Taken painkillers. (Does Advil count?)

[ ] Cheated on someone else.
[x] Were so bored you took this survey. (So tired of doing your real work...?)
[ ] Have a tattoo. (Voluntary needles? Permanence? Nope. Not this girl. Cheers to those who do it, though.)

Yeah, yeah, everybody's doing it - but my sentence was kind of funny and completely described my day yesterday.
1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

From June 15, 2005:
"So, today will be an off day - they have to happen sometime, I suppose."

Yesterday was definitely an off-day.

First of all, it was my first bad teaching day so far. The exercise I had put together for discussion completely bombed in the first-year class. It involved taking an argument from an article they had read, and then looking for evidence of the argument in the primary sources they had read. I still think it was a great idea. But, it didn't really work so well. Maybe possibly perhaps none of the students had actually DONE the reading. I hate when that happens. Especially, when I hadn't exactly read the reading as closely or as carefully as I should have either, and so we all kind of fumbled around in an uncomfortable state of uncomfortableness for most of the class.

Plus, a student was making faces at me. Well, maybe not at me, exactly. But in my general direction. Not surprisingly, this pissed me off. Here's what happened: Student A had made a really good comment, one of the few of the day, so I was praising him and reiterating what he had said, and I looked over at Student B and he was making little prissy fish-lips-like-talking face to Student C. I couldn't tell if Student B was mocking me or Student A. Either way, it was bad. But, it happened so fast, I kind of just moved on by. But after class I was talking to my fabulous New Colleague about my off-day, and in the process of telling the story realized exactly how mad I was. I suppose on a day that everything was pretty much going down the toilet in the classroom, a few fish-lippy smacking faces aren't really all that big of a deal.

Yesterday was also an off day on the dining front as well. Spousal Unit's dad is in town for the weekend before they head off with Spousal Unit's college Roommate and his dad for a father/son camping trip next week. SU was very sweet and anxious about taking the time away from me. Which is ridiculous because he knows that I'm a big fan of alone time/vacations - hell, I went to Paris without him a few years ago. I think it is healthy and necessary. Plus, I'm totally psyched that he's getting time with his Dad and Roommate & Roomate's dad. But I'm wandering off course here...

Anyway, we went to a fancy French restaurant with Fabulous New Colleage, New Colleague's Partner, and New Colleague's out-of-town Friend. It was all going fine, we were all a little shy and awkward, and the wine wasn't arriving. We were talking, and realized that we had been left alone by the waitstaff for far too long. I had been aware that there was something going on with the two people at the table next to us, and that our waitress was increasingly anxious in dealing with them. I suspect that she had been a waitress all of about 10 minutes. She seemed utterly overwhelmed by the job. Anyway, we flagged her down, and ordered our wine. She was amazingly embarrassed and claimed that there had been some confusion about who was serving us. She was so flustered. But, we were like, no problem -- we're fine, we were talking, etc -- to reassure her. So things are going along normally, we get our soups and appetizers. But, the one vegetarian at the table was delivered an appetizer that was sausage and potatoes instead of mushrooms and potatoes. When we asked the waitress about it, she almost started to cry. Which we thought was a little odd, but were willing to let it pass. We all agree to eat it, and the vegetarian said she would just forego her appetizer in the interest of calming the waitress down.

So, meanwhile, we're all talking, and I notice out of the corner of my eye that at the table next to us, the woman was picking at her slices of meat and flipping them over and over in a disdainful kind of a way. After picking and flipping for a while, she called the waitress over to complain about how the meat had been cooked, poking and flipping the whole time to show the waitress exactly how bad the food was. So she sent it back to the kitchen. Fairly par for the course in any restaurant. People send stuff back all the time, right? I didn't think anything of it, really, and we all ate our appetizers and got into our conversation. Well, just about the time I asked Fabulous New Colleague to explain his research to me, the people at the next table got their check. And then the shit (or should I say the merde) hit the freaking fan. Apparently, they had been charged for the food that got sent back. Either that, or they had been charged for the other parts of the meal and didn't think they should have to pay for anything because they had to send something back. It was kind of unclear to me and as I was shamelessly eavesdropping on their conversation with our waitress, I couldn't exactly make out all of the details. But, still it all of this seemed par for the restaurant course. What was freaky, though, was that suddenly, the Chef comes out to talk to these people about what was wrong with their food. At which point the woman who sent the food back starts insulting him -- in French. Apparently, what was wrong with the food was that it was insufficiently French for her native French tastes. The Chef asked what was wrong with the preparation, and I overheard her say "But, you are Not French." The Chef declared quite loudly that he spoke French, Madame, and that if she wished to continue to insult him in that language, she could feel free to do so. Meanwhile, their voices were elevating, and New Colleague was bravely trying to keep telling his story and we're doing our damnedest to try to keep listening to him. But, when the man at the next table breaks in with a shout -- "Well, you can call the Police on us, but we are not paying for this substandard schlock. (heavy pause) If you want, my wife can repeat that to you in French?" -- we all gave up the pretense of conversation in order to listen. What else was there to do, really?

The crazy Chef continued to fight with these crazy people about who had to pay for what and who was insulted and who was not French for a good ten minutes or so. I almost threatened to pay for everyone just to end the whole horrible, uncomfortable tirade. Finally, after what seemed like hours of hostile yelling, the Chef retreated and a thick silence descended over the whole restaurant. Suddenly, the Yelling Man stood up and came over to our table, leaned over me - touching my hand in the process (ew), and said "I'm sorry." Then, he walked to the next table and apologized to them too -- but clearly in a tone that indicated he was not sorry at all. Then, he and his French Wife left. We all heaved huge sighs of relief. New Colleague wryly observed that one would not expect to have the perfect American Hamburger in the hinterlands of France. We all laughed much too loudly and with great gusto in a rushing relief of tension and suddenly, we all felt close to each other for merely having witnessed and survived such a strange scene -- like combat soldiers or triage nurses or something. Our slightly cold food was delivered shortly thereafter by our discombobulated waitress with many apologies for the delay, which we assumed was not her fault but was caused by the Chef who, instead of cooking our food, but was yelling at his patrons. I reassured the waitress that we were just fine and that we thought she was doing a great job in an awful situation. She almost cried.

And the worst of it was ... the food really wasn't all that great. But we all smiled, and grinned, and ate every last bit of it, just to prove to ourselves and to everybody there that we were much nicer people than that horrible, shouting couple who clearly dined and ditched.

Yep. A pretty off-day. But, apparently, they happen sometimes.

Seven Things Meme

Well, I didn't do dissertation work yesterday. I did a lot of life-care things, though. Took the car to the mechanic (he can find no reason why the car smells like burning rubber when the engine is hot), grocery shopped, cleaned our filthy and chaotic house, got our CSA vegetables, cooked Spousal Unit a lovely dinner of Spanish Tortilla with a side salad of mizuna greens and tomatoes with a toasted sesame vinaigrette. Today is his birthday, so I thought I'd make things a little nicer in our world for him. It was good. But, the dissertation looms.

I did, however, have time to do this fun meme while waiting for car etc.

As seen on Artichoke Heart's blog via Cleis. I don't think I'm crushworthy, Cleis, but I'm definitely meme worthy.

Seven things to do before I die:

1. Finish my dissertation, dammit.
2. Have/Acquire a baby. Just love the smell of those little suckers' heads.
3. Visit the Pyramids. They moved all that freaking rock with human body power. Amazing.
4. Spend a month in Italy with Spousal Unit. Eating. Sex. Italian. What's not to want?
5. Learn to play the Banjo. There's something about the Banjo that speaks to me. I think it's because it's my peoples' (a.k.a. hillbillies) music.
6. Paint a masterpiece. Or a minorpiece. Just love the smell of that linseed oil.
7. Live by the Ocean long enough to have my fill of its rhythm.

Seven things I can do: (well, presumably)

1. Cook.
2. Swim.
3. Knit. Well, that's a sort of. I START a lot of knitting projects. I finish very few. But I love the yarn. I love the rhythm.
4. Pack for a road trip better than anyone ever. You will never want for anything when you're on a roadtrip with me. Spousal Unit calls me "The Quartermaster."
5. Paint. Walls, yes. Canvases, working on it. Objects, yes. (I have painted Starry, Starry Night onto an empty eggshell and Georgia O'Keefe's Sunflower onto a ceramic tile.)
6. Read an enormous novel in one sitting. I just devour fiction. Particularly cheap paperback fiction from embarrassing genres like sci-fi and fantasy and mystery.
7. Imitate Elaine from Seinfeld's dancing -- while bowling. Apparently watching me bowl is like seeing order emerge out of chaos.

Seven things I can't do:

1. Sing. Spousal Unit insists that anyone can sing. It is just a matter of training and confidence. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.
2. Sail. Spousal Unit is a sailor. I get seasick. I try, though. And only once did I have to be dropped of at a faraway location and fetched later in the car.
3. Math. (or Maths as the Aussies would say). It is why I married a Physicist. So that I never have to calculate the tip.
4. Inhale. I've tried it with cigarettes a few times. It just doesn't work -- so I never bothered with the more interesting stuff.
5. Hear you talking to me while I'm reading. Spousal Unit loves this one as well. "Put down the book and listen to me!"
6. Avoid procrastination.
7. Dance. I'm a pretty awful dancer. Like Elaine on Seinfeld. The order only emerges when bowling. Otherwise, it is just chaos.

Seven things that I find attractive in other folk:

1. Humor. Not just ha ha, but do they laugh at themselves? At the world?
2. Energy. People have to have the right kind of energy. Contained, but present.
3. Subtlety. I don't need to be bashed over the head with everything. Folk who understand the subtle approach are really interesting.
4. Confidence. Not arrogance, assurance.
5. Expertise -- there is something so devastating about someone who does things really well.
6. Passion. About their world, about the state of things, about themselves, about others.
7. Smell. I have a bionic nose. If a person doesn't smell right, I just can't be attracted to them.

Seven things I say the most: (perhaps I better clean up my act?)

1. Shit.
2. Fuck.
3. Damn.
4. Hell.
5. Hey Spousal Unit, will you... He loves that, let me tell you.
6. You're my Cookie. Which is usually accompanied by Lovey or some other embarrassingly shlocky adjective.
7. Get the fuck out of my way you slow ass Amish buggy, I'm late for class! (ok, not really... but sometimes I think it. Quietly. To myself. Where God can't hear me.)

Seven celebrity crushes: (the far too revealing about my television habits list)

1. Colin Firth, baby. Colin Firth.
2. Michael Vartan. Hate post-second season Alias. Love Michael Vartan. He's French. He paints. He skates. He dumped Jennifer Garner. What's not to love?
3. Gwenneth Paltrow. I know, I know. But the woman is hot. She's Mrs. Coldplay. And she named her baby Apple.
4. Joss Whedon. Yes, I'm a geek. Big surprise.
5. Owen Wilson. Sexy Ugly. Yes, indeed. And he can write. (Bottlerocket, Royal Tennenbaums). Too bad about the recent movie decisions. (Word of advice, O., ditch the sidekick buddy-gross-out film roles.)
6. Adam Brody. If only I were 10...15...oh, shit, 20? years younger and he could teach me about irony.
7. Did I mention Colin Firth?

Blog crushes abound, way more than 7. So, I'll pass on that one.

Cheers, all!


I don't know what happened, but somehow, yesterday I crossed a threshold. I got up a little later than usual, and even though I wasn't done writing my lecture, I wasn't worried. I took a while reading some blogs, checking the news and weather, cuddling Spousal Unit. I took my time getting ready -- I got to enjoy my shower and even ironed a shirt. As I drove to school the panic kicked in a little when I realized how much later I was getting there than usual, but I remained calm. When I got to my office, I printed out my slides, finished writing the lecture, made my photocopies, and went to class. The lecture went well, the students were responsive -- but exhausted. They told me about their experiences writing the essay I had assigned. And then I was done for the day. The whole thing suddenly felt a just a little bit easier.

AND, get this -- I spent the rest of the day getting ready for Wednesday. I stayed a little late and managed to finish my prep for Wednesday. So for the first time, I'm prepared for the next day's class a whole day in advance. Wednesday, for the first time, I will not drive to work in a sweaty panic because of the last minute things I have to do. When I was driving home last night I was so high just at the thought that I was ready. I could hardly believe it. It seemed totally unreal. And it means that I have all day today to do my own work.

Which brings me to dum dum dum... ominous music ... the dissertation.

Today, I get to jump back into the dissertation after at least a month away. (if I'm really honest with myself - it's more like 2 or 3 months away). I've looked at it and talked about it since then, but I haven't actually done anything with it. I'm a little anxious, but also a little excited. All this time away I've been reading other people's dissertation blogs and am alternately depressed at how much progress they make in such little time and jealous that they have such good time management skills that they can juggle their own work with the rest of their lives so much better than I seem to be able to. Also, I must confess that there is a significant part of me that seriously doubts that these folk are real. Do you think they're really telling the truth when they claim they have finished a chapter in 3 weeks? Inconceivable. And what about all those people out there who say they're now "done." Inconceivable. How is such a thing possible? It is completely, absolutely, and in all ways inconceivable. I totally believe that these oh-so-productive bloggers must be fronts for the evil dissertation alien botulism devils, (or perhaps flying monkeys) whose job it is to make the rest of us feel inadequate because of how little work we get done. Maybe inconceivable doesn't mean what I think it means. Or maybe they aren't using the same wind I am using.

Anyway, I digress with my evil dissertation alien botulism devil theory. The point is, is that today I get to do some of my own work.

Yesterday I came across a list that I had written down last year to help myself deal with my dissertation angst - it was a list of reasons why I didn't want to finish. High on the list was that I didn't know what else I would do -- that I had been a graduate student my whole adult life. I didn't know what came next for me and couldn't envision myself in any other space than in the dissertating graduate student space. It was interesting to see that this thing that I was using to hold myself back is no longer there. I know what comes next -- I am a college professor. I have a new space to be in - and within that space there is no room for an unfinished dissertation. It SO is time for me to move into the next step, without this burden holding me back.

So maybe, hopefully, today when I sit down to work, I will realize that I have crossed a dissertation threshold and that this time, I am ready to finish it.


I've got this image in my mind of myself right now. I'm in the water somewhere and I am paddling as furiously as I can just to keep my head above water, like a labrador going for a stick in the lake. And as the waves keep coming for me, and I know that even in the lull between them, the next big one just might swamp me.

In the past week I had two different dreams related to water and drowning. First, I dreamed that I was in New Orleans and that the floodwaters were rising and rising, and I had to escape with all of my family, but that Spousal Unit got left behind. Then, I dreamed that I was swimming in the ocean and a wave came up that was a big as the house, and that I dove into it like you do to avoid getting smaked in the face with waves when you're at the beach in the summer, but as I dove, I knew the wave would be too big. It was -- it picked me up and then fell away beneath me, leaving me hanging in mid-air for a minute before I started to fall. As I was falling, I was thinking about whether or not I should hold my nose, dive in head first or feet first, but I knew that no matter what I did, it was futile. And then I woke up.

From everything that I have heard and read, the first year of teaching is the most difficult. Well, I certainly hope it doesn't get any harder. I am so so tired. And it is only the third week. My classes are going really well, I think. The students seem engaged. They're doing the work. They seem to like the subject and they generally pay attention when I talk to them and when they talk to each other. But I feel like I am paying a really high price for this success.

Yesterday I snapped at Spousal Unit at a dinner with some folk and really hurt his feelings. At the end of a long day of teaching and commuting, going out with people was the last thing I wanted to do, but felt obliged to help celebrate a birthday. Clearly, I should have stayed home. My stress was spilling out in inappropriate ways, hurting the person I care about the most.

I have a goal right now. It seems like such a simple goal, but it continues to elude me. That goal is to have one day of commuting -- just one day -- where in the hour it takes me to get to campus, I'm not in a total panic about whether or not I will be prepared for the classes of that day. Maybe it will happen this week. Maybe.

And as for the drowning, I think it is clearly time to get back into the swimming pool at the Y. To take the time to remind myself that I know how to swim. And that I love to swim, no matter how big the waves are.

Potential Convert

I'm not allowed to blog at while I'm at school, but I was just over the moon about this and had to write it down.

After class today, a student followed me out to talk and asked me if I was teaching any other courses because she was really enjoying this one and wanted to take more with me in the future. She told me that my class was making her consider a history major and that I really was making history come alive for her.

Words that all teachers long to hear.

I've written the following two little snippets as incomplete posts from a few places I've been in the past 24 hours. Alone they don't really constitute fully formed posts. Heck, together they aren't really a fully formed post. But, they're little windows into the edges of bigger scenes that I'm inhabiting as I frantically scramble each day to try to prepare for my classes.
Monday, September 12
11:30 p.m.
I'm currently using the Fancy Scanner at the Big Science Thingey and there is a brain-numbing, ear-shattering alarm going off that Spousal Unit tells me means that there is bad stuff happening elsewhere in the building. Stuff like radiation. But, not to worry, he says, it is deliberate. The "Guys Upstairs" need to let some radiation leak in order to do their experiment. Hunh? He assures me that we are safe here at the Fancy Scanner, but that alarm sounds increasingly insistent. And, it is deeply irritating -- making a strange little itch happen somewhere between my ear canal and my frontal lobe. There aren't supposed to be people in this part of the Big Science Thingey right now, so the alarm isn't supposed to annoy them, so Spousal Unit says that we can't annoy the "Guys Upstairs" by asking them to deal with the alarm.

All of this makes me wonder -- if I'm here, and not supposed to be, does that mean that I am also being irradiated? Does it mean that like that very strange, unnatural European milk that sits demurely outside the refrigerator cart at the grocery, that I'll have an indefinite shelf life? Or does it mean that our potential-not-yet-really-thought-of unborn children will have gills? An indefinite shelf-life might not be all that bad, but gills would kind of suck, I would imagine. Although, hell, on second thought, in this brave new world that may be an advantage for my future offspring as they stare down hurricanes and global warming.
Tuesday, September 13
3:03 p.m.

I'm in the public library, working on my grading and lecture-writing before an appointment, and I'm eavesdropping. When I sat down, I read the scene that I'm overhearing as two people who met over the internet having their first face-to-face encounter. I thought, how sweet. They were sitting across a table from me, and leaning in toward each other, as if interested in each other.

But then at next glance, I realized that the white man was dressed from head to toe in impossibly bright white clothes is a soldier in uniform. And he is talking across the table to a beautiful, young African-American woman about what it is like to be in the Navy. He's recruiting. She's listening. He's telling her about the privilege of shore leave. About how his boss is good because he lets them have time off if they finish their tasks. About how it is cold on the boat. About how long it takes to finish boot camp. He's telling her about battlestations, and she's telling him about how her family isn't necessarily supporting her in this decision. Now she's asking him about combat. And he's describing the Special Forces and Operations and asking her when she's thinking about this. He's describing "shipping out" and money for college and 401K matching funds. He's showing her pictures and forms and she's quietly answering his questions.

I know we need the armed forces, and that they protect us, yadda yadda yadda patriotic stuff blah blah blah, but all I can think about is that this beautiful, quiet young person might just be signing up to die as I sit here and quietly listen. I want to shout -- "there are so many choices for you" and "your beautiful body is going to be ripped apart in a country elsewhere in the world fighting for something that a bunch of guys in bad suits decided was important to attack so that they (and we) can continue to drive our SUVs." But I don't. Maybe she doesn't feel like she has other choices. Maybe she really doesn't. Maybe this is something she believes in. And maybe she will survive long enough to get her college funds and her 401K. I truly hope so.


Apparently, while I was crazy busy this week writing a lecture, reading 50 something short papers, and preparing for discussions (which went brilliantly yesterday. I had about a 70% participation rate in my first year class -- not bad, but hopefully it will improve. My older students got into a conversation with about a 90% participation rate where I got to sit there saying nothing because they were so into talking to each other. It was fabulous!), my post on the powerful feeling that happens when transforming a surly classroom into a community was linked to by Inside Higher Ed.

This brought a really thoughtful, but concerned and slightly angry comment from a student named Matthew, who felt that my post revealed an arrogant, fear-inducing, hostile, and ultimately disrespectful attitude toward my students. I have to confess I was a little thrown by his comment as I had my first experience with the mis-translations that can happen when you write a blog, when you use that blog to create a hyperbolical voice for yourself that is distinctly different from your everyday voice (let alone your teaching voice), and when you share your inner frustrations, triumphs and fears in a public forum.

I had believed that the post was funny, and that yes, it revealed my anger that I had to patrol a room full of adult college students as if they were toddlers, but I didn't think that it portrayed me as dictatorial or disrespectful of my students. But, maybe I was wrong.

In particular, Matthew was worried about my quips with the students who had been pushing my boundaries. He said:
"The best teachers I've had in grade school are those who treat their students with respect, not spit back at them "You want me to call you 'hey you' for the rest of the semester?" How are we, as students, expected to respect someone who doesn't necessarily show disrespect, but a lack of ANY respect, for us as human beings?"

He was concerned that my attempts to create some boundaries in the classroom were overly harsh:
"You say, "Somehow, this gave them some security." You're wrong. You're teaching these students to fear authority by being harsh on them. You need to teach these students to respect authority. Nobody respects something they fear."

And, then, ultimately, he was very upset at the way I had characterized the students and what the consequences of that portrayal were: "You call them in your entry, "stupid dumb ass 12-year old boys trying to test my authority." How can you be so disrespectful? They're expected to respect you and get nothing in return? That's not the way the world works. I respect people who show it back, and people who show it back earn respect from me. Key word: EARN."

I am really grateful to Matthew for giving me the opportunity to think a bit more consciously about the connection between a blog persona and real persona, and about the ways that language on the page can be read with a myriad of voices by each reader -- some of which may or may not resonate with the voice the author had intended.

Anyway, I thought about his comments for quite a long time and came up with this response:

Thank you for your comments. Good teachers are always open to suggestions from colleagues and students. I welcome any suggestions that will help me improve my teaching. I take my work extremely seriously and am always looking for ways to grow as a teacher.

However, I have a few cautions to offer you.

First, do not mistake my blogging persona for my teaching persona. They are two separate things.

Second, do not mistake my post-class venting with my pedagogy. They too are two separate things.

Third, be careful not to assume that you can know from my written work the tone that my in-class comments carry. It is often easy to confuse humor and venom when written on the page and when one is not present to witness the subtle nuances that voices, faces, and human interactions convey.

In particular, when you expressed concern that when I had suggested to the student who in the very first minute of our first class had rejected out of hand my long-used and time-tested idea for creating better communications with and among the students (a clear example disrespect for the Professor and his fellow students if I have ever encountered it) that I would call him "Hey You" if he did not put up the name-plate, you did not hear the humor in my voice, nor see the smile on my face, witness his chuckle in response, or see the smiles of the other students in the room. Yes, there was disrespect going on in that exchange. But it was not coming from me. In that encounter I had respected my student as a person, I just had not respected his refusal to participate in our classroom culture. And in response, I earned his respect and his willingness to become a part of our class community. (Which is based in small group discussion - that you can see in my previous post.)

Fourth, be aware that young, small women face different issues of authority in a classroom than do older men, young men, and older women. When I come into a classroom, young, blonde, and 5'6", believe me when I tell you that students do not fear me. Nor do they automatically respect me. I know this from many years of teaching and it was yet again borne out on this day as the two young male students in my class proceeded to disrupt the whole class by phoning each other in the middle of our time together. Yes, this angered me. And, yes, later on well after the fact, I used harsh language to describe my feelings about that incident. Professors are human. We have feelings. And mine were hurt at that moment when these two students thought it would be funny to take up class time, delaying the work that the other students were doing, just to test my authority in the classroom. I come to every class newly ready to respect all of my students. Those two momentarily lost mine with their juvenile behavior. You are correct in your assessment that respect is a two-way street. But, can you tell me honestly that you think two guys phoning each other in a classroom deliberately to make their phones ring to interrupt the instructor is respectful? Can you honestly say that that kind of behavior is worthy of my respect? At the time, I laughed, and suggested that they not let it happen again. They looked sheepish and grudgingly respectful. I do not think I taught them to fear me. I think I taught them what the boundaries of acceptable classroom behavior were. Since then, no phones have interrupted our class discussions, which have been rich and fruitful, with much active participation from all -- even the two guys with phones.

I completely agree with you that the goal of any good teacher is to cultivate communication and community in a classroom. Making sure that students are comfortable enough to engage with each other, to share their ideas, and to ask questions is my primary goal as an instructor. But this kind of open community cannot happen if there are students in the room who are disruptive and disrespectful of their fellow students. I do not create an environment of fear in my classroom, but I do insist on an environment of mutual respect. So far, we have had no more interruptions and have had some really interesting conversations. I get the sense that things are working like they should.

Thank you for the chance to think a bit more about my pedagogy and about my responses to these incidents. I appreciate your comments.

For the first few days after I read Matthew's comments, I thought that what upset me so much was that he had misinterpreted my pedagogy. But now, I really think that the central issue I'm struggling with is about blogging voices and personas and the potential for misinterpretation that this creates. I think I'm grappling with the idea that the voice I thought I was creating as funny and overly-harsh in an exaggerated way to emphasize the humor, was distinctly different from the voice he read as vicious and mean-spirited.

I don't know if this exchange will shift how I post about my life - both professional and personal -- but it certainly made me pause and think for a bit about about how when I write my blog, I envision my readers as my blogging folk, people I feel close to in a kind of oddball family way because we share this small part of each others' lives - folk like Cleis, Scrivner, Jo(e), Histgrad, Badger, Rageyone, Pilgrim/Heretic, Academic Coach, What Now?, Mon, Timna, Suz, Father Figure, La Lecturess, Overread, Brightstar, Caleb, New Kid on the Hallway (and many others - If I left you out, please don't be hurt!). When I write a post, I always imagine that these are the people reading -- the people I feel like I share a community with and the people that I believe understand my blogging voice by default. But I think I am just coming to realize that when you post a blog it isn't just to the folk you feel "close" to, it is for everyone. This is, I think, both the bad news and the really good news.

I think I might just love this job.

Three incidents confirmed this today:

1. My class of first-year students are starting to feel comfortable enough to ask the questions they think are "stupid," which of course are not, both because everyone else wants to know them and because in my book all questions are great. I feel like they are reaching a level of comfort with each other and trust of me that makes it possible for them to admit that they're confused or that they don't know something. This is, of course, great. Because when they say they are confused, I ask them to tell me what they think is going on. And they're almost always right. So, I get to do the wonderful job of saying, "hey... you're right! You're on the right track, and are doing great work. Keep it up!" This is always fun.

2. In my other section, after my lecture on the transition in colonial America from indentured servitude to racial slavery, a student said to me: "Wow. I never knew that there was anything before Slavery. That is really amazing. Why did I never learn this before? I'm so glad to know this now." This is the kind of thing that teachers live for -- hearing that someone had learned something new -- and that the new information was both exciting and changed/challenged what she thought about the past. I was so pleased and proud and glad that she had told me. It totally made my day.

3. A student from my first-year class came to my office to talk about techniques for speaking in class because he is really uncomfortable speaking in public. I had told them at the beginning of the semester (on the first day, in fact) that if they were worried about this, they should come and see me to talk about it. I'm really glad he took me up on the offer. I suggested that he write things down and look for an opportunity to share them so that instead of having to come up with things on the fly, he felt confident and secure in what he was bringing to the table. I also told him that questions are a great way of participating -- and that he could write those down ahead of time as well. He asked me how to get over this fear of public speaking, because he knows he's going to have to talk in class for the rest of college. I suggested that practice was the easiest way -- that he should start slowly and see what he can become comfortable with. He seemed game, and said he'd check back in in a few weeks if things just weren't happening. I told him I'd do a little digging on how to help students get over their fear of public speaking and pass the info along. Any suggestions out there?

Anyway, these encounters almost make up for the tedium of grading, which stupidly, I created the maximum possible amount for myself. I assigned a short writing assignment every week -- which I absolutely believe in as the best way to measure what students are picking up on and therefore of measuring what I need to do more work on to help them figure out. I also believe absolutely that it is the best way to help them become better analytic thinkers and writers. But, man, in my first year this is a heavy load and a bit overwhelming. Yesterday I found myself ironing placemats rather than grade. I have been known to stand with a hairdryer blowing on my skirt for 20 minutes rather than busting out the iron. So that gives you an indication of how desperate I was. And it was only the first assignment.

But then, today I got reminded again and again why the grading and the exhaustion is completely worthwhile.

I haven't blogged about New Orleans because I'm in such a rage I can't even see straight. On the commute home yesterday I was talking with a colleague who was carpooling with me (we're doing our small best to reduce our resource use) I got so angry I stopped paying attention to the road. Dangerous. I'm dangerously angry. I'm mad as hell that all the government seems to be able to talk about is how a few folk have gone mad and are stealing from Wal-Mart and that the same government is too damned arrogant to accept help from the nice folk in Canada and elsewhere. I'm mad as hell that our national guard is in Iraq and not in New Orleans. I'm mad as hell that my tax money has gone to finance global policing efforts and not to domestic projects that could have reduced the scope of this disaster. And even though I'm not that religious these days, I'm reminded powerfully of that biblical passage about removing the big-ass log in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbors' eye. Once I exhaust my anger, I start feeling like much of the rest of the nation, helpless, powerless, and utterly bewildered that our supposedly "advanced" society is failing so utterly.

The only reasonable and logical thing that I can pull out of my tumbled thoughts is this question: Do you think that it would be taking so long to get help to people and would have been such awful chaos if it had been Orange County, California that had been struck? Or the Hamptons? Do you think there would have been such half-assed efforts to get people out if those people had been rich and white and without transportation?

It seems like a story we've seen over and over again, yet another example of how the impoverished, the underprivileged, the elderly, and black folk get completely screwed over by our society. Only this time, they're not just getting passed over for education, jobs, techonology, benefits, and social equality. This time, they're dying.

American Red Cross


I am terrible at giving gifts that must be transported through the mail. When I was little, my Mom had a bit of a mail phobia and I think I picked it up, believing that clearly awful things happen to packages at the post office. She has since overcome this phobia with abandon, but I'm holding onto it because it is so fun to imagine my precious items being stomped upon by the nice folk at the post office who stamp on packages because it is clearly so much more fun to break things than to just mundanely stamp them and put them on a plane or truck. (Or maybe the packages get passed over to the flying monkeys who work in the back and they smash them. Anyway, in my fears, there is clearly a lot of smashing that goes on.) Ultimately, I think this minor phobia is about control. Once you hand that package over, it is SO beyond your control. It is gone forever. I hate not being in control, and I hate giving things up. Combine this with the totally unreasonable post office hours, and you get a repeated and tragic failure to mail stuff.

Some recent examples of this failure: one of my dearest friends in the world had a baby MONTHS ago, and I haven't gotten around to sending a gift. In NOVEMBER of last year, another dear friend sent me the news that she was engaged. I bought her a gift the next day. I chose it specially for her and her guy, and I think they'll love it. And I've been sitting on the package since then. Spousal Unit's mom CRACKED HER PELVIS(!!) and I have had a care package in mind to send her since then, and haven't. SU's sister's birthday was last week and I blew that one too.

If they gave a prize for the loser of all losers on the mailed gift front, it would definitely go to me.

Which makes it even more amazing and wonderful that this week I got three, yes three, packages in the mail carrying gifts to me from people who love me. It was amazing. I was sent a new umbrella (much appreciated in my climate!), new pajamas and robe (also much appreciated in my climate), an antique book for my office, and some amazing photos.

And then today, the mother of all packages arrived.

It came from a longtime friend who I had talked to a bit this summer while she was going through a rough patch. She sent me chocolate (yuuuummmm... chocolate...), a gorgeous necklace that I totally love and will wear tomorrow for my third day of teaching, a coffee mug from one of my favorite feminist bookstores, and a totally cool and hip CD case -- filled with cds. Since everybody has been doing the music memes, I've been feeling totally jealous and WAY burnt out on my own music. Only yesterday I was feeling all sorry for myself and my pitiful music collection and thinking that I would be really embarrassed to share my iPod random list because my music was so uncool. And then, today, in the mail -- a package arrives chock full of amazing cool new music that was special to my friend in some way. I was so touched. It was a wonderfully generous gift.

My heart is overflowing with gratitude.

If you are one of the three who sent packages and are reading this, I promise that more personal thanks are on the way after this crazy first week of teaching is over and done with. But, don't worry. I'll call, not mail.