post MLA post

I woke up pretty early this morning and lay there thinking "wow, I'm not as tired as I usually am after the convention. This is great! I can get up and start in on all my various New Year projects." I lay around for an hour or so, enjoying the feeling of being in my own bed surrounded by my loved ones. Ate a bowl of oatmeal, and then the true post-MLA exhaustion kicked in and I promptly fell back to sleep for 4 more hours. I think the first wake-up was just a little bit of leftover conference adrenaline.

Then we took the dogs to the dog park to run themselves silly, which was great fun for everyone. They were very unhappy when I was away -- The Boss followed GF from room to room to make sure she didn't leave too, and Speedy obsessively licked her paw. Old Girl didn't do anything in particular that I've heard about, though she did come and snuggle in the bed with us this morning for my second-stage sleep, which she usually doesn't do unless there's a thunderstorm, so I think even she missed me.

After we came back, I assumed my recovery position on the couch: lying down with the fuzzy blanket so as to stay warm and use as little energy as possible. Speedy is snoozing with her chin on my feet, and I've been checking up to see what everyone else is saying about MLA. I plan on staying on the couch for the rest of the day-- I have Special Topics in Calamity Physics to read (all of my public library hold requests came in at once -- unfortunately this book was too big to carry on my trip, and now it's overdue, so I'm going to try and read it by Tuesday), and we are celebrating New Years Eve in our usual fashion: take out food and DVDs. Which, since GF is out in the car doing errands, won't require me to leave the couch at all. So far I seem to have avoided the dread MLA Virus (I washed my hands as often as I possibly could throughout the trip) and I just need to rest and build up my energy stores.

Knowing that so many bloggers who I regularly read were at the convention (and today I've discovered that still others were there too) definitely added a little extra buzz to the people watching and nametag scoping which is so central to the MLA experience. I kind of liked the uncertainty of it all, not knowing who I might have crossed paths with in person. And I really liked meeting so many bloggers -- though "meeting" doesn't seem quite like the right word. After the blogging panel on Saturday, Horace, Dr Crazy, BitchPhd and I had coffee and talked about the dynamics of blogger meet-ups, as well as our responses to the panel. One of the questions we wondered about was how meeting each other f2f would affect our reading practices (which all remains to be seen, I suppose). But the experience wasn't at all like meeting strangers, or even professional contacts -- we already know so much about each other's lives. And what also struck me was how easily we referred to shared texts -- "do you remember when such and such happened on my blog" -- a simultaneous ease and depth of reference that's pretty unusual I think, even for text-based academics. I'd only ever had one meet-up before, so probably this is all familiar territory, but it was new to me, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The blogger panel was very interesting, but for me (and probably for most people who have been in the blogosphere for a while) it didn't really alter the way I understand my experience. I would be really interested in reading responses to the panel from nonbloggers (were there any there? I would have enjoyed a quick hands in the air survey about who was or was not). (Of course, I just read over my previous sentence and noted that I am unlikely to read such responses unless the panel creates new bloggers. Or gets written up in the Chronicle or some such venue.) I appreciated, however, that different points of view were included in the group -- there is no consensus about what "academic blogging" or "bloggers who are academics" or "the academic blogosphere" might mean, include, or require, and I'm happy with that pluralism. Certain very well-trodden points of disagreement were evident, and there's really no need to go over them again here. I blog for my own reasons which are possibly very different from some other people's reasons. Enough, fine, good. There's more than enough internet to go around.

Because of the politics of nametags at the convention, I've had very different experiences over the years: as a graduate student with Prestigious U on my badge, I got many more second glances, even a few oddly fawning elevator conversations trying to determine how well I knew certain Famous People. Once tagged with my job at Large Urban, I began passing under most people's casual radar. That was fine with me since there's so many other kinds of radar beaming through the crowds too. I share face recognition with a number of people in my field who I don't really know, so we do a kind of quick smirk of acknowledgement. There are a few Pretentious people from Prestigious U who used to make my stomach flutter nervously wondering whether we would acknowledge each other or not; this year was pleasantly free of any nerves. We're all too old to worry about all that jockeying for position any more. (Or at least I am.) I even got a "hello" from a guy I was in grad school with who has since become Most-Quoted Critic for junior candidates in several subfields (I know, since I've sat on those searches), and an eyebrow wiggle from SuperSnobby Editor at Prestigious U Press. I trigger dyke radar for those of us on the team, so there's a whole set of codes of acknowledgment we perform (ranging from smiles to cool glances in the opposite direction). And now, there are the bloggers. Perhaps next year we can invent a nametag icon that means "yes, I'm a blogger but you don't know which one I am."

Of course, when we actually met up it turned out we had various shared connections -- everyone at the MLA is only separated by two or three degrees of separation anyway, so this wasn't so surprising. Trawling the web for MLA posts today did fuel my curiosity about a few identities of people I didn't meet (especially as I discovered some new to me blogs along the way). And I stumbled upon the (nonpseudonymous) blog of one of our short-listed candidates (which I'm not going to reveal to my colleagues, but will defend if someone throws a Tribble). If that person winds up in my department the thin veil of pseudonymity might get even thinner I suppose.

All in all, it was a good MLA. I have more to say about interviewing and about vegan travel, but the magnetically soporific couch is having its effects, so that will just have to wait.


MLA 2006

I'm one of those people who actually likes going to the MLA convention. For anyone who knows me, this might seem contradictory, since I'm not exactly an outgoing social butterfly. But socializing at MLA is not hard work -- after all, you're surrounded by thousands of people who are in your tribe. This means that you can blend in: there is no sartorial choice, behavioral tic, or neurotic anxiety that you could possibly have that no one else in the room has. It means that other people are likely to be worse at socializing than I am. And, perhaps most importantly, people from all the stages of my life are at the convention, and I can't help but run into them. Some of my favorite moments are like today's sidewalk encounter with a guy I was in grad school with, a guy who wasn't a close friend, but who lived in the same apartment building with me. I've occasionally wondered whatever happened to him, but he's not someone I would look up and email. But it was very pleasant to run into him and chat for a few minutes. There's an easy comfortableness about MLA socializing for me, probably because it's so freeform, largely unplanned, and fairly fleeting.

The other layer of MLA socializing are the planned get-togethers, the once a year lunches and coffees with old friends and new professional contacts. This year I haven't had as many of those meetings as I usually do -- I've been locked in a hotel room with my colleagues doing interviews, and Philadelphia wasn't a big draw for many of my friends I guess, so certian people who I usually hang out with aren't here. But tonight was an extra special treat as I got to meet Dr Crazy, Flavia, Nels, Horace, Dr B., and Scott! And there will be even more bloggery goodness bright and early tomorrow morning at the panel.

Here's hoping I can actually get some sleep tonight, as I haven't really been doing that the last two nights and was about to disintegrate from exhaustion over dinner. (You know, that horrid feeling when you feel like your face is going to suddenly melt and start dripping down the front of your shirt.) I can nap really well in hotel rooms, but sleeping at night is tough. It's always either too quiet or too noisy. I don't have GF and the dogs and our white noise machine to accompany me to the land of Nod. And I tend to get overstimulated by the whole MLA experience, and can't really wind down enough for bed. (Did I mention that I came up with a revised plan for my current book project this afternoon? As well as two editorial projects I'd like to do? There's something about being in the same space as all these other brains that fires up my own.)

But even if I don't sleep I should be able to get through tomorrow, since my professional responsibilties are OVER. An early panel, more bloggers to meet, and some time in the book exhibit. Then it's just hauling my ass to the airport so that I can get home and truly collapse into a post-convention fog of television watching and dog-snuggling. Word has it that the first disc of 90210 has arrived from Netflix at our house, just in time for New Years. (I didn't own a TV back in the day, so I have actually never ever seen an episode. It's about time I catch up, eh?)


The Emperor's Children

One of my great delights over the holiday season was the entire day GF and I spent lounging around the house, napping and reading books. Not work reading, either. It was like a sick day without having any unpleasant symptoms. I rarely get (or take) a day like that now that I'm an adult, but some of my fondest childhood memories are of days spent reading.

And the book I was reading on that day, Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, was deeply satisfying, too -- on its own accord, but also because my hold request for it came in after a long stretch of mediocre library books that I didn't even find worth finishing. This book is probably a bit too talky for everyone's taste--a glance at Amazon's readers' comments suggests as much -- but I found the characters interesting, and their conversations and self-reflections quite realistic. The novel is all about identity formation, focusing primarily on a trio of 30somethings in NYC, friends since college now trying to figure out who they are, how or if they are living up to the potential for greatness they thought they once had. It's about family, about professional and social expectations and aspirations -- about relationships of all sorts. Because it's a New York novel about a preeminent writer (the father of one of the protagonists, and a protagonist in his own right as the chapters trade off) it feels in places as though there might be insidery references (which I wouldn't be in the know enough to catch) -- or it might all just be fiction good enough to be taken from real life. The characters are smart, frustrated, insecure, flawed: like people I know or could know. Messud is best I think at capturing different flavors of alienation: the awkward cousin who shows up from the sticks is painfully realistic in his sweaty blundering way, but even more impressive is the portrayal of the famous writer's daughter, trapped in a book project of her own, hovering in her father's orbit, desperate for his approval. The desperation embedded in ordinary lives is nothing new (and these literate, and literary, characters talk about Russian novels quite a bit) but this novel has a few twists and turns that spice things up. Books are significant, for these characters -- as romantic templates, ethical guideposts, cultural capital -- it's a novel written for people who love novels for something a bit more than mere escape.


closing the door

Today, I closed & locked the door to my campus office and I will not return until after January 10.


I even took my little plant home with me so it would survive and I would have NO REASON to go back there until just before school starts up.

I turned in grades late Monday; Tuesday was for wrapping up rec letters and admin stuff, and I thought for doing research at the library. But all the admin took longer than I thought and so today was library day. I might, of course, sneak back on campus just to the library before classes begin. But I'm really going to try to stay out of the office. Morale in the department has been utter crap this semester and I was doing an overload that I'd agreed to without realizing what effect it would have on me. I definitely need a break.

Of course, this thing called "break" also involves writing an article, prepping for 2 days of MLA interviews, and a variety of organizing/cleaning/household projects. But first, I need to somehow gear down and get into relaxation mode...


Xtreme Grading Championships

O'Brien: Hello, and welcome to today's exciting show here on X-Net, where we bring you highlights from this week's Xtreme Grading Championships, an all-terrain multi-day solo event in which contestants must use their skills of reading, evaluation, and writing to overcome obstacles like late work, hand cramp, and sleep deprivation -- all in a race against the clock. I'm John O'Brien, sports commentator for X-Net, and with me here today to provide expert commentary is Professor Alberta Higginbotham of Snooty University. Tell us, Professor, what does it take to make it through this grading event?

Higginbotham: Well, John, a grader needs incisiveness, strength, and focus. In addition, a seasond grader knows how to pace himself -- when to relax and when to put on the pressure. One of the exciting things about these Xtreme Championships is that the organizers have built in certain obstacles into the event to add some extra challenges.

O'Brien: What kind of obstacles are these? Are they realistic?

Higginbotham: Oh yes, absolutely. For instance, take our lead contestant at the moment, Dr Mel Lastname. In Wednesday's round she faced a meandering committee meeting and a trip to the dentist, both of which take away valuable time from her grading progress. As a special Xtreme Twist, she also received a large nail in her car tire. She lost some points then, because she didn't have any student papers with her in her vehicle to grade while waiting to get the tire patched. A champion grader should never leave home or office without some undergraduate papers!

O'Brien: Our cameras are showing you clips of Dr. Mel as she was completing the dreaded 2 a.m. sprint, a required event for Xtreme competition. Note her judicious sips of tea and water in between pages that she's marking -- a hydration strategy that serves a dual purpose since her carefully timed bathroom breaks keep her alert and enhance blood circulation. Notice how she stretches her spine and cracks her neck each time she gets up from the couch.

Higginbotham: Physical condition is a hotly debated topic among Xtreme graders. Dr Mel keeps to a vigorous activity schedule and clean eating up until the actual days of the event. At that point she switches to mostly carbs and caffeine -- the plan tried and tested by legions of experienced grading competitors. Some believe that healthy eating before a competition helps the grader handle all the bagels and corn chips, while others work to build up their junk food endurance on a consistent basis, not just during events.

O'Brien: So the 2 a.m. sprint is one of the compulsory events. What are some of the optional events, and how are they scored?

Higginbotham: Competitors can be very creative with their optional events, trying to maximize their points, which they receive for speed, flair, and risk. Last year's champion, Gregor Vandinsky, won because of his two-handed grading method -- he'd mark two tests at once, one with each hand -- which impressed all the judges even though his speed scores were slower than others. Here are some clips of Dr Mel going for speed and risk bonus scores by doing a Beat the Clock penalty sprint. It's a risky event because she risks elimination from the finals if she miscalculates.

O'Brien: In Beat the Clock, a grader is pitted directly against the clock -- with potentially devastating consequences. Dr. Mel's students are seen here taking their final exam, which lasts up to 3 hours. Mel has 6 papers left to grade when the exam starts. So she has to correctly predict which of these 6 students whose papers remain in the pile will finish the exam first.

Higginbotham: It's a nail-biting event for sure -- performed in front of her students, which adds to the tension in the room. If she makes a mistake -- if a student finishes his exam before Mel's graded his paper -- she's out, disqualified from Xtreme competition for a whole academic year.

O'Brien: There's also an additional humiliation penalty. Look here, at the first student who finishes his exam. His paper is already graded, but you can tell Dr Mel is wondering if others will finish as early. She picks up her pace, moving at top grading speed.

* * * * commercials from Xtreme Grading's sponsors, Advil and Red Bull * * * *

O'Brien: Welcome back to the exciting conclusion of Thursday's Beat the Clock round as Dr Mel switches the order of the last two papers she has to grade. Only 15 students remain in the exam room.

Higginbotham: Notice, though, even under this pressure, she still writes a long paragraph of final comments on each essay. This is part of the form that judges are looking for.

O'Brien: Look at that! the switch was the right thing to do, as we see Student Amy come up to turn in her exam and get her paper back. Dr Mel sure loaded up the risk points with that last-minute move, didn't she!

Higginbotham: Absolutely, John, and that's what makes her such a favorite for this year's competition. She always finishes strong.

O'Brien: What's her strategy for the final days of the event?

Higginbotham: We've heard that she's probably going to go for the procrastination bonus, eschewing all grading over the weekend, and leaving this last stack of blue books all for Monday morning.

O'Brien: Whew! That's going to be some exciting Xtreme sportsmanship. Be sure to join us Monday night for highlights from that round -- as well as the new relay team race between Spreadsheeters, Calculators, and Pencillers as they rush to finish their final figuring of course grades and input them into the system. I'm John O'Brien, this is Professor Alberta Higginbotham, and this was XTREME GRADING -- only on X-Net.



Well, after much institutional hemming and hawing, I am definitely going to MLA this year -- I've actually known this for about 2 weeks now, so it's not exactly fresh news -- I made all my travel arrangements the last day of Nov, just under the wire for the registration discount etc. But it's starting to sink into my mind a little more. I'm on a hiring committee, but the doubts about my travel were because our department policies about these things change from year to year (who goes to the convention, who pays, etc) -- I actually really like going to MLA, so I was glad to volunteer, especially since my Chair is paying for it this time. About half my time at the convention will be spent interviewing, but truth be told, I actually enjoy doing that work.

The duties involved in hiring new people are some of the few service duties that I think are inherently important. It matters to me -- both individually and as a citizen of the department -- that we hire smart, interesting new people who will fit well into our departmental culture. Since I'm probably going to be here for a few or many more years, this kind of service has real impact on my life. Yes, it's a lot of work -- and it can be emotionally draining -- reading stacks of files from good candidates who aren't right for a job can be depressing, since the job market in literature has so much randomness built into it. I wonder how many of these people will find jobs at all, much less jobs they are a good match for. And I have to confess to the occasional twinge of insecurity or jealousy reading some candidate files -- people who've had very different careers than I have, people who've drastically outpublished me, etc. But it's exciting, too, to remember that there are so many smart interesting scholars out there in the larger academic world beyond the walls of this concrete office building, and to pursue the chance that we might be able to entice some of them to come join us here.

Obviously, the job process is incredibly, horribly stressful for job candidates. But it can be anxiety provoking for those of us on the other side of the process too: will my top choice candidates turn out to be horrible duds in person? will we be able to persuade the various factions in the department to set aside old battles in order to make a good hire? will our top candidates even consider coming here? There's a certain kind of institutional insecurity that causes departments to second-guess themselves and the candidates, which I think is as damaging to the process as the arrogance of certain top-five departments who are rumored to make actual job offers at MLA itself to cut out the competition.

But for now, we're in the excitement stage, filling in our dance card for the convention. Lots of possibility in the air. 'Tis the season.


12th day

Just finished the 12th class of my mini-challenge, which I've been enjoying immensely. It's really been helping me to feel more calm during the end of semester zaniness (although the time commitment does sometimes feel like a struggle when I have piles of things on my desk). I was thinking this evening about my current favorite and struggle postures -- it makes sense that they are opposites of each other.

My favorite (if I had to pick one, though there are others I like too) at the moment is standing separate leg stretching pose (Dandayamana - Bibhaktapada - Paschimottanasana). I like all of the poses in which you extend the spine and reverse the direction of gravity. I probably like them because I'm reasonably flexible in this direction, so I can get fairly far into the posture. Once you can get your neck and spine in alignment upside down, it really feels great. This pose stretches your calves, hamstrings, and glutes, too, before you get to the spine -- and it's refreshing for the face & brain since the blood rushes forward. Not a pose to do without plenty of warmup, or without careful attention to the knees -- but by the time we get to it in the sequence, we've done a lot of standing poses and so the reverse direction feels great.

My least favorite pose, only two later in the series, has been my least favorite for a while: standing separate leg head to knee pose (
Dandayamana - Bibhaktapada - Janushirasana). I've gotten better at it over time, but I still have to do the beginner version with the front knee bent. The front compression poses are all difficult for me (since I've got a lot of body weight to the front), and this one requires core balancing along with the compression. It's a powerful pose -- it will clear your sinuses when you didn't know you had congestion -- and it works on the internal organs as well as torso alignment. But I find it a struggle. Which means it's what I need to work on the most.



Several people have been writing very movingly about their last days of class -- a day that I already had last week. My classes all ended a week ago Thursday, but I had final projects for one class due this past Monday, giving them an extra weekend. So Monday afternoon I sat in my office and students dropped by in various stages of caffeinated excitement to hand over their projects (some required materials that couldn't be turned in electronically). It was fun, in a way -- some of these projects are really exciting for them and for me -- but it attenuates the long goodbye process of the semester. We still have a final exam day next week, which is even weirder. I'm not very good at saying goodbye and so it feels kind of weird to have this sequence of moments of closure: last lecture, last paper, last exam. Especially since this particular batch of students were special favorites of mine.

About half the class will submit their projects over this weekend or coming Monday, taking advantage of the grace period I allow them (with appropriate points deducted from their final grade). I set up the grace period system so that I don't have to hear any excuses about why an assignment isn't ready on the due date -- everyone knows that if it's not ready, they have one more week. Easy. No complicated judgments required about ailing grandmothers or flailing hard drives. But even though excuses or explanations aren't necessary, some students offer them anyway. Best one I've received in a while was from a girl who's quiet, reserved, kind of conservative in appearance and demeanor. She wrote to tell me that her paper would be delayed because of the big football game -- because she's the mascot. Now, this is one of those funny little glimpses into a student's extra-curricular life that you sometimes get by looking at their email aliases (grrrlsk8r or luvswhales) -- it doesn't change anything about her intelligence or her performance in my class -- but it sure as heck was surprising. I just keep thinking, "so you're the kind of person who dresses up in a furry suit and runs around acting crazy?"

Like some of the other teachers I cited, I do perform some larger-scale wrapping up on the last day -- usually building on student discussion about the course as a whole (what did you expect to read in Literature of X, how have your ideas about the topic changed), throwing in some review for the final exam (here's the grand overview of the major themes of the semester), and adding some of the Big Idea sentences: Why I think literature is important. Why I think this literature is important. What we can all learn from this. Etc. I don't plan this stuff (it's embarrassing enough to admit it here), but it often winds up coming out of my mouth anyway if I get warmed up enough. And if not on the last day, then when, you know?

So yeah, I'm the person in the professor suit running around saying Grand Things about Literature and the Meaning of Life. Hopefully you wouldn't guess that to look at me. . .


by the numbers

So far this week, I have:
  • sat through 9 hours of meetings
  • met with 15 students
  • written 2 recommendation letters

all that remains of the semester:
  • 6 hours of meetings
  • 8 recommendation letters
  • 75 papers (4 to 15 pages)
  • 31 essay exams
  • two work-related holiday parties (one potluck)
And in an even happier numeric snapshot: last night was 9/25 with 16 more days left to reach my goal of 25 yoga classes by xmas. I've been feeling pretty strong, and oh so happy to be intensifying my practice right now. It helps me feel more grounded, given all the end of term chaos. One nice change is that my standing bow has dramatically improved -- it's not that surprising that given the way this semester felt (intellectually, psychically) that my balancing poses have been a struggle these past few months. Out of balance in life, out of balance in the yoga room too. So doing this little EZ-challenge has been a nice way to reclaim some focus and celebrate the end of the semester. It's not over yet (obviously) but in some ways I'm already detached from the routine and the things that were dragging me down this fall.


ending the semester

I taught my last class of the semester yesterday, which is always a kind of emotional day for me. Of course I'm usually glad to be reaching the end of the semester -- but it's also an ending, a time for thinking back with a little nostalgia or regret for what did or didn't occur during the past four months. For one of my classes, I was definitely sad on the last day -- this particular group of students had been a real joy. I've been teaching long enough to really know the difference between an ordinary class and one that is something else. This is not to say that they were all A-level students, or the best writers I've ever seen, or all heading to graduate school. But they were lively, engaged, interested in the material. They read the books, and came to class ready to learn more about them. And, not to put too fine a point on it -- I liked a lot of these students, and I think they liked me too. And that always helps. We all learned something over the course of the term, and enjoyed ourselves in the process.

In the yoga report: today was 5/25, 24 more days to complete my goal. I was tremendously distracted during last night's class, my monkey mind scrambling all over the place; this morning's early class was kind of a shock to my system, since I have been mostly going in the evenings -- but in a good way, since I wasn't yet awake enough to have distracting thoughts in my head. Thus far I've been feeling really strong and happy about getting back into a regular practice -- and it makes me feel more optimistic and grounded in general. It actually feels as if my yoga has jumped up a notch, too -- I know that has to just be my attitude, since a few consecutive classes isn't really enough to make a huge difference -- but I've been trying to get there early to soak up enough heat, and having a focus on getting to yoga throughout the day helps clarify what I'm doing when I'm there. So far, it's all good. (But I'm saying this knowing that inevitably there's going to be a horrible difficult nauseating class in my future -- that's just how it is, as you work through your stuff (toxins, issues, injuries...).)


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.


purple for Halloween?

When did purple become a designated Halloween color? Suddenly, this year, it seems to be everywhere: in the halloween-themed dog toys we bought (yes, we celebrate any and all holidays by buying dog toys and having a little party out in the backyard), in the halloween lights (?!) and garlands (!?!) various neighbors have strung up, and in other decorations I've seen in stores and on houses. I guess the traditional orange-and -black combo was too garish, or orange lights look too much like construction trucks. (um, and when did we start stringing garlands for halloween, either?) Or it's just the wide spread prejudice against orange. People really don't appreciate the color. Purple, of course, has a long history of associations with royalty, with witches, and with gay folk. And I'm a big fan of purple, don't get me wrong. I just don't associate it with Halloween.


from my morning commute

I don't usually link to the little clips of media that are daily fads, since if you like that sort of thing you've undoubtedly already seen it. But this one, which I heard about on the radio and then looked up, is too good to miss.

Which is more disconcerting: to see the Lexus driver behind you reading the newspaper while driving (later on I was in the lane next to him and yes, he was actively reading it, spread all over his wheel and dash) -- or to notice that the guy in the Navigator next to you is text messaging with both thumbs on his Blackberry while driving. It's a pretty close call, any way you look at it.

Radio, people. So you can keep using your eyes to drive with.


The Prestige

GF and I went to see The Prestige today, which we'd been eagerly anticipating after seeing the preview. It was good, certainly watchable -- but not quite as good as we'd been hoping for. Conceptually it's smart -- the stages of an illusion, mapped onto the stages of the film -- with plenty of twists and turns along the way. But it's not getting a rave from me. The ending seemed kind of a cop-out (and I won't say more, since I loathe spoilers). The characters were stylishly portrayed, but not very deep -- certain phrases keep getting repeated throughout the film, in part to add to its "twisty" quality (this film is, after all, from the guys who did Memento) -- but "getting your hands dirty" or "secrets are my business" don't in themselves constitute psychology. An emotional loss is supposedly the trigger for an obsessive competition between two illusionists, which soon overshadows any possibility of the characters really showing emotion.

I am interested, however, in figuring out what cultural forces are at work to give us several films featuring magicians all within a few months -- I haven't yet seen The Illusionist, and I need to hurry up and do so before it disappears from our local theaters. In this film, illusion/magic are used as ways to demonstrate cultural anxieties about science -- about scientific ambition, about the costs of experimentation, about the boundaries of what seems possible, or allowable by common sense, the government, etc. It also reaches back to certain late-Gothic 19th-century tales (Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, for instance) which themselves were responding to cultural concerns about science. Even the choice of Jackman and Bale lends a postmodern gothicky comic-book feel to the film in its revisioning of late 1890s culture.

Much of the film depends on nested flashbacks and narrations, many of which are nestled within one or another character's diary -- each magician's journal gets read by his rival during the course of the movie -- which, because of the overt comparisons at the film's beginning to the stages of a magic trick, we are led to believe beforehand are nothing but distractions or tricks. So why care? The "puzzle" such as it is, can only be halfway figured out by the viewer who inhabits a rational-epistemology world (and it's not so difficult to do) -- the other half you couldn't guess, and in order to accept it, you must equally and simultaneously inhabit an irrational, fantastic universe. It is perhaps fitting for a film about doubles to require its viewer to take on a split mind -- but it isn't quite satisfying enough -- as an experience or as a narrative.


free in room wireless access

I'm at a conference this weekend, and so I've discovered that (yet again) in-room wireless access really means: if you perch on the edge of the armchair in the dark corner of the room, you might be able to get enough Low Signal to at least check email. Last night I could do that, but couldn't get enough signal to get into Blogger, though right now I can (maybe because it's dinner hour, rather than internet hour).

Though whatever i was going to write about last night has completely vanished from my over-caffeinated (and under-hydrated) conference brain. I'm just a spectator at this event, which is really more of a symposium (aka Gathering of Famous Names) and I'm feeling a little tired of sitting and listening and sponging up ideas. It's not my main field, though it's an area I'm interested in -- so this is adding to my feeling kind of marginal. It's been a strange, very long day.

One more session this evening, and then I can do some course prep. Or maybe I'll just come back and crash in front of the cable tv here in the hotel. It's hard for me to integrate conference mindset with the usual weekend work load, but somehow it all has to get done.


report from the couch

I know it's an egregious error of egoism to think that anything happens in the universe in order to benefit little ol' me (I've been teaching George Eliot lately so this error is at the front of my consciousness) -- but I have to say that I'm feeling very grateful to whatever forces were at work today to cancel the meeting that would have been the only reason I had to drive in to campus.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

So I've spent the last several hours working (or mostly working), butt firmly planted on the couch, coffee in front of me, sleeping dogs all around. Marking papers, reading for the week's courses, and writing up a grant proposal. A most excellent way to spend the day, and a much-needed corrective to the last three weeks which have entailed super-long days at the office.


limb, member, appendage, shank

About a week ago, I changed up my yoga practice considerably: I wore shorts. Now, obviously, this was a premeditated act, not something that just randomly occurred in the universe. And for many people, it probably wouldn't be that big a deal. But for me it was, and the effects are still being felt in my little tiny corner of said universe.

Relevant pieces of information:
  • Close-fitting shorts are actually recommended attire for hot, Bikram-style yoga. Bikram himself wears a speedo-style swimsuit, and most Bikram studios recommend that students wear as little clothing as possible to help acclimate to the heat. In addition, shorts help the teachers observe the student's knees, and make appropriate postural corrections.
  • Because correct yoga form is so important, students are at the very least urged to wear close-fitting clothing so as to be able to observe their posture in the mirror. (In Bikram class, unlike some other styles, the instructor does not model the poses, but gives verbal instructions which students try to follow by examining their reflection in the mirror.)
  • Before I took up yoga, I studied martial arts, for which we wore black baggy unisex cotton pants that were gathered with elastic at the ankles. During those years, I gradually forgot that I had ever revealed my legs (back in the days of step aerobics in the 80s I wore bike-style shorts and oversized t-shirts). I wasn't hiding my legs, per se, but it wasn't considered appropriate to reveal them in my martial arts school.
  • I don't really consider shorts as clothing to be worn outside of my house. Mostly because when I wear shorts, I look like a 12 year old. Or possibly a camp counselor. I'll wear long baggy cargo shorts to the grocery store or whatever, but they're not a fashion statement I'm interested in exploring. And besides, what shoes do you wear with shorts? Sneakers, or sandals, which take me right back to being 12.
So it was really a big deal for me to even consider wearing shorts to yoga class. When I first started doing yoga, I felt very self-conscious about the requirement of wearing close-fitting clothing on my top half (being someone who always worked out in extra-large baggy t-shirts to minimize interactions at the gym and to camoflauge my pudgy parts). I understood the need for it (you can't do downward dog in a loose t-shirt without revealing far more than I'd wish) but it was a big adjustment. So I wore flared yoga pants (not leggings) and tank tops. Eventually, when I started doing Bikram, I got sweat-wicking flared pants that I thought were close-fitting, but really weren't.

That was a couple of years ago. Over tbe past few months, I'd realized a couple of things -- first, that my yoga pants were now getting kind of baggy. And second, I cared a lot less about what anyone thought about my clothes or my shape, since I now knew what I was doing in the class. During the 60-day marathon I even stood in the front row pretty consistently. So being observed bothered me less.

I had half-heartedly tried on some workout shorts last spring, but didn't find any that were longer than 2 inches (which I'm way too old to wear) or not super loose. Then the itch kind of hit me again a few weeks ago when I noticed a kind of big woman in my class wearing the perfect shorts. (The teeny tiny 20 year olds are not exactly my fashion models.) So I went out and found my own perfect yoga shorts -- low rise, flattering seams, exactly mid-thigh in length. I got two pairs, even.

And then I wore them. Day 1 I was a little self-conscious. And the yoga really feels different in shorts -- it was weird in Eagle to feel skin against skin, for instance. But it definitely let my skin breathe differently, and was cooler than wearing long leggings (I wasn't sure in 105 degrees that I'd really notice a difference, but I did.) I wouldn't want to wear the shorts in winter time, when the studio never seems quite as warm as it's supposed to be. But it was fine right now. By Day 2 of shorts I wasn't really thinking about them so much. Until someone (this ultra-competitive annoying woman) commented on it to me in the locker room. Clearly my wearing shorts and standing in the front row really shook her up. (She didn't actually say anything negative, just "what were you doing in the front row? and wearing shorts? so un-Mel-like.")

So maybe this new revised Fall 2006 me does wear shorts in yoga. And maybe I'm enjoying rediscovering my legs again after many years of covering them up. But it's clearly a slippery slope, because I've even caught myself wondering if I might try on a skirt-plus-leggings ensemble (my favorite look back in 1985). I haven't worn a skirt or dress since 1992 -- due to living in a series of rough neighborhoods, the creation of my teaching persona, and the end of a
bad relationship. All of that is way, way, way in the past now, but I'm pretty comfortable with how I dress these days. I'd probably feel like I was in drag if I put on a skirt. And I'm not sure I'm interested in dealing with the comments that would surely arise if I showed up at the university with visible legs. But for 90 minutes in a heated sweaty room I can be that girl who does actually have legs worth showing off, if only to myself.


wired (various)

wired (me): I'm teaching one night class this semester -- something we all have to do in my department, and which I don't usually mind. But it isn't aligning so easily with my attempts to be on a regular early-morning schedule. If I could come home and just go to sleep right away, that'd be one thing. But instead I'm caught in that wired-up tiredness that requires me to putz around on the computer or watch TV for hours until I can finally go to bed. Too tired to do anything really productive, not tired enough to sleep.

wired (informant): We saw two excellent high-testosterone films in the past few days in honor of GF's birthday (which means she gets to pick the films) -- both of them things I would have seen anyway (I drew the line at Jackass and the Chain Saw Massacre prequel which she'll have to see with one of her guy buddies). The Departed is primo Scorcese, with fantastic performances from top-notch actors -- I haven't seen the Chinese original but GF said it was pretty close, even down to the eery resemblance between Leo Dicaprio and Matt Damon. It's ultra violent, smart, self-aware, even funny in places. I also really liked the character of the psychologist girlfriend caught between the two shifty protagonists. Operatic, almost impressionistic, rather than plot-driven, it's stylish without the improbable slickness both these actors have covered before (Mr Ripley and Catch Me if you Can).

One word of advice: it's well over 2 hours, so if your theatre shows a bezillion previews and ads first, you really ought to restrict your fluid intake for 90 minutes beforehand. I didn't , and so I spent 20 long minutes suffering before I finally gave in and left the theatre to visit the facilities. I hate to leave a film even for just a couple of minutes, but it was desperate. (In such situations, I always wind up thinking of Tycho Brahe's awful death as told to me by one of my philosophy professors years ago-- a quick web search suggests that there are new theories about mercury poisoning, which is equally gruesome but not so colorful.)

wired (up!): And then there was Crank. Not a film I'd recommend to everyone. But if you like your pop culture served up hot and buzzing, this is for you. Jason Stratham (who I last saw in the eyepopping Transporter 2) wakes up and has been poisoned with "the Chinese shit" which is fatally slowing down his metabolism. Only thing he can do to hang on long enough to wreak some revenge is to keep jacking up his system with adrenaline, by any means possible: driving through a shopping mall, public sex, cop chasing, etc. Witty tweaks to the sound and visuals let you feel his out-of-syncness with his friends and surroundings, and there are hilarious musical jokes, but this film makes no pretensions to be anything other than a joyride. You'll never look at a Red Bull the same way again.


I'm grading (like everyone else)

I made a vow at the beginning of the semester that I would not complain about grading. Ever. (at least during this term). Because, quite frankly, as miserable as I might make myself by procrastinating, or by mis-timing certain assignments -- my teaching load is lighter than some other people I know and I feel guilty about ever possibly complaining in a venue (like this) where they might hear.

And, of course, it's spiritually better for one not to be complaining, or focusing on the negative. So I've been practising saying more affirming things to myself like
"I am discovering what my students are learning"
"I am a responsible teacher who provides feedback"

And it is actually sort of working to improve my attitude.

(Or if it isn't -- you won't hear it from me here.)


bumper reading

A couple of days ago, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read "Vegans Just Don't Matter." Now, it's pretty rare that I feel directly targeted by bumper stickers -- especially since most of them tend to be for something rather than against. Or those that are hostile are so patently absurd (i.e., "No Fat Chicks" or the one that I see in the staff/faculty parking lot I use -- "Only Fools Believe the Biased Liberal Media" which always makes me shake my head trying to imagine what "liberal media" would actually look like).

So I tried to imagine what would motivate someone to put such a sticker on their car. Sure, I live in a big city -- there are a couple of vegetarian restaurants and several of the large-chain fresh/healthy/organic type stores. But it's not a particularly food-progressive city. There aren't Vegan Pride marches or regular PETA demonstrations. There are plenty of all-meat restaurants (and colon specialists) here as well. So what would make this person feel so threatened that he/she has to announce this opinion?

All I can come up with is that somehow, some way, we vegans matter enough to this individual that he/she has to deny that fact. If anything, this bumper sticker will mean that the word vegan will enter the consciousness of thousands of people on the freeway who might not otherwise hear or see the word. Every little bit of awareness contributes to the possibility of future dialogue or change. For every idiot who laughs at the "No Fat Chicks" sticker, there's someone else who thinks "my sister in law would feel hurt by that, and I feel irritated on her behalf." For every person who laughs and says "I'm going to McDonalds right now to prove vegans are stupid" there's someone else who thinks "I wonder what it means to be a vegan."

So, hey, vegan-dismisser. I'm actually glad you're out driving around.



Sometime around mid-afternoon, my crappy bad attitude finally lifted. There are various external factors I might credit with this change, or it might be the ever-shifting sea of neurochemicals in my skull. Whatever, I'm happy to be feeling better.

And my afternoon class (the ones who were turning in a paper today) were great. This is my first year using turnitin.com -- my U has been a subscriber to it for several years, but I preferred to nab my plagiarists by hand. (And, of course, to design weirdly unique assignments that wouldn't be so amenable to plagiarism.) But this year I thought I'd give it a try -- if for no other reason than that an extra dose of Plagiarism Prevention couldn't hurt. Plus, I wanted to be able to mix in some more conventional types of essay topics, and those tend to cause even good students to get distracted by Spark Notes.

But what I didn't realise is that one of the other benefits is that my students weren't literally handing in their papers to me today. I had set the deadline as today, up until midnight. Which meant that there was none of that exhausted up-all-night, haven't-done-today's-reading behavior in class today. If anything, my students were kind of pumped up because they were mostly in the midst of writing their papers. With an online system like turnitin, there's actually no reason to make the due date a class day, even. Maybe next time I'll just have them due at 6 pm Friday or something.



Although I wouldn't wish it on anybody, there is some small consolation in the fact that other people are also having a cruddy time of it lately. It's not just my individual failings as a person and as a teacher, or the failings of my colleagues, university, or climate. It's just that time of semester. Blech.

One of the things I always have liked about my job here at Large Urban is that my department is quite astonishingly collegial, for an English dept. No hokey picnics or forced get-togethers (except for the holiday party) -- we're not all friends, after all -- but we manage to speak civilly and behave ourselves.

Or at least we did, until last spring. And thus far it seems as though this fall term is not going to be any better. Apparently the only thing bonding us all together was the terrible administration we used to have. Without that common enemy to fight, we are now attacking each other. I'm staying clear of the fray, as much as I can; luckily it's mostly about territory I'm not that interested in. (If you want to debate the finer points of department bylaws for six hours, go ahead. Just send me the memo afterwards.) But the atmosphere at work is pretty lousy, and it's starting to affect me.

Working at home today was a great relief, except for when I checked my email and had to shuttle 10 emails from the current pissing matches into my "Department Crap" folder. I'm not even reading all the stuff from the department listserv these days, but just seeing the names of certain Self-Righteous Old Farts appearing over and over in my box is disheartening.

So here's hoping that tomorrow's students will brighten my mood. Although, since they're turning in papers, the chances for lively discussion are probably kind of slim. Time to create a more structured exercise...


Bad Attitude Tuesday

It's week 6 of the semester. Around these here parts, it's also Bad Attitude Tuesday. How are you going to mark the occasion?

Based on the class I just finished teaching, my students are celebrating the day by not doing the reading. Some are taking their observation of the day to the next level and just not showing up at all.

Me, I'm not going to finish the grading I was supposed to hand back to my evening class. F* it. They should feel lucky I'm even here today.


what time is it

Clear and abundant proof that something is up with me: it's Sunday morning and I've been awake since 4:00. Now, I woke up because we were having some strange weather and the dogs were restless. I let them out, got some water, tried to go back to sleep. Was hungry, and awake, so then I got up again and ate a snack and tried to sleep. And then I decided I'd take advantage of being awake and get on the computer -- since I'm not supposed to be awake at this hour, it's ok if I read blogs for a while. (Of course I did actually have several student emails to answer, since there's a paper due next week and I hadn't checked email since 9 am yesterday.) I'm still feeling pretty lively, and I guess soon I'll have to decide whether I'm committing to being awake (and therefore can start drinking coffee) or if I am going to try to go back to sleep.

So that's the external-trigger version of events--all true, and relevant -- but not the whole story, I don't think.

The past 6 weeks or so have been kind of strange -- partly, because I've been having a tough time adjusting to the semester after such a relaxing and wonderful summer. (Previously, I'd had several not so good summers, after which the semester felt like a relief.) Having suddenly to respond to other people's demands after being mostly on my own schedule and having only myself to blame is an adjustment. Being around so many people has been an adjustment too -- by the end of the week I feel really tired mostly because my introvert batteries aren't getting enough recharge time. My classes are going well, but even though they are repeat courses, I've built in a number of new things --new material, and some new kinds of assignments and study guides -- all of it working out pretty well, and I'm pleased, but I'm also putting in a lot of prep time. I knew I was choosing to do that when I planned these courses -- I had been feeling a slight whiff of staleness with some of my teaching and I wanted to re-energize that area of my work. So all that is good, but it is taking up a lot of time.

And then, my gf's work schedule changed dramatically and we are now in week 4 of a household Sleeptime Reassignment Operation. We are now both getting up much, much earlier than we used to -- which I mostly like. At differnet times in my life I've been a late-night person (which I think I am by nature) and a get up early person (though note I'd never call myself a morning person-- I'm really not one, but I realise that it's beneficial for managing my depression if I can get up before sunrise.) So for now it's back to getting up early. Which is fine -- but it has also meant adjusting mealtimes, dogwalk times, and bedtimes. So everyone's been adjusting -- the dogs were none too happy the first day I offered them a walk at 6:30 am. The Boss didn't poop normally for three days, I think out of protest. By now they've adjusted pretty well. But it's been tougher for the humans in the household. Somehow by adjusting our schedule I seem to have lost 2 hours out of every day. I realise this must be an illusion -- but getting home in time to get dinner ready for a much earlier hour has been tough, especially combined with the start of semester.

And then, of course, there was the big conference I went to-- completely disrupting the nascent routine of the semester, and making me feel like I've been playing catch-up ever since. But at a deeper level, it was also disruptive, in a good way -- a reminder about some of the things I might prefer to be spending my time on, a set of different priorities that don't fit so well with my days of teaching and administration. My local environment isn't really supportive of research, so going to conferences is really energizing -- but there was a real sense of let-down as I came back and had to face the reality of the semester once again.

And I haven't been around the blogosphere much at all -- which adds to my feelings of isolation or out-of-syncness. I've been so busy dealing with the "urgent" rather than "important" things that I've gotten a bit offkilter. My yoga practice suffered for a while, though I've been doing more at home to make up for the classes I can't seem to get to with the new time shift. I didn't realize just how important blog time might actually be for me, until I just didn't have it any longer. (The feelings of not having anything to say are a separate issue, mostly also a factor of too much busyness.)

These are all, in different ways, timing issues. I feel as though I'm on the verge of making some changes and figuring out some things -- it's never time management, but self management that is the real area to focus on. My academic values are shifting a bit in a somewhat surprising direction, and I have to figure out how to integrate them into my daily life.


small comforts

Somewhat comforting truths about academic life, especially for those of us who have to complete annual reports of our activity:
  • you don't have to list the number of persons in the audience during your panel at the conference;
  • you don't have to specify whether the search committee you served on for 11 frickin months actually wound up hiring anybody.
Sigh. All those meetings during the summer for this university-wide administrative search? Down the drain. But hey, I got to know some old guys from over in the Sciences.


The Covenant

There's a restaurant in my neighborhood where we can go to get a vegan soy burger fixed up on a bun with all the trimmings, plus a big pile of french fries. Now, I love french fries (who doesn't?). But obviously, they're not something I can eat all the time, or even that frequently. And the indulgent delightfulness of eating french fries would be lessened, in fact, if I ate them all the time.

The Covenant is like that pile of salty, fried potatoes. You love it, partly because you know it's not healthy or righteous or defensible, and because it tastes so damn good.

Take the classic Lost Boys, add in one of those "decadent rich teenager" films like Cruel Intentions and stir well. Mix in a little bit of The Craft, a dash of Swimfan, lightly season with both straight and gay soft p*rn, and you get something like this movie. I mean, it's got everything: hot naked rich boy-athletes at prep school who drive fast cars and oh, yeah, happen to be witches; cute girls in the showers (maybe being stalked...); the classic have and have-nots school movie conflict, the creepy half-undead guy; drunken rich mom; sexy scenes of library research! in old moldering books; and oh-so-beautiful scenery. Ya gotta love it. (and there's plenty of teasers for a sequel. In fact, there was probably a whole plot thread that could/should have been amplified (maybe in the director's cut?) because I kept waiting for the smart-but-poor heroine to start, you know, kicking some bad-witch-boy ass. Maybe in Part II.)


noise pollution

In my department, there is an unwritten doorway semiotics: if your office door is open, you are friendly and open to students. You are available for interruptions, from colleagues or students. You are, in short, visibly present in the department, even if you sit behind your desk all day. I don't work at a small college, where the demands for faculty visibility are often more explicit and more strenuous. Some of my colleagues are only on campus for a few short hours each week, disregarding the administration's call for faculty to be more available. But most of the faculty use the open or shut door to signal when they are working intently, (or doing whatever else they might want to be doing without interruption) and when they are available.

As a part-time administrator, however, I'm expected to be available whenever I'm on campus. (And I'm also expected to be on campus more frequently, although it's not spelled out in detail.) I get the use of a windowed office during my time as an administrator, and it could actually be a pretty good work environment. Except for one thing. A very, very loud person inhabits the next door office. She also leaves her door wide open in order to signal her readiness to jump into other people's business. I can hear every. single. word. she says -- on the phone, in face to face meetings, whatever. Even with my door tightly shut (which then means people don't realize I'm inside) I can still hear her. I have been accused of "not being around" when in fact I am in here, desperately trying to think. Because of the open door ethos for the Chair and other administrators, it's important that I be seen, and be available, but it's hard to get much done when she's having a day of student conferences or long phone calls. I tried playing music on my computer, but I would have to blast it pretty loudly to drown her out -- thereby dragging my professional image down a few points, and irritating the person on the other side of me.

So now I wear headphones. (Which aren't so professional, either. My Chair gave me a quizzical look when he came in here recently for an impromptu chat.) But even so, I can hear her voice, around the edges of my music. A particularly grating, irritating voice.

It's partly her inherent loudness and partly the way these offices were constructed. But how are we supposed to get any work done? It's made me wonder about open door customs at other institutions. Can you/do you shut your door? Obviously, I assume and support everyone's need to have doors open while meeting with students -- it's protection for both students and faculty. But this then means a certain amount of inevitable noise pollution for everyone else within earshot. How do you handle this?


still a wee bit girlish underneath it all

One of the great things about getting older is that I'm less self-conscious about certain things. Changing in the tiny crowded dressing room at yoga doesn't faze me, and I know it would have made me uncomfortable when I was in my early twenties. I'm quite sure no one is looking at my almost-40 butt, and if they are, I don't really care what they think. That's a kind of self-acceptance that I didn't have 10 or 15, or possibly even 5 years ago.

Sure, I do care about how I dress, how my hair looks -- but I figured out my basic look many years ago, and it's just a question of maintaining it. A new black jacket to replace the old one, a slightly different variation on my hairstyle. I have some social anxiety, but that's about actually having to interact with people, not about what they might think about how I look. I watch my younger students posturing and posing for each other -- the carefully calibrated spectrum of fashionable-trendy-cool-alternative -- and I find it anthropologically kind of interesting, and kind of charming, but I'm also thankful that I'm now almost 40, and pretty much immune to such issues. I am who I am -- a bit more stylish than some of my colleagues (not hard to do on my campus), less stylish than some other people in my profession. Right in the middle somewhere, I'd guess.

Earlier this week, some photos were posted online from the infamous high school reunion (which I did not attend) -- I looked through a bunch of them, and was really surprised to see how old a lot of people looked. The men in particular had not fared so well. Big paunchy bellies and a lot of gray hair. It was sort of reassuring that I couldn't even recognize many people, unless their name tag was readable in the photo. There are a few faces who look basically they way they did in 7th grade, but everyone else is sliding pretty quickly into middle age. I have to confess to feeling a little tiny bit of schadenfreude while looking at the pics -- not because I want to look the way I did in high school, but I'm certainly glad I haven't gone completely gray.

But then the universe taught me a little humility, when I went to go see my piercer about something later the same day. Now, I love my piercer -- he's experienced, careful, and a truly gentle personality. He has a beautiful calming voice and creates a mellow atmosphere even in a place full of needles. He's also so much cooler than me that we might as well live on different planets. I go in there to see him, and I instantly feel incredibly boring and square. He never says or does anything that would make anyone feel uncomfortable (and after all, plenty of his business is piercing cheerleader girls' navels) -- but he has metal spikes sticking out from all over his face, elaborate tattoos, and extremely Gothic hair. I go in, and I'm suddenly teleported back to junior high, when my friends and I would hang out at the arcade playing video games and hoping that the punk high schoolers would notice us. I'm awkward and tongue-tied, and I don't think it's just the "doctor's office" nervousness elicited by the smell of the latex gloves. It's sort of oddly rejuvenating, though, to feel that wish to be cool, at least for a few minutes.

still here

Whew. This was a week of ridiculous levels of busyness, for this early in the term -- most of it caused by the long conference I went to last week, and my not having everything prepped for this week before I left for said conference (since I was busy writing the paper I had to deliver) -- so I got back on Monday night and instead of being able to just collapse, I had to prepare my courses. Which are shaping up pretty well, and my students don't seem to have felt as disrupted by my conference travel as I did, but I felt a bit rushed in my prep this week, and I'm not yet a week ahead of the syllabus as I'd like to be. Add to the mix a stressful faculty meeting, a one-on-one meeting with my chair, a regional group planning meeting at Nearby University, and a welcome back reception thing that involved politely ritualized public humiliation, and you get four really long days on campus.

On top of all that -- my partner's work schedule changed fairly dramatically on Tuesday, and so we're trying to rearrange a number of things in our domestic habits -- mealtimes, bedtimes, etc. I think the end result will be healthy and productive for our entire family, but this week was tough.



Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student, I wrote a chapter of my dissertation. Later, I turned it into a job talk. And then after that, I turned it into an article. It was an article I enjoyed working on, one that brought together some traditional texts and some nontraditional ideas. But it didn't fit any longer in my larger project, so I sent it off into the world as an article and let it go.

Many years later, it seems that this particular article has actually been read by a few people. Three years ago, an old teacher of mine emailed me to say he saw a citation to it in a book by a Famous Nonacademic Writer. Last spring, a colleague told me that he was at a conference panel about a related topic, and someone there recommended to one of the speakers that she read my article. These incidents made me feel kind of odd, since I don't really expect anyone to actually read the stuff I write. I work in a field that is both very specialized (sometimes) and potentially very broad, with a lot of people writing a lot of things -- no one can keep up with every journal.

And then today It happened. I was listening to a presenter on a conference panel, enjoying his talk, and I heard my name. It was a passing reference, "as Named Scholar and Mel LastName have argued," but it was enough to derail my brain. I tried really hard not to blush. I tried to not make eye contact with my conference buddy, who was looking at me to see what I would do. I tried really hard to focus on what he was saying, but with little success. I felt like someone had tickled the inside of my skull with a feather. And then it got worse. (Or better, from some angles, I guess.) He actually quoted me, in his paper. Of course, at this point, I was completely unable to process the words coming out of his mouth, and so I missed the last third of his talk, because it seemed suddenly to be spoken in some ancient Mesopotamian tongue.

It's exciting, but it's also a strange reminder of the persistence of one's old ideas -- if you asked me, I don't think I could give you a detailed account of that article, without re-reading it -- it was so long ago that I wrote it, and it's so distant from what I work on today. And yet one gets quoted in the present tense. I don't feel like I need to disavow the essay -- it's solid work, and I don't disagree with it. But it no longer feels like my big toe, the way that my current work sometimes does -- kind of ugly, likely to get bruised or stepped on, but capable enough to do the important work of holding me up. That article is more like the hot pink nehru jacket from 1985 that I still have saved for sentimental reasons, even though you couldn't pay me to actually wear it again.