in the interests of bloggy research

As seen everywhere else today, here's one more contribution to the meme for Scott Eric Kaufmann's MLA research:

  1. Write a post linking to Scott's post in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
  2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances.
  3. Ping Technorati.


Monday: 2/25 -- had a wonderful class, really smooth and relaxing.
Tuesday: still 2/25 -- Because of my lousy schedule this fall, I knew I wouldn't be making it to yoga. But yesterday was my last horrible Tuesday, because this is my last week of teaching this semester.

So I'm really looking forward to tonight's class. It's been interesting these past couple of days because even though my classes per week number hasn't yet increased at all (that will be later this week), just the fact that I set a defined goal has really been a motivational boost.

Stephanie asked in the comments about what were some of the biggest changes I'd noticed when I did the 60-day challenge last year. There were definitely physical changes -- over the course of the challenge I was able to get deeper into certain postures and improve my balancing poses. I lost a few inches (almost everyone does in the process). But the mental benefits were really important to me, as well. As someone who'd never trained for a race, or a competition of any sort -- there was incredible clarity about setting this precise goal and following through with it. It was so much easier than the larger, scarier, more nebulous goals I usually have -- "write book" or even "write chapter" or "write 3 pages" are so much harder than simply "show up for yoga class." This was obvious, focused, and immediately rewarding each and every time. Even on the really tough days, when I felt like throwing up -- even then, I knew that good things were happening inside my body. Bikram always says that if you feel lousy, the yoga is working. And I've definitely learned that's true.

And these good effects of the 60-day challenge persist -- the physical and mental benefits continued for many months. I kept up a more intense practice (5+ days a week) for a long while after the challenge. Then this fall, my schedule and the need to prioritize my work meant that my practice slid back to 2 or 3 times a week. But even so, I still think my yoga is at a different level than it was before the challenge. And I'm excited about tapping into that intensity again this month.


yoga report 1/25

yoga report: 1 class out of 25; 29 more days to meet my goal.
My first day back in class since Wednesday. It felt really great to be there, and one of my favorite teachers was teaching, someone I hadn't had class with in a long time since she started teaching at 6 am. The room wasn't very hot, or maybe I should say it wasn't overly hot. I was a little chilly at first, but eventually I wound up sweating. A lot of people in the class were detoxifying after overindulging for the holiday -- people were sitting out poses and generally looking pale. Two new students were in front of me, and they were having a really tough time. They were also whispering and moving around -- both of which are forbidden by our studio's etiquette. So that was kind of distracting. But I still had a very good class, and my ankle is strengthening after being injured a couple of weeks ago.

When I did the 60-day Bikram challenge last spring, I posted about it here a few times, though not very consistently. Later on, I regretted that I hadn't kept a daily journal about the experience, because it was so transformative. One of the things I love about my yoga practice is that it's always changing -- the poses you used to love, now are difficult, and the ones that used to be a struggle are now fluid and easy. It keeps you aware of how you are different every day, even when the series of asanas is always the same in Bikram practice.

A few days ago, negativecapability started doing a 30-day challenge, which helped prod me to set a clearly defined yoga goal for the remainder of the year. One of the things that helped me succeed in the 60-day challenge was that many people at my studio were doing it at the same time -- there was group energy and public accountability. It's much tougher to do it on your own. So, I'm going to try and post something about each class in these next few weeks, as a way of tracking what I learn this time. It's not going to be anywhere near the same thing as the 60 or even a 30 -- I have a few days off built into the schedule -- but it will step up my practice again, which is what I really need right now. And it will be good training for doing another 60 next spring.


Well, after Friday night's optimistic goal setting, I didn't actually make it to class on Saturday. This is why I didn't try to do a 30-day consecutive goal right now -- there are too many realistic interference factors. Saturday, the migraine plus cramps double whammy effectively kept me at home. But today I'm feeling better and I'm heading out to class in a few minutes.

It's been a really nice holiday break -- GF and I got to spend a lot of time together, just relaxing and doing fun things. We watched the first DVD for Sopranos season 6 (which I find kind of disappointing so far, but it's something of a holiday tradition in our household). We've also been watching a bunch of other shows via Netflix: 4400, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and we've just started the first season of House. We saw a great movie in the theater (Stranger than Fiction-- more on that later). I think I actually caught up enough on my sleep debt. I also accomplished a lot around the house: the massive house cleaning eventually included tossing out the ancient and disgusting dog beds (which, after a certain point, even washing doesn't help that much) and purchasing some new ones. And I got us new bed pillows, too. So all the cushy sleeping surfaces are new and free of dust mites and so we should all sleep much better. Several large stacks of things are heading to recycling and charitable drop-off, too. There's more to clear out, but at least I got a good start.

And we only have one last week of classes left. I try to teach something sort of amusing or light for the end of term, since I know that my students are busy finishing up papers and projects for all their classes. So my teaching prep is fairly light, and I have a little gap before the heavy grading starts. Looks like I'm actually going to have good blocks of research time this week.

So, for a Sunday afternoon at the end of a break, I'm actually feeling pretty cheerful.


post, post-Thanksgiving

Our household's day of Thanks was fantastic: our absolutely No Working rule kept me off the computer all day -- not a single email did I check. This was our year to have the holiday to ourselves, after last year's double parental duty. So GF and I followed our time-honored plan: sleep late, run and frolic with our pack at the dog park, go work out at the gym, eat vegan food lovingly prepared by the folks at the natural-foods market (splurging on prepared things so as to avoid prep and cleanup time), and watch DVDs. We thought about going out to a movie, as there are several we want to see, but the apple pie did us in and we were glued to the couch. It was totally relaxing and fun.

And then, today? I fell into the binge cleaning trap. I really wish I were the sort of person who could be a disciplined housekeeper. I like a clean house; but obviously I don't like it enough to really keep on top of things. So I do only the most basic things for a week or two or three, and then have to spend a whole day massively scrubbing all the surfaces in the house. So around 11ish this morning, after sleeping late again, walking the dogs, and reading a bit, I was making my plan for the day and somehow thought I'd clean for just 2 hours or so. Ha. It was after 8 pm when I finally absolutely had to stop for the day. There are still 10 thousand loads of laundry to do tomorrow, but the house does seem a lot more livable now.

Upside: I still have two more days of weekend, and the floors are shiny clean. Downside: I didn't work on the article that I'm trying to squeeze out in the next couple weeks. And I didn't get to yoga, either. My practice has been awfully hit or miss the past couple of months -- I've only been going 3 days a week, sometimes 4, sometimes only 2. I practice at home when I can, but it's not the same as a hot class. I'd like to really step it up now that the semester is winding down. I'm going to have a lot of work in the next few weeks, and a lot of meetings -- but only one more week of classes, and that should open up some time in my schedule.

So, since today is now already tomorrow, which would be the 25th; and xmas is on the 25th, I'm going to set myself the goal of 25 classes between now and Christmas. That gives me wiggle room for the various evening commitments that might interfere with my practice, but would still be a great way to close out 2006.


recommendation ethics

I actually had really good classes yesterday, despite it's being Thanksgiving week. Sure, a few people were absent (although at this time in the semester, that's not so unusual on any day, not just pre-holiday). But the students who came to class, came ready to discuss the material. And everyone seemed cheerful at the prospect of a couple of days off from school. I know I've been really looking forward to this holiday as a break from this semester's routine.

I came into our mostly empty campus this morning to work on writing recommendation letters for a few hours -- I have a larger stack than usual to write this year, some for undergrads going to graduate or professional school, and a few for MA students applying to PhD programs. Those are the really tricky ones to write. I have one student in that category who I think is fantastic -- I think she could hold her own in a 1st or 2nd tier program. There's another student who is not only not fantastic, I don't think she's really cut out for PhD work. I suppose she could probably get into a fourth- or fifth-tier program like our own, but instead she's applying to schools way out of her range (despite advising from me and from her thesis supervisor). But because I sat on her thesis committee, there was no way I could get out of writing a letter for her (I tried, I really tried, but she was persistent). Everyone should apply to one "reach" school -- but not six of them. It doesn't do her any good to set herself up for that kind of disappointment. And, because she's applying to 1st and 2nd level schools, it puts her recommenders in a difficult rhetorical situation.

I think I'm going to start with the easier letters first. Warm up by being able to write real solid praise for a student's work before I have to craft those lukewarmly positive sentences that will appropriately signal to an admissions committee (made up of scholars who I know and admire) that I realize another student is probably not quite up to their standards, but that I have to write the letter anyway.



So, the wonderful world of digital television feed has arrived at our house. And so far, it is both completely awesome and not nearly as scary/powerful as we had feared.

It's the clarity of the picture, the evenness of the color, the sheer glossy brilliance of every channel, that is truly amazing. You have to realize just how bad what we've been watching has been. Our eyes have been off-road driving in an old jeep and now they're cruising along in a lexus.

But despite the 70+ channels we now get, last night there really wasn't anything on that we wanted to watch. This was actually a relief, since we've been so nervous that we'd turn into couch lumps. I got home last night just as the installer was finishing up. I played around with the new remote for a little while, just learning how everything works. And then, because GF was out, I watched Grey's Anatomy while it was on air instead of recording it for later. (I actually think it's improving slightly after the several large sharks that showed up last spring . . .I watch it out of loyalty and habit but I'm glad to see it's getting better.) And then I watched last week's episode which I had on vhs, recorded from last week -- a nice "remember how it used to be" viewing experience. And that was it -- there was nothing else on that we wanted to see, so we watched a DVD from Netflix. Yay!

I did manage to learn how to use the pause effect for live tv, which turned out to be very useful. And the other features of the DVR are going to be wonderful -- I plan to spend a little time online this weekend figuring out some stuff we'd like to record, so that then we'll have a nice cushion of things to watch on hand. And maybe in the new year we'll get a more modern TV, so we can record one thing and watch something different at the same time. But for now, we've definitely bumped up our tv watching experience considerably. (And increased our internet speed to lower the price of the bundle still further -- the mysterious ways of media conglomerates and capitalism worked in our favor for sure.)



There is no sweeter, more relaxing sound than that of a dog snoring gently as she sleeps next to you on the couch.

It's even enough to make my pile of grading seem more pleasant.

course preferences

When I was a college student, I always loved the week when the course registration booklet would come out, and I'd sit and go through it and imagine how great and interesting all my courses the following semester would be -- just at about the time when my current courses were seeming kind of dreary or exhausting.

Somehow the way the calendar has worked out this year, our students are registering for next semester at the same time that faculty are filling out the "course preference form" for the 07-08 year. It's not quite the same fantasy energy that taking courses used to generate, but it's good nonetheless -- particularly right now, when my enthusiasm for this semester is starting to wane. (Though I do have one really fabulous bunch of students who I'll really miss when that class is over.)

I'm going to put in a request to teach what would be a new course for me, an undergraduate theory course that's different from the ones I've taught before. Sure, it will be a lot of work to put it together, but I'm excited at the idea of it. I can only hope that there won't be a lot of competition among my colleagues for that section. We turn in a ranked list of our choices from the lists of offerings generated by the program administrators (grad, major, lower level) and then the Chair decides who gets what, factoring in things like curricular distribution needs, teaching loads (which are somewhat variable), and how likely a given faculty member is to pitch a diva fit if not assigned his/her top choice. (Funny, but the worst divas in my dept are all middle-aged men...)

The thing I've been confronting this time around as I work up my preference list is that I'm just not feeling a lot of love for teaching graduate students these days. Graduate courses are what most of my colleagues want to teach more of, not less -- but I don't share their arrogance about the importance of our graduate program or my own contributions to Knowledge via some sort of legacy through the students. Many of our graduate students are fairly competent, and a few are smart -- but they're not intellectuals or scholars. I do what I can to teach them about research practices, and about my content areas -- but if they don't bring an innate love of reading, & a strong curiosity about what they're studying, it's hard to inspire that. And that inner drive is what graduate study really requires.

Now, my undergraduates bring lots of different things to the table -- not all of them love literature either -- but they are mostly pretty clear about what they hope to get out of a college degree. And a large number of them do, in fact, love what they're studying. There are few other incentives to become an English major, in this vocationally driven culture. A large part of my job as a teacher of undergraduates is simply to expose them to new things -- new texts, new ways of thinking -- and this is something I enjoy. Teaching at the graduate level is supposed to allow you to explore more sophisticated kinds of analysis, to move beyond the superficial introductions to a field. But too often I feel that I'm just rehashing my undergrad teaching in a differently structured class.

A truth: in terms of "teaching my research" I think I've learned far more from my years of undergraduate teaching in my reseach area than from any of the graduate seminars I've taught. Perhaps I'm a lousy teacher of graduate students -- it's not as if my teachers in graduate school were good models -- or perhaps my deep ambivalence about the institutional structures of our graduate program, and graduate programs nationwide, interferes. I don't know. But I can't fill out my so-called "preference" form with only undergraduate courses, without losing my status as "research-oriented faculty," which in my department gives you a better teaching load.

Next semester, it's just undergrads for me. And summer, too. So maybe by next year, whichever semester I'm assigned a grad course, I'll have managed to readjust my attitude. Revamp my graduate pedagogy. Right now, I'm just ready to be finished with the grad course I'm currently teaching. . .


thinking about dancing with the devil

Once upon a time, we lived at a house where we had some "free" cable, courtesy of the previous tenants. It lasted only a couple of months, but ever since we have referred to cable as the devil, since it easily could suck up severalhours of the week. (And when we first discovered it, it sucked up three whole days before we broke free of its spell.)

So we haven't had cable since -- not actually out of principle, but for budgetary reasons. It just has never seemed like something we needed to pay for.

So we have contented ourselves with the three or four channels that our rabbit ears on top of the TV can pull in: abc, pbs, wb, and sometimes cbs. Luckily, abc's programming is aimed right at our demographic, and so "our shows" are all on that channel.

For the past several weeks, however, we've been contemplating getting dish tv, which could be bundled for a fairly reasonable price with our existing internet and phone services -- I haven't made the phone call to find out exactly what price, because this seems like a huge step and so I procrastinate a bit about it-- but I was talking to someone at work who pays only 20 dollars more than we are already paying and gets all these things together.

One of the big motivators is not even all the zillion (well, 60) cable channels we'd get -- it's to have clear reception -- to be able to see what this show Heroes is (we can't get nbc at all) -- and hopefully to get dvr. Our current vcr is horribly temperamental, and programming it correctly has been a huge pain in the ass this fall. Especially when you combine it with the antenna issue -- on Wednesday nights, my GF has to be sure to be home to wiggle the attenna from the cbs position (we like Jericho) to the abc position for Lost. This is all while we're taping the shows because I don't get home until later.

So we've been talking about this for a couple of weeks, and I was all gungho, and then my financial worries took over and I procrastinated for a while about it. But now, after tonight, I think I'm definitely calling about this tomorrow. Because the other thing our vcr handles really badly (as opposed to our old vcr which gave up the ghost a few months ago) is the speed setting for the tapes -- you have to specifically set it for each program you put in. Tonight, we were taping 2 hours of shows, plus a few mintues because our clock never matches the networks. And because the speed setting was wrong on the vcr, our tape ran out approximately 4 minutes before the end of Lost. AAGGHH. Don't tell me what happened: hopefully I can watch the last few minutes of the show tomorrow from abc.com -- unless because this is the finale of the fall season (what's up with the mini season ripoff??) they're not going to make it available. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that.

And maybe it's just time for us to scrape together a few more dollars each month and move into the 21st century. We're not Luddites in any other realm of our lives -- it's sort of a strange perversity that has kept us wedded to the antenna and static and clumsy vcr tapes. Plus there's a kind of virtuous asceticism that you can put on when you say "oh no, I haven't seen that, we don't have cable" -- kind of like saying "oh no, I don't eat refined sugar." But I'm willing to relinquish that if it means I can be sure to see the shows that I like, and clearly.


it's 10th week, so there must be problems

During those hours of the day when I'm wearing my Administrator hat (which I imagine as a kind of tweedy cap usually worn while striding in the Scottish highlands), I see a lot of students who have Problems. Problems with their professors, with their grades, with the rules of the University. Many of these are Problems I can solve, and I actually find this part of Administrating to be satisfying -- Problems come in, Solutions walk out.

And then there are the students who, in their conviction that they themselves have Problems, become a Problem. My Problem. I listen to them, I explain the rules, and I suggest what their options are, if any. But some students just don't accept that some rules can't be bent, that the Bursar's office, in particular, isn't forgiving when you "had a personal situation" and "forgot" to pay a 6 month overdue fee bill. Some students think that if they just keep coming into my office and saying that "I think I should have gotten a better grade" that it will magically become true. Others believe that they should be allowed to write an honors thesis, even if their GPA is only a 2.0, because they "feel" that they can "work hard" now. Or that if they suddenly invent new religious affiliations that interfere with meeting their degree requirements, that I will believe them, and bend over backwards to ensure that they receive a substandard education that will allow them to graduate at least a semester early, free of the sinful contamination that surely will arise from reading more literature (gasp!).

Best of all: the student who was a huge Problem last year (in my office every other week threatening, without cause, to sue various members of the faculty) wants me to write a letter of recommendation. I'm filing that one in the you've GOT to be kidding folder.


movies good and bad

Last weekend we finally got to see The Illusionist, which I liked very much. I think it's too bad that it and The Prestige were released at the same time, because the concept and marketing behind The Prestige might cause a lot of people to overlook this film: tricky structure, masculinist rivalry vs a solid story with interesting characters that happens to also use magic as one of its central themes. And, given the prejudices of reviewers, a film with a love story is rarely going to get the kind of fan-boy response that a violent rivalry will. All this is too bad, because The Illusionist is really well done -- and, most important to my mind, it doesn't violate the expectations that it sets up. The Prestige is trying so hard to be tricky that it evacuates the story of any content. Tricks alone don't make a magician -- or a movie. (Remember the first time you saw a film by Shyamalan? and then the second, or third?)

Ever since I saw an early trailer for Marie Antoinette about a year ago, I wasn't sure what to think -- I was halfway intrigued, and halfway concerned that it could just fall flat. So I went to it with lowered expectations -- which meant that I was absolutely thrilled by the experience. It's not a film for everyone -- but I really liked it, and was glad to see it on the big screen. It's a tremendous spectacle (even involving some shoots actually at Versailles) -- and the furnishings and costumes and decadent aristocracy are all really the point of the film. Coppola's postmodern look back at the ancien regime is appropriately irreverent: sympathetic, celebratory, and critical at different moments. What really worked for me was the way the soundtrack elaborated the film as equally, simultaneously commenting on the 1980s. I'm in the right age demographic for such a cultural history -- I suspect that for some viewers the resonance of Siouxsie and New Order would be lost -- and I also appreciate the way the film tries to both meet and undo the expectations of "costume drama" or "period piece." It is, and it isn't. There's relatively little dialogue -- and of course the plot points are already known. So what the film records are smaller-scale portraits of mood, feeling, and flavor. One of my favorites in the past several months, I think.

And then, after last weekend, we totally struck out last night at the metroplex. We went to see Little Children -- it's got great actors in it, and the material seemed interesting (though I haven't read the book). Oof. We arrived a couple minutes late, but I don't think that made any difference. We only stayed for 10 minutes or so because it has an unbearable voiceover narrator. And for all the talent in the film, it surely wasn't evident on screen. GF said that it was like watching an audio book, and it really was. Kate Winslet would say a few lines of dialogue, and then the narrator would cut in "She wondered if she should say more." etc. Awful. Especially since he sounded perilously close to the Moviephone voice. We just couldn't take it.

So we left, and the only film that we hadn't seen that would start in the next 30 minutes was Flags of our Fathers. GF is a big Eastwood fan, so we went. It was grand in scope, and sometimes instructive or moving. But gloppy, overly reductive, and overly repetitive. And way too long. It'll be all over the Oscars, and the reviewers are loving it. But we were sorely disappointed.