Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Things that can be crossed off the list

Has anyone ever read Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad Are Friends? In it, there's a lovely story about Frog (Toad?) making a list of everything he needed to do, losing it, and being paralyzed all day by the silent tyranny of the list. At the end, Toad (Frog?) writes "Go to bed" on the ground, they cross it out, and conquer the list's imperatives.

This story has left me with a psychological desire to make lists only after I have accomplished things. Otherwise, I cede too much power to a piece of paper. So here is a list of things that I have done.

1) Finished (except for minor revisions that will only take an afternoon) two chapters of my six chapter dissertation. Am a little peeved that I have created a situation in which I am going to defend my dissertation when I can't drink. Still, there will probably be a party, so everyone block December 15th out.

2) Rationalized the intensely irrational sock system that was prevailing at our house. And when I say "intensely irrational sock system" I mean that the socks had somehow conspired to avoid pairing at all costs. Some of them, I am certain, had moved to Australia to avoid having out feet put in them. We dealt with the problem in different ways. It doesn't make Leo uncomfortable all day to wear mismatched socks, so he did that some. I kind of panic when my socks don't match (A good day for me is when my socks, my shirt and my underwear are matched). So I just wore flip-flops and was frightened of my sock drawer. I realize that this is the second time I have mentioned this feat, but it's a big thing for me.

3) Have done my Latin for the reading group today. This is good for the blood pressure, because now I won't have to sight translate in front of people who don't give me time to think, but start chipping in with useful advice just as I've sorted the sentence out in my head. Their yapping drives my carefully balanced translation out of my brain, and I just end up getting snappy with them.

4) Have mentally rearranged the furniture. (This is psychologically important, and since I'm not doing any of the actual moving of the furniture, it means that my work is done!)

5) Just now, I managed not to murder a student who walked into class 20 minutes late for an assignment that involved cumulative writing (each student moving along and writing a paragraph stemming from a previous student's paragraph). He doesn't understand why I have to come up with a different assignment for him. So not murdering him counts as a real accomplishment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where's My Sherpa?

I have decided that I will defend my dissertation on December 15. I make this decision because it seems relatively certain to me that I will have no credibility if I waddle into my interviews visibly about to burst a baby out into the middle of the room and say "Oh, yeah. I'll finish my dissertation this spring. No problem." So it has to be done. I've returned to the death march work schedule (with time taken out for naps, of course), but this afternoon, I decided to do something different.

I have conquered the laundry. Leo has socks (matched!) and underwear and t-shirts all neatly arranged in his clothing area. I have sorted all my clothes into "fits" and "maybe sometime this will fit again" piles, and am about to move my clothing bins downstairs, as part of the great "let's not carry the baby up the steep, narrow, treacherous stairs" gradual migration down to the first floor bedroom.

Now we just need to find someone who can help Leo move a really heavy couch out of that room, switch the beds, and . . . oh, I'm not going to think about it right now. I want to focus on the important things: the laundry mountain has been scaled. Take that, Sir Edmund Hilary!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Open Letter To My Students

Dear students,

I have a few notes I'd like to emphasize after reading your essays (well, most of your essays. After a while, I have to take a break and write a blog post. They're that dire.)

1) When the assignment asks you to write a causal analysis, it is meant to be a paper (wait for it) analyzing causes. Many of you wrote something you entitled a casual analysis, and your papers lived up to the name.

2) When the assignment guidelines remind you that it is important to have a thesis, it would be good if you managed to include such an entity in your paper.

3) Oooh - footnote to soon-to-be ex-students: I don't care that you've made an appointment with your advisor at three today and you need my signature on your drop form before then. I could care less. I'm not going to drag myself down to school while I'm trying to grade the other 39 papers just to be convenient to you.

4) When you're asked to do a rhetorical analysis, there's no need - no need at all - to take ridiculously strong positions. The Mission Statement of the University is unlikely to be a gross manipulation of our emotions. They aren't lying to innocent high school students to lure them it. It's way more likely to be a statement of what the University perceives as its mission.

5) Citing what I say in class is weird. I mean, overcitation is better than undercitation, but you can have too much of a good thing.

a) Spelling my name wrong when you cite me is unlikely to impress.

6) When you're asked to look at an article, and then consider some possible causes for the problems the article identifies, that is not a coded way of saying "summarize the article."

7) When the assignment says that the paper needs a title, that means that the paper needs a title.

8) When the assignment stipulates 12-point Times New Roman, that means that I want the paper in 12-point Times New Roman.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seriously - they can't READ?

I have 40 students. Yesterday, I handed out 40 syllabuses. (Well, actually 41. Someone came to my class, realized halfway through she was in the wrong section, found her real class, and then came back to see if she could be in my class instead, because I'm "cooler." Which is, of course, true.) Today I have received 13 emails asking me what the assignment is for tomorrow.

On Sunday, I sent them an email with the syllabus attached, as well as the readings for Wednesday and Friday. Labeled. With dates.

Yet still, 13 bright little sparks want to know if they're supposed to read anything for tomorrow.

It's going to be a long semester.

In better news, I stopped throwing up and so dragged my dissertation out of its box. It's a lot better than I remember, and I'm looking forward to revisiting the first chapter to pump some footnotes in. Then it will be ready to begin making the rounds to my committee members, and I can have my defense before I have this baby. So that's the good news for today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Plagiarizers deserve nasty deaths

So yesterday I caught a plagiarizer, though there was just the slenderest bit of deniability, if the person was willing to admit to being stupid and inattentive and unaware of things that I am tolerably certain that I knew in third grade when I realized that I couldn't copy information on the Pilgrims directly out of the encyclopedia for my Thanksgiving report.

I told her on her paper to see me to discuss her grade. I also told her that the point of the assignment was not exercising her skills in cutting and pasting, but to take in information, assimilate it, and reproduce it in her own words. After talking to the department chair and the writing program director, I agreed to let her rewrite the paper on the assumption that she was incapable of taking things in the first time I said them.

This morning, without having consulted with me, she sent me a revised version of her paper. She had lightly altered the bits that I had pointed out as copied, and made infinitesimal changes to the bit that I hadn't bothered to find online, but had suggested was copied. These changes involved excising words or phrases, often at the expense of sense.

So having been told to rewrite it in her own words, she did the equivalent of changing the odd adjective, and sometimes leaving out a phrase that she didn't understand.

I'm going to rip great handfuls of my hair out. I will let her rewrite it if I have to, but I really want to destroy her grade for this. I wish I could convey to students the rage that boils through me when I find that they're cheating. It's an insult to my intelligence. It's a waste of my time. It makes me so angry I want to tear giant chunks out of them and boil them for supper.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It was an argument by analogy. Analogy!

I'm here again with tales of students. This one isn't so much frustrating as funny. Very funny. So funny that it makes me giggle just thinking of it. Because I am a bad person.

Anyway, the assignment for the final paper in this class is to react to Arthur Levine's and Jeanette S. Cureton's "Collegiate Life: An Obituary." In this essay, they argue that the four-year residential college is dying, due to a number of pressures caused by a shifting population of students and changing goals for college education. In the final section of their essay, they provide a number of possible courses for colleges to take to retain a sense of community. One possible essay I suggested was discussing those solutions and considering their efficacy.

Early in the essay, however, they also included this paragraph:

Think about what you want from your bank. We know what we want: an ATM on every corner. And when we get to the ATM, we want there to be no line. We also would like a parking spot right in front of the ATM, and to have our checks deposited the moment they arrive at the bank, or perhaps the day before! And we want no mistakes in processing-unless they are in our favor. We also know what we do not want from our banks. We do not want them to provide us with softball leagues, religious counseling, or health services. We can arrange all of these things for ourselves and don't wish to pay extra fees for the bank to offer them.

The essay then went on to suggest that students want a similar relationship with the university that we want with our bank. My student read that to mean that students want the same things. I got an essay discussing whether an ATM on every corner would be effective in building community and retaining students from matriculation to graduation (though she didn't use those words). Apparently, frequent ATMs would be a draw for this student, though she thinks that every corner might be excessive.

Am I wicked for laughing? It was just a rough draft . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And life keeps getting better and better

(If, gentle readers, I am boring you with my tales of student failures, I apologize. Writing about it reminds me that I am building up a store of amusing anecdotes about the failures of today's youth, and keeps me from dismembering them and using their legbones as drumsticks to beat on the drums I made from their heads.)

To continue the saga: This morning, at 9:48, I received a text from the student who texts me (who had, by the way, texted me yesterday to inform me that she wouldn't be in class because she had to ice her leg - when I was young, they gave you ice in bags, and you could take it with you to places like class) asking what she was supposed to do for class today. I sent a weekly schedule around last Friday. I emailed her yesterday afternoon giving her - for the second time - the links to the readings for today. I sent a hard copy of the readings home with her friend from class. When I pointed out that I'd emailed her, she said that she didn't check email. This perhaps explains the rash of texting.

Also, in the opening minutes of class (as I write, they're writing a quick reflection on last night's reading, and she's frantically trying to do it) she mentioned that she had a big philosophy paper due yesterday at 5, and by working all day, she managed to finish it. This sorts oddly with her professed need to stay at the gym to ice herself for 2 hours yesterday morning.

And another student just raised his hand and said he couldn't do the writing because he didn't understand the reading from last night. I admit, it's the Preface to John Henry Cardinal Newman's The Idea of the University, but we did spend about 15 minutes yesterday talking about what they were going to read, with me pointing out important quotations. And the question he's being asked to answer is "what does Newman think is the point of a university education?" and the entire second page is taken up with describing this. He's discussing the foundation of University College Dublin and notes that when the Pope founds a university, "his first and chief and direct object is, not science, art, professional skill, literature, the discovery of knowledge, but some benefit or other, to accrue, by means of literature and science, to his own children . . . so, . . . when the Church founds a University, she is not cherishing talent, genius, or knowledge, for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society." This seems straightforward to me, especially in light of our discussion yesterday. And I understand that it is written is somewhat difficult 19th-century prose, but if you don't understand a reading, don't you 1) look up the words you don't know 2) read it again or 3) go to the internet and find a commentary (of which there are several)?

I have to say, though, I love Newman's vision of the university. My last two weeks of class are definitely going to be spent trying to inculcate in my students an understanding of the reasons for a liberal education, and a desire for something beyond the narrow confines of a professional degree. I'm going to make them think they have to be well-educated in multiple branches of knowledge in order to be successful human beings, damn it! (And I'm going to fail, but I think my class next fall is going to be built on discussing what a university is and ought to be. It's a topic that I think college freshmen need to at least think about!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The continuing saga of the silly students

I got a text message 10 minutes before class started.* It said "Did u cancel class tday like thurs?" (I'm teaching a writing class; weep for me). There had been no suggestion, lets just be clear, that I was going to cancel class today. In fact, I had sent an email on Friday reminding them of their assignment for today. And another one yesterday, in response to the text message "Hey, whts die tmorrow?"**

What lesson have I learned? First, and most importantly, the less my students listen about out of class work, the more I make them write sitting under my eye so I can MAKE them do work. Second, this is the last time I will make my cell number available to anyone who can't spell.***

*Let's just be clear to begin with that I in no way encourage texting from my students. In fact, I actively discourage it, pointing out that it takes me more time to type the response, and I don't have a text plan so they are costing me money.

** This text message was the fifth I have received from this student. After the first I told her not to text me. I soon received another text correcting the spelling to "due."

*** I reserve the right to amend this rule, but it will now always include students. They are not to know how to contact me by phone until they have proved that they can email responsibly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ethics, schmethics

So my students are being as dense as a bucket of sand. Or rather, four buckets of sand. They are refusing to enter into the spirit of learning how to write persuasively. Which is a problem. Usually, I have them write a letter applying for a job that they want, talking about their past experiences. None of these kids have had a job, or want one now. Or, apparently, can imagine a world in which they might want one.

They are resistant to all my exercises trying to get them to persuade. (And this class is without a research component, so it has to be things they already know about). They won't consider audience. They're driving me nuts.

So I have hit on a possibly unethical way of motivating them. Today, I'm going to get all four of them together, and tell them to brainstorm ways to persuade me not to have class on Thursday. I'm going to tell them that they have to think about it from my point of view - the goals of the class, my responsibility to the university, the carefully wrought schedule - and each write me a short letter attempting to persuade me that it is a good idea to cancel class.

If they enter into the spirit of the thing, actually think about what would convince me, then I'll give them the day off (with an assignment to do that will take about an hour).

Is this wicked of me? Should I feel guilty? (Because part of me hopes that they do it well so I don't have to see them on Thursday).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Big Brass Ones

Actually, to be fair, they were bronze. Leo and I went for a picnic supper in Forest Park to honor our mid-July cold snap, and while strolling around Art Hill, we saw a sculpture that I couldn't make into anything other than a pair of testicles and a penis. (And it's not just me - Leo couldn't either).

I love public art! And from the little raised pedestal on which this installation rests, you get a really good view of St. Louis riding off to the crusades with his sword raised high. (See, there's a penis that is also not a penis!)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Did it grow legs?

Seriously, how does a can opener vanish? Have I spent the last 10 years harboring a kitchen appliance with occult tendencies? What else is going to vanish with it? Will the sink take it into its head that it would like to see Asia?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's just a little bit of murder

I am about one more stupid question from tearing my students limb from limb. They (well, really only two of them, but in a class of four, that's enough) are driving me so far up the wall I'm going to have to get suction-cup shoes and figure out how to eat while being upside-down.

Yesterday, we went to the computer lab to do some easy research for their next paper. They're all officially supposed to start as freshmen in August, but for various reasons are getting a jump on their coursework (for the two I want to murder, being good students is not the reason!). Their assignment was to research a major they were interested in (on the university's webpage - not all that trying) and use that research to write a short, informative essay on the major.

One of my students complained that this assignment was dumb and he couldn't see the point.

Which is funny. Most of the assignments have no intrinsic value - the students aren't learning important information, but rather are learning to write - and I've got no problem with them noticing this. But this one actually has value beyond the practice writing. I mean, they're gathering information about the major they want to sign up for . . . this is a good thing.

He also told me that he couldn't find any information. I showed him how (in 2 easy clicks) to get to the page he needed. Two minutes later he said he was done and asked if he could leave. There were 45 minutes left in class.

Also, if you hear "you might want to do X" from a teacher, you pretty much assume that they mean "if you want a good grade, you might want to do X," right? Not that they're just telling you that you might sometime wish to do that . . . seriously. And if you ask if you need to do something, and the teacher says yes, you wouldn't then say "I'm not going to do that - it's too much work."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kids these days . . .

On Saturday, one of my students telephoned me. She mentioned that she was stuck in my car and she needed me to let her out. I informed her that she certainly was not in my car, and she had phoned her English teacher. She apologized, and hung up.

This morning she informed me that it wasn't her fault. She was drunk.

This leaves me with a multitude of questions.

1) How the hell do you get stuck in a car? Can't you usually unlock doors from the inside?

2) Why was she drunk at 3 on Saturday afternoon?

3) Why did she tell me she was drunk? Do I look that nonjudgmental? Because I most certainly am not. I judge. Frequently and with vigor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A complaint

Last week, I spent the better part of an afternoon lovingly cleaning every nook and cranny of my refrigerator. I removed shelves, soaked them in an aromatic bath, wiped them clean, dried them, and reassembled the interior of the machine. I changed the shelf configuration from the factory presets to one that would better serve our needs. I worked hard.

Yesterday, the damn thing broke.

It had, of course, waited for the unseasonably cold weather to stop, and had chosen the hottest day of the year thus far. And a weekend, when repairmen are unlikely to want to come and visit.

As far as I can tell, this narrative suggests that cleaning is a bad thing. Way to teach me a lesson, universe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


First, Rachel Maddow is awesome.

But the people who are actually planning these events? What sort of a sense of history do they have? I admit, American history isn't something I've studied since I was 16 or so, but my memory was that the dodge with the Boston Tea Party was that if they threw the tea off the boat, they couldn't be made to buy it. By that token, all these conservative weirdos should be throwing their paychecks into the ocean so they can't pay taxes on them.

That would be something I'd be willing to watch and laugh at.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In non-blanket related news

Has anyone ever made potato salad for 70? It's a big task. It requires large bowls, large pots, large knives and large muscles. I think my arms are about to fall off. Besides which, I'm haunted by a fear that somewhere deep within the giant bowl of potato salad, there's an unmixed portion, potatoes without mayonnaise, radishes huddled together, uncut onion, a whole egg, waiting for the moment when someone whose opinion matters to me decides to sample my potato salad. The bowl's too big to be certain. It could happen.

Besides the lingering fear, I have singed thumbs; I mix the mayo into the potatoes when they're still warm so that it creates a smooth, creamy, smashed potato-type salad. This requires cutting the potatoes right out of the boiling water. I manage this by gently maneuvering the potatoes around the cutting board with my thumbs and the point of a knife. The knife is fine.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Not convinced about the Snuggie

Here I thought the Snuggie was a phenomenon restricted to the internet and friends of mine with vaguely snuggly names - like Panda and Warm Fuzzy - when really it was taking over the world. Imagine my surprise this evening when it transpired that the Snuggie had achieved the glory of a New York Times article.

That fame aside - and who doesn't want to follow the NYT - I'm still not sold. I can't say that I have ever wanted a blanket with sleeves, and if I did, I would wear a housecoat. A fuzzy, warm housecoat that wraps all the way around my, comes to my ankles, is made of flannel or fleece, and has both sleeves and pockets. Admittedly, I would find it tricky to wear to a sporting event, but I like to rock those with my coat/blanket combo, which gives the best of both worlds.

So though some of you may sing the praises of this new technology, I'm going to stick with my trusty flannel housecoat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh, the embarrassment

So you know how people say "that's nothing to sneeze at?" Well, I wish they wouldn't.

I blame the priest, anyway. Anyone but me. Because there are some things that are involuntary, particularly if you have a cold coming on.

To cut a long story short, I sneezed in the ashes on Ash Wednesday. You show me a symbol of repentance and mortality? I'll sneeze on it.

But I hold that it was a perfectly sensible reaction to having ashes dribbled on my nose when I was already feeling a bit sneezy. And now my cross is all wobbly. By wobbly, I mean smeared across my forehead, because when you sneeze, your head moves. Oh, the shame.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

We need gods that want libations

So here's what I'm thinking. Monotheism, for all its benefits, is really lacking that "I gave you food at your shrine so you owe me" aspect that some forms of polytheism seem to pick up. (I'm ignoring some of the attitudes toward Catholic saints for this).

Take, for example, flat pack furniture. There is nothing that is so frustrating as the construction of the thing. There is no room in the world that is the right size for building the stuff; there are countless bits to lose. Some of the bits come - or rather don't come - prelost. You either need tools that you don't have or the allen wrench starts to erode ten minutes into the job. The parts are mislabeled or not labeled. The instructions go missing. It is a miserable task.

And that's where I think we need polytheism again. If I could take a $20 bottle of wine into the backyard, poor it on the ground, say "Oh god of flat pack, ease my work," and the thing would go well, I would be happy. As it is, with one god, I don't feel that I can waste his time. Something must be done.

(Translation of this post: Leo and I are building cupboards for the back room, and the thing weighs 200 pounds, was missing some hardware, is making us drill our own holes for the handles, and is taking forever to make.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A question of etiquette

If you, by some trick of fate, managed to write the 30 vague and insipid Christmas cards to people who work with your husband and then forgot to mail them because you were too busy and then didn't unearth them again until, say, February (hypothetically) what should you do? Here are the options, as I see them:

1) Mail them with a post-it stuck in each one decrying your oversight.

2) Bin them and do it again next year. (The writing, not the forgetting)

3) Call this year a wash and save the cards for next year.

4) Develop an ideological objection to Christmas cards in general, and send e-cards next year to help the environment.

5) Waste time writing a blog post about it instead of actually doing anything.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frabjous is the word I'm looking for. Frabjous.

I have finished a draft of my dissertation, which means that I have 31 days to get a finished-looking draft to the graduate school for review, and 62 days to get the absolutely completed copy to my committee members, because I want to defend the sucker in 77 days.

Which means that in less than three months, if all goes well, I will be Dr. Froggy. (But still not a useful sort of doctor; just one that is entitled to wear all sorts of floofy velvet bars around on robes with belled sleeves. I'm really doing the PhD for the fashion possibilities.

(Also, Panda, if you're reading this, it may mean that your wedding will be the happiest weekend of my life . . . I hope you feel loved!)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two Facts

1) I have been working on my dissertation morning, noon, and night (and am hoping for a complete draft as of Monday . . . or maybe Tuesday)

2) I took my computer to the Apple Store to check out some problems, and they informed me that the logic board was shot.

Coincidence? You decide!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good News!

1) We have a president I can think about happily.

2) I have a car window that will keep the snow off my neck.

3) I have only about 35 pages of new material to write for my dissertation. (There's a lot of revising, but I've almost got a complete draft).

Monday, January 19, 2009

I feel violated

My car was robbed this afternoon. It was parked on the street in a residential area; the window was broken and things were taken. In the daylight.

Not, you understand, the things that we would expect them to take. Sure, they got the empty purse from the glove compartment and the wallet out of the bag in the backseat, but nothing else. And reposing in my packet is my credit card, my debit card, my drivers license, student id, and costco card. They got my insurance cards (though the health one had expired, and the car insurance one has a replacement as of next week), my free haircut punchcard at Great Clips, $20 in quarters, $20 in bills and . . . oh, right: The History of King Richard III by Thomas More. Though of the four copies in the backseat, they chose one of the paperbacks. The one that I needed the most (it had my notes in it) but not the most expensive one.

What did they leave? I'm sure you want to know. 1) The Kitchenaid mixer I got for Christmas and need to return to get a color that I want and 2) my PASSPORT. Isn't there a good market for passports? My quick internet search told me that it was worth $10,000 to $15,000 on the black market. So they leave that and the expensive kitchen appliance, and take the book that has value to me, some things that often have value and in this case didn't, and my sense of security.

Also, it's really cold and I don't have a car window. This makes me sad.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Portland People! Pay Attention to Me!

To all our friends, near and dear, who live in Portland:

Leo and I will be visiting in June.

That is all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I've got six weeks to get a final draft of my dissertation to the Graduate School. This is neither right nor decent, but I'm just not going to be anywhere for the next six weeks.

Well, I'll be in the library. Come find me on the fourth floor! (Except don't, 'cause I might snarl and snap at you, or -even worse - make you read dissertation chapters).

Monday, January 5, 2009

With This I Have A Problem

Tonight, I came to a conclusion. I've never been fanatical about organic food; I had enough salt-less, sugar-less, home ground wheat what-have-you as a child to have made me perpetually leery of that whole culture. But tonight, I reached a breaking point.

My chicken had bigger breasts than I do.

I was planning to make a nice, quick, semi-Mexican dinner, and so I pulled a couple of chicken breasts out of the freezer and realized that I was holding more meat than I could even begin to imagine eating for one meal. We had one breast split between us, and it was a little more than enough.

What are they feeding these poor chickens? And why don't they give the same hormones to women that get breast implants? Can the chickens walk around comfortably, or do they suffer from back problems? Is there some way that we can organize a charity that will provide bras to chickens who have undergone this treatment?

Anyway, I'm going to start getting my chicken somewhere where the breasts are smaller and don't make me feel inadequate.