wedding gifts

There are many ways in which I don't fit the stereotypical image of the lesbian -- and other moments when I just have to embrace the stereotype and chuckle. Like just now when I was scrolling through the Target wedding gift registry to find a gift for an upcoming wedding of an old (straight, male) friend. What did I find? A cordless drill set. A-ha! who but the lesbian is going to give them a drill for their wedding. At least I know it's the one they wanted.

When my partner and I got married, we were part of a marriage equality protest, so we didn't do the big celebration and invite everyone and rake in the loot. Maybe we'll have some other ceremony in the future (though the way the political scene is looking, our commitment won't be legalized til we're in rocking chairs at the old lesbians' rest home) and have the big party for friends and family. But we received two wedding gifts from friends who heard about our marriage. A very nice gesture, totally unexpected and unnecessary. But the amazing thing? Both people gave us the exact same thing: the Tivoli bowls from Crate & Barrel. Now, these are a nice present -- one I've given occasionally myself for wedding showers and the like. But what are the chances of our only wedding gifts being identical? Do we seem like people who don't have enough bowls? Are we round (um, yes) and cheerfully multicolored (no, but our house is)? Too funny.

So, one more reason I always buy from the wedding registry if possible. That way I know no one else sent them the drill set.


almost there

One more day of summer school. Plus giving & grading a final exam. I plan to kick back and read Blink and Thinks* during the exam in celebration of being done. I usually try to use that 3-hour block in some super productive way -- grading or reading articles. Though trying to concentrate while watching my students writing their tests is rarely that successful for me. So this Friday I'm going to just enjoy my reading.

*Blink is the book on mental processing that was making the rounds many months ago. Thinks is the title of a David Lodge novel I've been reading this week -- also, oddly enough, about cognitive processing, but also about academic types having love affairs and social intrigue.

I am really looking forward to establishing some sort of different routine for the rest of the summer. I've been really trapped in some bizarre makeshift arrangements of both space and time created by our moving house plus summer school. Add to that two scoops of isolation and a handful of depression and you get a tired cranky me. It's all been viciously circular -- I'm isolated because I can't see anyone because all my weekend is spent either sleeping or dealing with house stuff. (Well, and the fact that most of my local friends have proven themselves to be (1) unreliable, (2) liars, (3) tormented by their own life choices, or (4) busy with kids. I'd be looking for new ones but I've been kind of busy.)

So this weekend I'm going to face up to setting up my study at our new house -- our respective studies are for some reason the scariest rooms for us to organize. (At least my gf is in this neurosis with me, to some extent.) I've even been subconsciously punishing myself I think by not setting up my computer fully -- I had to set it up in a very minimal way just to get our internet up. But no sound, no peripherals, and I don't even have my table adjusted properly. All of which has been a big obstacle to blogging. Never mind anything else fun online. It's either punishment or a purposeful block -- because if computing were too comfortable and easy, maybe I'd never get this room properly set up.

On the flip side: we all really love our new house. Even the dogs are happier here. And my gf and I have been watching the 5th season DVDs of the Sopranos nearly every night, which we'd been waiting a long time for (no spoilers please, we don't have cable so we DON'T know what happened). And after I get through next week (which involves a trip to the eye doctor, a trip to the dentist, and moving to a new office at the U) Summer Will Be Mine, All Mine.


the worst five ways to wake me up

A new one to add to the list of ways I don't like to be woken up at 3:30 a.m. -- Having the police going through our yard with flashlights and dogs. We called the dispatch office, and apparently someone had dropped a stolen car a couple of blocks away and they were looking for the suspect who'd fled on foot. There's been some sort of police activity in every neighborhood I've lived in at one time or another, and in and of itself it's only mildly upsetting. But it kind of gets your adrenaline going and then it's really hard to get back to sleep.

I think the other things on that list would have to be: dog vomiting in the bed; dog peeing in the bed; prank phone call; and smoke alarm going off.

In the grand scheme of things, all small annoyances. But they don't seem small during the wee hours.



One of the things that teaching summer school has made me very aware of is how accustomed I've become to the usual rhythms of the semester -- there's the semester-long rhthym of energy & enthusiasm, followed by a kind of settling down, and a midterm lagging of energy, then a renewed focus until the chaos of the last couple weeks -- for both me and the students. And there's also the week's rhythm -- which for me generally involves two intense teaching days, usually T/Th, with M/W being devoted to meetings, class prep, and research. Fridays are traditionally my day off, with writing and grading on the weekend. There are variations due to schedule changes and special events, but I've become very used to the on-off energy cycle, which suits me well. I'm comfortable performing in the classroom and dealing with students, but I'm essentially an introvert, so I need time to recharge after working with other people all day. Having a day inbetween teaching days gives me time to process what's going on in class and plan for the next day at a deeper, energetic kind of level -- not just reviewing the material and making handouts, but a different sort of planning that happens subconsciously but makes possible those spontaneous decisions that often produce great classes.

But in summer session, it's MTWH -- so the top-level prepping is manageable, but the deeper processing isn't happening -- nor the recharging. By Friday, I'm really wiped out and don't want to talk to anyone. Then I act like a hermit all weekend to make the next week possible. I'm not complaining -- I needed the extra pay (paltry though it be) and there's only one week left -- I can do anything for five weeks. But it's made me extra grateful for the schedule I'm usually able to work out, to fit all my classes into two or sometimes three long days. Those days inbetween are really important for my teaching, in ways I hadn't fully realized before.



I haven't been writing much because I've been thinking. (how's that for an excuse)

I've been mulling over a conversation I had with an old grad school buddy this past weekend, which is also resonating with discussions we're having at the reading blog for D. Hall's The Academic Self.

I suspect I'll have more to say, there or here, in the days to come. But this is the pithy version:

Tenure represents freedom, an end to many forms of constraint. So why is it that so many of us sit around polishing our shackles instead of noticing that the lock is now open?


plagiarism II

In follow-up to my last post and the comments it received:

In fact, because of the kind of peculiar & particular assignments I write and the strong education my students receive in the correct use of sources, I very rarely have to deal with cases of plagiarism. This is only my third case at this institution in eight years. And yet, as several commenters suggested, some students will still try to cheat, no matter how well they've been taught or what institutional blocks or punishments exist.

I always follow the procedures of my institution, which include a set series of sanctions and hearings, (some of which can be waived if the student admits fault). Most important, an official record is then kept at the department and at the college level. For a first time offender, depending on the gravity of the case, the sanction allows the student to remain in the class and learn from the situation. But if a student is a second time offender in the college, sanctions are much steeper, and with good reason I think. If faculty just let it slide, or fail an assignment (or even the course) without confronting the student about the reasons for the F, there is no opportunity for the student to learn from his/her error, and no record in the system.

As some have suggested, there are different reasons that students try to cheat -- sometimes it is really out of ignorance. Sometimes it is a sign that a student is overwhelmed in various ways. And sometimes a student is just trying to squeak through without doing the work that s/he is supposed to. When possible, I turn an incident of cheating into a learning experience. So I wouldn't say "I hate you" to a student caught cheating, but I have said "I am really disappointed in you" and gone on to explain why cheating is wrong.

My post (since it's on my blog and all) really wasn't about my student, or how I'd deal with the situation. It's about my feelings of anger and distrust when I first discover a cheating student, which have remained pretty consistent in the fifteen years I've been teaching. Because it breaks the implicit and explicit contract between us as teacher and student, and as human beings acting in good faith. Because I've never cheated on anything in my life, and I can't imagine doing so. Because, as a teacher of literature and writing, I believe that understanding the thoughts of others, developing our own individual perspectives, and learning to express our own ideas, is a fundamental opportunity for our growth as human beings.

So yeah, I'm responsible and pedagogical and all of that when I actually deal with a plagiarist. But the day that I discover the cheating? I'm pissed off. And with good reason I think.


to the plagiarist in my summer class

Dear Plagiarist,

Here are some of the many reasons I hate plagiarism and those who practice it.
  1. You have now wrecked any chance you had of getting fair and even treatment from me. Even if you apologize and fulfill the sanctions recommended by my institution (which in this case probably will not include failing the class, since you are apparently a first-time offender) I will never be able to read your work without suspicion. In fact, I can't even look at you right now without feeling a wave of hostility.
  2. You have destroyed the atmosphere of trust and intellectual inquiry that I've been creating for this course during the term. Your actions make me feel more suspicious towards my other students as well, not just you.
  3. Based on your other written work, which I went back and double-checked today, you are certainly smart enough to have written your own midterm. The other students wrote perfectly decent exams on their own power. If I thought you were simply stupid, or simply malevolent, it would be a sad case. But since I don't think you are either of those things, your case is both sad and irritating. Are you just lazy?
  4. Do you really think I'm that stupid as to never have read the Spark Notes? I knew your stuff was cribbed from the first paragraph. But in the time it took you to carefully substitute synonyms for every fourth word could easily have been spent writing your own damn sentences.
  5. By the way, I grade exams pretty easy. Most people made at least a B- on the midterm. You probably would have too, if you had done your own work.
  6. You ruined my day. I hate you.

Your Professor who's been working really hard and not sleeping enough in order to prepare and teach a decent class for you irresponsible unappreciative slacker.



A couple of weeks ago, I was moving a plastic box in which I store letters that I've kept from various stages of my life (you know, back from the old days. I've also archived certain emails, but that's not a factor when you move house). Catching sight of an envelope with V's handwriting on it, I was thinking about her and wondering if I should try and get in touch. It's been a few years since we last wrote to each other. I think we last saw each other in person briefly in 1989, waving from two moving vehicles. Even then, it had been a couple of years since we'd been close.

We met during the first month of our freshman year at college. We were at a preppy East-Coast university which made it real easy for all of us alterna-types to find each other. I had met these two guys who were on the top floor of my dorm (one of whom went on to be a moderately famous indie alt-rocker) maybe the second day of our freshman orientation period. (They used to bring all the freshmen in early to drink themselves silly and bond with each other before classes began.) One day I looked out the window and it was raining hair. I went up to the top floor and I met V. She was balanced on the balcony ledge while crazy Rod shaved half of her head. On one side she had long blond hair to the middle of her back; on the other, short sexy stubble. (This was 1985, people. This was cool and gorgeous and still very brave.)

She showed up at my room the next day at 7 in the morning -- I was half asleep but oh so flattered. We were always enthusiastic about each other -- our friendship full of intensity and strangeness as only 18 year olds can have. She was the first woman I fell in love with -- but I didn't tell her. She was busy with various men, and hitchiking to Canada, and Bread & Puppet. She's a free spirit in a way I never ever would be. Which is probably what drew us together, I guess. Much, much later, she told me once that she'd been in love with me too. Which I count as one of two potential relationships that I'm glad never ever were acted upon. But I learned a lot from her, grew and stretched my boundaries in all sorts of ways. I also learned where I wouldn't go, what I wasn't really interested in trying or putting up with. Also useful to figure out when you're 18.

After a couple of years, we drifted apart, spending time in different circles. She had a boyfriend in Canada, I had my first serious girlfriend. She dropped out of school for a while, and I was planning to go to grad school.

A few years later -- 1991 or 1992 I think -- I sent a postcard to her mom's address to try and track her down. We corresponded for a year or two, pretty irregularly. She was living in an abandoned school bus in the woods, with no electricity and no running water. I felt weirdly ashamed of my growing investment in and reliance upon technology. Fascinated by her life, but kind of afraid of it too. I visited the state where she was living, but made no effort to try and go to see her. It seemed too awkward, too strange.

It's been a long time since we last wrote. But I guess I must have told her when I got the job at Large Urban -- maybe I sent a new address note, maybe we were still occasionally in contact. Or maybe she figured out a way to track me down (it's not that hard really). Because I got a card from her a few days ago, sent to my work address! So startling, and yet so familiar, since I'd been thinking about her so recently.

She's still living in the woods -- in a solar house she and her boyfriend built themselves, with an outhouse in the back. She has a 2 year old son. She teaches migrant workers. She's an amazing creative person who's living the kind of life she wants to, free from the expectations that most of us have. I'm delighted to hear from her, and yet wondering almost where to begin in replying. There's a lot to catch up on. It's kind of mysterious to me, how I can still feel connected to her after all this time, when we don't have much in common. That connection is boosted by the fact that she doesn't email -- it's a real letter, touched by her hand. And I have to write her back by hand. A different kind of thoughtfulness is involved, fitting for the resumption of a friendship so tenuous and yet apparently strong.


signs and wonders

A sure sign that I need a haircut: Dr. Frazzle stopped me today in the hall and said, "oh your hair is looking so nice."

Today I am going to go to the gym. I have not been to any formal exercise setting in 26 days. I've taken long walks with the dogs, done pushups etc at home, and hauled plenty of heavy boxes around. But with all the traveling and moving, this has been the longest period in my adult life that I've gone without intense formal exercise, except for when I had mono. I've been pretty active and exhausted these past 3 1/2 weeks -- I literally haven't had enough sleep to fuel anything more intense than the work of setting up our household. So I knew that trying to get to yoga or the gym would have been counterproductive. It's been hard for me to learn as I get older that I can't just keep doing everything, all the time. But today I'm going to start getting back into my usual routines. On the up side, I haven't been so neurotic as to be obsessing over not working out; on the down side, my brain chemistry has been suffering.

Summer school is kicking my ass this week.

Two different students tried to work Michael Jackson into our discussion today. Not entirely succesfully.

My favorite typo, perhaps spell-checker generated, in a student essay was the discussion of how "selfless tanners" were being promoted as a response to health concerns regarding sun exposure.

The dogs have a play date tonight. We're going to meet a colleague and her pups at a dog park. I'm not sure how it will work out. Though I have a bit more social anxiety than our dogs do, so it will probably be fine.

Now, I need a play date, too. Though, if given a choice of activities, I would probably sleep through it.


pathetic but true

It is now a proven fact that, if given the choice, I would prefer to clean dead bugs out of a cabinet than grade papers.

But, in my defense, I have to add that not being fully settled into our house is starting to drive me nuts. I really think there is some kind of amnesia built into the moving process -- every time I convince myself that it won't be so bad. But the disruption and upheaval is hard to deal with.

And did I mention that I'll be moving to a new office at the U later this summer? Though that is only one tiny room, just papers and books.

OK, now I'm really going to sit down and prep for the week ahead.


we went to the movies

So we are trying this weekend to relax a little, even though we're not entirely settled in to our new place. Our favorite thing to do is to go see movies -- we're weeks behind on this, what with going out of town and packing and moving and unpacking and summer school...(best said breathlessly to get the real flavor of summer so far).

So today we went to see Kingdom of Heaven -- we'd been wanting to catch it on the big screen, since huge historical epics (& Ridley Scott spectacles) are things we both enjoy, and that don't really translate well onto our modest-sized TV. And, since I knew it was longish, I kept saying that we couldn't go to the 10:30 pm showing. So we caught a 4:00 movie (and got matinee price!) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I know it's been getting mixed reviews -- and I'm the first to admit that I know diddly squat about the costumes, military strategy, political history, or religious customs of the Crusades period. It was convincing enough for me as a movie-watcher. Beyond that, as pure spectacle, quite enjoyable. And done with a message relevant to today's world.

Thursday night we saw Lords of Dogtown which was much less successful -- not quite fictionalized enough to make it substantially different than the documentary, not quite enough given to make you really care about the guys as people. Some good skating and pretty people in it, but that's about it.

Apparently we are on a testosterone kick this weekend . . . guess that means Longest Yard is up next.

Starting to feel more human. Though I have to grade papers tonight, so the reality of summer school is about to hit me squarely in the head.


almost midway

...through summer school, that is. I'm hoping I'm a bit further along in the unpacking & settling in process.

So far, I'm not hating teaching during the summer. I don't know how I'd feel if I hadn't also been moving during this time, but I think it would be even better. (I wouldn't be quite so exhausted, for one thing). Though the chaos on the home front has meant that I have devoted only the barest minimum of time to prepping for class -- it's a class I've taught 8 or 9 times before, and I know the material extremely well. So I can get by with less than my usual prep routine. But even so, I had a couple of mornings this week when I went in to class feeling a twinge of guilt. I think I pulled it off OK, and I promise to be better prepared for some of the remaining texts.

What's been most interesting to me is the classroom dynamic. For some reason, my course was capped at a lower enrollment level than is usual during the regular semester (I just looked at our course roster for summer and it seems as though some courses were reduced and other weren't -- kind of mysterious, but I'm not complaining, since I really benefited) -- I always run this course with a lot of discussion, but that's been made even easier with the smaller numbers.

I think the students are learning each other's names sooner, and are (for the most part) very engaged with the material, since they're reading and talking (and often writing) about it every day. But normally in the semester version of the course, I begin to see real changes in the students as they struggle to make sense of the ideas of the class and apply them in their own lives. (This is a literature course cross-listed with gender studies, and includes basic feminist theory as well as literary texts.) It's much harder to see if any changes are occuring day to day, rather than week to week.

What I didn't expect was that the compression of the course, rather than its intensity, seems to be shaping my attitude towards the students. Sure, I want them to get as much as possible out of the books, out of my lectures, out of our conversations. I care about their performance and progress in the course. But in the back of my mind, I'm a bit more distant from them as people than I am with my regular students, who I get to know slowly. The speed of this course, for me, prohibits really getting to know them beyond the most surface levels.

Of course, I may feel differently at the end of June. But so far, it's not so bad, the course is going pretty well, and I know I can definitely use the extra money.



The best explanation for how I'm feeling right now about this move is that it's sort of like when you have a bad cold that includes sinus and nasal congestion. So bad that you can barely breathe, can't sleep lying down, etc. At such times (which thankfully happen to me very rarely) I get to a point when I can barely remember what it was like to breathe regularly and freely. When I'm resentful of all those other people running around with clear nostrils. When I swear up and down that I will remember this feeling of congestion and never again take breathing for granted.

Yeah, it's something like that. I'm really, really, really looking forward to the time when I will be able to just come home from the office and cook dinner and relax and take a shower and do all the ordinary boring stuff of regular life -- and not have to think about any of it. We are maybe one-third unpacked & settled in at this point -- enough to survive, but the end doesn't seem near either. There's still a lot of decisions to be made about where stuff should go. (The kitchen and bathroom in particular are completely differently configured in this house as compared with our last one.) And even for the things we have put away, it's not yet familiar to us. So every single thing I do, even making breakfast or taking a shower, requires a lot more thought and effort than it will in a month or two from now. At which point amnesia will start to settle in and I will forget the agony of this month. But for right now? I can't help but look at people in the grocery store and think how easy they have it, just stopping in for some food to fix for dinner. Someday I too will be so carefree.


...we have internet up at home.

of course, now I have to leave for campus to teach. Sigh.



Current Self: My palm is out of juice. Where is my palm cradle? It must be in my "critical" box of stuff I knew I'd need to have during the move.

[looks in box. The cradle isn't there.]

Current Self: Old self, where did you put the cradle? Didn't you know I'd need to charge my palm before everything was unpacked?

[looks in box of small computer related things. The cradle isn't there.]

Old Self: Use your brain, silly. It has to be in a logical place. I packed everything in a logical place.

Current Self: A-ha! here it is. Why did you put it in the box marked "desktop"?

Old Self: Because it was on the desktop. I told you it was logical.

Current Self: Arrgh.