Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Semester End

The term officially ends for me at 7 p.m. today. By that time, I will have submitted my grades, packed a box filled with exams, papers, notes and textbooks, and labled said box for shipping home. I'm in New York with my sister, her husband, and their new baby, and the grading has taken so much of my time with them that I'm ashamed. I came here to help them, but they have really helped me by giving me use of their dining room table, kitchen, coffee pot, wifi, and couch, and by supplying an adorable new nephew (with new baby smell) for me to cuddle and coo with at my leisure.

During all of this, of course, I have been sweating the approaching Big Conference and worrying about my marketability. I've secured interviews for the positions I was most interested in (how's that for serendipity?), and have celebrated each phone call with a little happy dance (even in the video store...I'm goofy like that). A good friend and neighbor is checking my mail daily for any paper-based communiques. I feel relatively good in general about things. My throat, though, has other ideas, and I've had to get a prescription for antibiotics to clear up this obnoxious little white spot on a tonsil (my sister, the pediatrician, gave me the medi-description of the condition, but all I know is white dot on tonsil).

Many, many years ago, I was booked for a tour of Greece over the Easter holiday. I was 15 and very excited. I had my passport. I had new clothes. I was ready to go. 2 weeks before we left, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. I had been sick, a cold I couldn't shake, and the end result was my release from the hospital the day before the tour group left. Of course, I didn't go on the trip; I was too weak for that kind of travel, and too young to say "insurance be damned!"

I've never left the country. I am sad now as I write this and I can't recall any memory that I've ever shared being more painful. How odd. It's strange that this hurts to write; it happened so long ago and seems very far away. But as I sit here, at this (stunningly beautiful) dining room table, looking out on a snowy NY landscape, I see what that illness cost me. The trip was a natural step for a reader like me; so long had I shared in new worlds in books, it seemed fitting that my first real journey away from home would be to a birthplace of some of the most enduring book worlds.

So I called for antibiotics; I can't miss the Big Conference and the possibility of new worlds that it presents. This cold feels like that cold so many years ago--unshakeable, penetrating, settling, and taking up permanent residence. In some ways, it's a fitting end to this semester which has run me ragged and shown me the benefit of setting limits; heaven knows that if I'd just listened to my mom all those years ago and rested instead of running, I'd have made that trip just fine.

Well, enough of that maudlin business. Back to the grading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Ann Althouse, a law-professor-blogger I occasionally read, had this to say about blog writing vs. academic writing in a recent Chronicle discussion of the Juan Cole situation:
Successful blog writing is sharp and clear. Controversial opinions will look quite stark. You lay it on the line, and you mean to startle readers and make your opponents mad. Academic writing is temperate and swathed in verbiage. It creates a comfortable environment for academics and wards off casual readers. In the blogosphere, you're newly exposed, and it's a rough arena, where you have far less control over what happens to you. That's part of what makes blogging empowering and, often, great fun. But it's a big risk, and of course, it risks your career.

I want to write at this blog, to share and to speak, but I am reluctant for precisely this reason. What do I share? Frequently during my day I find myself thinking "that would be a great topic for a post," but I immediately follow up that thought with "but what would future employers think?"

Of course, by writing that, I'm already saying that I think thoughts that I sense will get me into hot water with someone. But then again, don't we all?

Anyway, this comment of Althouse's intrigues. During the course of any of my FYC courses, the students will be introduced to Richard Lanham's Paramedic Method from Revising Prose. I make a big deal about the importance of writing clearly, of being, as Althouse says of bloggers, "sharp and clear." I hate overburdened writing, even though I write a good bit of it myself. As I worked on my dissertation, I kept trying to write plainly, to "just say it" without couching my words or dressing up simple ideas in complex and unwieldy clothing. I don't like verbiage; I like sparse language.*

And I don't necessarily agree with Althouse; academic writing certainly doesn't HAVE to be cumbersome and verbose. If you have something profound to say, then it's best said simply. I have long held the opinion that our current level of academic writing is influenced by the translators of all of the 20th century French philosophers and linguists we all read in grad school, that the difficulties of clear translation of abstract ideas may have contributed to the idea that academic writing has to be hard to read and understand, that it must contain dense layers of meaning. I sometimes want to take a core sample of these texts (if one could do such a thing--image the 3-dimensional representation of ideas that would allow us to take a core chunk out of the middle of a thought...but I digress) to see the various strata, the layering of ways of understanding the world built from birth on up.

And I'm now veering out of this post-space. I wish, often, that academic writing was provocative and not quite so comfortable, not quite so scary, and a bit more inviting.

*So tell me why I'm not a big fan of Hemingway?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Who Am I?

This question was inevitable. I set out in my studies hoping to avoid specialization long enough to figure out what I wanted to spend my time doing. I've done lots of things, but gravitated to particular literary eras (British Romanticism and Modernism), specific interests (rhetoric, religion, technology, pedagogy), and a few favorite writers (Austen, K. Burke, Auden, Yeats). Now, as I survey the job market landscape, I find myself in three places at once, seeking a home where I can flourish, a place to thrive. After years of sharing space, I want a room of my own.

The thing is, I still don't really want to be in a little pigeonhole. I like some breathing room, a feeling that I can wander down paths of interest instead of marching down corridors devised in years past. I started thinking today about books; what would I write about, if I could make a choice? What book is inside me?

Not a lot of time for discernment; the market calls, and my CV is ready. Still, a day or two of contemplation won't hurt, will it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Letter

Dear Universe,

I'm very, very tired. Completing a dissertation, graduating, entering the job market, prepping two brand new classes, fulfilling administrative duties, training 30-something new teaching assistants, doing laundry, writing an essay for publication, teaching knitting lessons, cleaning house, feeding myself, monitoring my diabetes, balancing my checkbook, and planning a wedding all take time and energy.

If you could see fit to stop moving forward, to pause for a moment while leaving me intact in the space-time continuum, making it so that there was a suspension of demands on me and my time for a brief period so that I could get some much needed rest, I would be greatly appreciative. Barring that, arranging for an all-expenses-paid trip to a remote cabin so that I can relax would work wonders.

Many thanks and warmest regards,

A very weary Anita

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Promise of a New Day

I've graduated and am now post-school. It feels strange, this change, because it feels like nothing has changed at all. After spending Saturday morning in a gown that made me look 100 lbs. heavier and then spending the afternoon at a celebratory cookout that sweat 100 lbs. from me, I find myself in the office looking at the same to-do list, the same textbooks in need of a syllabus, the same desk setup, the same semester. They all line up before me to remind me that this change, which my family and friends herald as seismic, is just a pebble around which the river of university life flows onward.

Enough of that drivel. I'll let Paula share my feelings on this occasion.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Trained to Not Ask Questions

One of the points that came up in my defense had to do with the impetus for the declarative stance of student readers. I had noted that students who recorded internal comments to the poems they were reading made comments which were overwhelmingly declarative, as opposed to questioning. I sensed that it was a reluctance to ask questions, a fear of appearing inexpert; the committee member suggested that the peer review process may have played a role in creating that sense.

After reading an interview with Christopher J. Loving, of the Leadership Institute for Tomorrow, I think it may be a mixture of both. An excerpt:

Q: So what is involved in this transformation?

A: Often I hear grad students coming into graduate school very idealistic and innocent. What happens is that innocence turns into cynicism when they get disillusioned, when they see the politics, when they see who is rewarded for what. And then when they become a faculty member, they explain their cynicism as, ‘Oh, I’m just being realistic.’ They also enter with curiosity, which can turn into arrogance — and which later is explained as “authoritative knowledge.” People who ask questions can be perceived as ignorant. Grad students also enter with a sense of wanting to make a difference; this compassion can turn to callousness, which later is justified as “the thick skin of experience.” This psychological evolution is such a part of the academic environment that it handicaps faculty’s ability to communicate effectively.

When I talk to faculty who are in a “safe” place, I still hear their innocence, their curiosity, their compassion. If you’re in a department that isn’t as healthy as it could be, all these people who are cynical and arrogant create conversations that look realistic and authoritative, and they require thick skin. They flame each other in e-mail, insult each other in faculty meetings and tell and demand more than listen and invite.

The remainder of the interview focuses on the things my old (and very wise) boss used to say when things got dicey in discourse--"try to shed more light than heat onto an issue" and "always go ot the source first." That was great advice, and when I take it, I find that it positions me well. But I know exactly what Loving is talking about in this part of the interview, of what graduate school does to teach you to be a bully. That's really what he's saying, isn't it, that these dysfunctional relationships constitute some academic bullying: my position is the right one, yours is the wrong one, I'm going to fight you, overpower you to get my way.

Students learn this from me because I learned it from them and so forth. The cycle continues, and I'm now wondering if the peer review process that I use, with its suggestion of "right/wrong" "effective/ineffective" thinking may encourage students to adopt that posture of telling people what they think instead of asking and listening.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


It's been a month since my last post to this blog, and oh, what a month it's been! I've defended my dissertation and next week I'm interviewing for a position at a local university that would set me on a new career path. So many choices lay ahead, not the least of which deal with planning my wedding (!!!) from several states away. I'm exhausted already.

At times, change comes into our lives with alarming speed. There you are, quietly ambling along, and BAM--you have to realign your way of thinking about yourself in relationship to the world. This reality hit home for me when I was casting about for something to wear to this interview and to my defense yesterday. The defense I could cover by cobbling together seperates from my conference gear. But the interview? Let's just say I've got a shopping trip ahead of me and I have to go to (ugh) a mall. I've purchased 2 new dress/suit outfits recently, but they were purchased for wedding/graduation events, not professional wear. How far I've come from 7 years ago, when I was in a professional position and regularly wore a suit. My clothing life has been defined by my grad student status; now I have to be a professional again.

Not that I'm complaining; it's good to emerge from the grad world and return to professional life. I miss meetings. I'm not looking forward to the student loan repayment (eek!), but everything else will be good.

Back into the world, where I get to make a whole new set of decisions. Feels scary-good.

Friday, June 15, 2007


I decided to reread Farenheit 451. Reread is, I suppose, a misnomer, since I read this book so long ago that I remembered very little of the actual plot. As I was driving home today, I considered how I liked the book.

I decided that I didn't like it, that it was not really all that great, and I started to feel sorry for those poor, poor kids that had to read this thing (I purchased it in the Summer Reading section at Borders). Why, I wondered, would anyone consider this book art?

After about 30 seconds of that assessment, I remembered the lesson I tried to teach my students this past spring about difficulty. I questioned my initial impression and thought about what I saw as the book's weaknesses--its brevity and strident speechiness (because we can all now create newer/better/truthier words, can't we?).

The brevity was good, since it kept the speechiness at least short in duration. And the speechiness worked in the context of people desperate to break out or hold in by controlling words. But the ending, wholly unsatisfying. The protagonist, so flat. The other characters, such props and cardboard cutouts. The terrible moments not nearly as awful as that bleak setting, particularly at the end.

And then I thought about the style. I found myself most annoyed by passages where Bradbury eschews actual sentence structure and goes for a choppier delivery. Like this one:
One drop of rain. Clarisse. Another drop. Mildred. A third. The uncle. A fourth. The fire tonight. One, Clarisse. Two, Mildred. Three, uncle. Four, fire. One, Mildred, two, Clarisse. One, two, three, four, five, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, sleeping tablets, men disposable tissue, coattails, blow, wad, flush, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, tablets, tissues, blow, wad, flush. One, two, three, one, two, three! Rain. The storm. The uncle laughing. Thunder falling downstairs. The whole world pouring down. The fire gushing up in a volcano. All rushing on down around in a spouting roar and rivering stream toward morning. (18)

It occurred to me in the car that I needed to read those passages aloud, something I'm not inclined to do when I read before bed (which is when I read "fun" stuff). So I read it aloud. Perhaps, I thought, the whole book should be read aloud. For a book about book burning, this one takes the view that the books worth remembering will be memorized, that people are walking books, that in the absence of being able to read, being able to listen will do just nicely.

Dystopian fiction is not my favorite thing these days, I suppose. And I'm just not a big fan of Bradbury's writing style; I think that's the reason why I was annoyed by the book. But the scenario? Well, let's just say that I'm thinking a bit differently about my books, my two television sets, my headphones and my Zen, my Bluetooth, and my front door. I need to make it less a wall and more a way.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The End of the Conference

Our session was the last one listed for the last panel on the very last day. We had a small, but interested, audience and I thought things went quite well.

Except, of course, for a small "wardrobe malfunction."

I suppose it must happen to us all at some time. The unzipped fly. The sneaky blouse button. The toilet paper trail on the shoe. But oh, why did I wear such a dangerous wrap blouse with a white bra?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blogging Computers and Writing, Post 1

Disclaimer: I tend to transcribe in my notetaking, so I may be always quoting. These are raw notes, so be kind.

Lunch Session: Friday, May 18


Speaker 1: Lowell Boileau (http://www.detroityes.com/)

Lowell is an artist whose paintings reflect the city/changes
Began by thinking of the web as a way to bypass the gallery system to sell his paintings
"The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit"--original site
Evolved over time
Lots of photographs
Not really a "blog"--forum run discussion that discuss the various issues in Detroit life.
Quote: "Web more about sociology instead of technology"

Speaker 2: Mollika Basu (http://detroit.metblogs.com/)

Mollika blogs for a corporate blogging group. The blog is a group blog that discusses the various activites/events in Detroit.

Speaker 3: Randy Wilcox (http://www.detroitfunk.com/)

Photographing empty buildings
Elbert C Donovon building--old Motown headquarters--found lots of important papers
Photoblog (would that be a "phlog"?)

Questions and Answers:

Sense of responsibility about representing your city?

Randy: I'm not a cheerleader--I show everything I see. People respond and love it--give feedback and keep reading.

Mollika: don't see it as good/bad to show the different aspects. Our blog represents a small portion. Encourage people to blog it all to get a holistic view.

Lowell: grabbed Detroit Yes--I am a cheerleader; felt need to have an honest discussion. Try to find the most beautiful moment--bring out the beauty and potential oft the city.

Comment from audience on the way Randy's personality comes out through his blogging--even the small bits of information.

To Randy: tell us about Sean?
Basically, this was a discussion of the negative side of blogging--the people who attack you verbally and even "physically" by tearing down sites. The dangers of hackers, basically.

Question: neighborhood/region based? Is there a good amount of local blogging action?
Lowell: lots of neighborhood threads on detroityes; geographic regions and school-based

Question: archives of this work; are there any efforts toward archiving these sites/snapshots of the city?
Lowell: there are spiders/bots archiving (archive.org); SoulfulDetroit.com--forum has reunited Motown people there; talking to Wayne State person (didn't get the name) to discuss archiving the discussion.

Question for Mollika: do you get pressured from restaurants/etc?
Mollika: not me, but some other bloggers do get this; untrained "citizen journalists" who don't know where the lines are. Our sit is almost like a franchise; we have resources to help us determine what is and isn't appropriate.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Getting Priorities Straight

Inside Higher Ed reports that there's a disconnect between high school and college instructors with regard to their definitions of "college readiness." Of particular interest to me is the following bit of information:
In English, the survey suggests, high school instructors’ focus on the development of students’ ideas overlooks basic grammatical and syntactic skills — possibly leading to an increased need for remedial teaching at the college level. Reading had the least misalignment between secondary and first-year college instructors, but the survey suggests that the reading skills acquired at previous levels are not built upon in high school.
As usual, reading and writing are coupled together as English tasks--which they are and should be--but the information about reading reinforces what I've seen over and over. We don't pay any attention to reading as an ongoing developmental skill. Once you can pass a comprehension test, pick out important information (efferent reading), you're considered ready for the reading world. The fact that reading is the place where we all have the same expectations indicates there's a long way to go to change our understanding of the trajectory of reading development.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Two Minute Post

I've got two minutes left on my grading countdown. I'm grading Regents exams today, a delightful task that always gives me cause for a chuckle. I give myself 28 minutes for a packet of 15 essays; any remaining time is "fun" time.

Today I learned that faculty shouldn't give comprehensive final exams because they shouldn't expect students to know those things. I also learned that abortion isn't legal in some states and isn't constitutional. Finally, I discovered that African-American teens are expected to live on welfare.

One minute left--amazing how long 2 minutes can be! I think I'll grab a fresh cuppa joe.

Monday, March 26, 2007

. . .and we're back!

Not a post about the C's in sight, I see.

Returned last night around 9:30 p.m. to find that the ants had not colonized my kitchen as I'd feared. Breathed a sigh of relief, prepped my classes, and went to bed. Now, 24 hours later, I feel ready to at least acknowledge that which I attended.

So I chatted with UGA peeps (Lex and Bob and Scott, to name a few), met new peeps*, and did a good bit of listening.

* Matt, for one, who is a bit quick on the draw with the camera. To him I say: C & W is coming soon, and if I don't get you this time, I'll catch you when you're on my turf in 2008.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CCCC 2007

We arrived in NYC at 10:30 a.m. and headed to our hotel. Within an hour of checking in, we were on our way to the NY Hilton to get our conference goodies (mainly the 300+ page program books) and map out our subway route. Yes, I said subway; we aren't staying at the conference hotel because it's just too expensive AND I know of this lovely little boutique hotel on the Upper West Side that is tres cher...but not too cher...but I digress.

On the way down to the Hilton we chatted about lots of things, including the notion that we could easily pick out "conference participants" from other folks. This led to a discussion of the differences between, say, a roomful of Classics scholars and a roomful of Modernists (that wasn't the actual comparison, but I'm just tossing out an example). I would say that this ability to categorize a person based on their general demeanor/appearance is pretty darn interesting. If we do look the same, is it because we are in a particular cohort or because people like us are drawn to it?

I'm going to try to post about the sessions I see at the C's. There are quite a few of interest to me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


In a fit of pique during this utterly unproductive Spring Break (in which I've stared endlessly at charts trying to make sense of them) I replied to a post on the WPA listserv. The conversation had turned, as it periodically does, to the matter of the rhet/comp--literature divide. When "writing" became the sub for "rhet/comp" but "literature" remained, I brought out my little soapbox.

Long term viability for English studies will come not when we jettison the literature enterprise, but when we recognize the multiplicity of activities that come under the banner of English studies. For the purposes of the above conversation, that means ending the verb--noun battle (writing vs. literature) and using the verb--verb connection--writing and reading.

Rhet/comp classes are to Literature classes what writing classes are to reading ones. Two peas in a snuggly language pod.

And the validation? Well, that came when folks started talking about the reading/writing connection in response to my post. Felt pretty good indeed.

Maybe there's a place for my dissertation after all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Many?

I've been having size anxiety regarding my dissertation. I suppose the question I want to be asking is "how long is too long?" I'm tortured, however, by the question, how long is long enough?

I don't like being thought of as one of those namby-pamby people who want to do the bare-ass minimum, so let me make myself clear--I'm not trying to get out of writing a thorough dissertation. I just don't want to find myself padding it to make it hit some arbitrary page count. I want it to have what it needs to have in it to make it a viable, interesting, contributory document.

In other words, I seem to think that I'm writing a document that people will want to read, instead of just accepting the fact that I'm writing a document that a few people have to read in order to say that I've completed the requirements for my degree. If it's interesting and capable of sustaining further inquiry, I suppose that's a pleasant side bonus.

Vexed, I am, but soldiering on.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Academics Will Study Anything

Society for the Study of Lost

I can now indulge in television with no guilt at all. This is contentment.

Race Obscures?

James Sherley has ended his hunger strike, with the hopes that MIT will continue to review his failed bid for tenure. I find it interesting that Dr. Sherley is an adult stem cell researcher who, according the article about the end of his strike, opposes embryonic research. This seems to me to be a much more provocative point of speculation about his tenure denial. I wonder whether it was his work, and not his race, that proved to be his downfall, and if so, what about it was untenurable?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Writing Spaces

Today I saw the writing promised land. To gain admittance I'll have to shed my PC citizenship and join the Mac world. One $35 piece of software has been enough to make me crave a Mac.

Scrivener is a writer's dream. When I looked at the first screenshot I was seduced. Here, in one window, was the writing desktop. A space for ideas. A place for notetaking. A birdseye view of the entire project. A place to actually write, surrounded by the visual cues that link you to the rest of your work. I wanted to weep.

I found some PC equivalents, but none that really made my heart sing like this one. I think it was the corkboard that really did it for me.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mental Exhaustion

I just had an interesting, rambling discussion with a colleague regarding the future of English departments/studies. When we arrived at the inevitable and primary question, "What do we teach?," the divide between us was clearly outlined: I believe we teach "-ing's" and he believes we teach "-ion's." The conversation stalled at that point, and has left me in a very melancholy mood.

And then there was the disagreement about "-ic's," which I can only summarize as being closely related to the "-ing's" and "-ion's."

My brain hurts and I want ice cream.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Little Bit of ?

It's not even that unspeakable; I speak it all the time, but only in select circles and only in certain moments. Since this little blog outpost is so remote, I think it will do.

Nothing reinforces my stupidity like writing this dissertation. Nothing produces more anxiety than letting other people see my work. Nothing makes me doubt myself more than awaiting feedback on my thinking and my writing.

I recognize that a dissertation is an exercise, that it is meant to demonstrate your readiness for the work of the life of the mind. It is a soul-sucking-baring-leveling activity that strips away all artifice. At the end of the day, all you are left with are your words on a page and the thoughts those words represent.

Sigh. I feel tiny today, but emboldened just a bit by typing. I don't want to be a self-idulgent little whiner. I just need, sometimes, to acknowledge that this is a tough process.