Sunday, September 30, 2007

Soapbox time

My mama raised a reader. I was allowed to run around in libraries, reading what I chose. I read and re-read the Little House books numerous times, but I'd also read, like any '80s-born girl, the Baby Sitters Club books. I liked the Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I also read Little Women and Anne of Green Gables (multiple times on both counts). The Secret Garden. Hatchet. Bridge to Terabithia. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Outsiders. A Light in the Attic.

At some point, when I showed signs of becoming too involved with the BSC books at the expense of "better quality" literature, my mother started steering me toward books like Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Jane Austen's novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I resisted at first, largely due to the coercion factor (I've never liked being told what to do, and my adolescent self was particularly stubborn... unlike, say, now).

Slowly, though, I began to pick up those books on my own. I had the benefit of reading The Lord of the Flies on my own, not as assigned reading. The Giver was another I picked up and enjoyed and still re-read from time to time. I also read and loved 1984. Judy Blume's books were favorites of mine for a while, especially Tiger Eyes. Caroline Cooney's books were also up there on my "it" list. I've dabbled in Stephen King's books, and just last year read Catcher in the Rye for the first time, followed by the perks of being a wallflower.

Somewhere between my resistance to my mother's wishes and when I began to pick up the books on my own was where I found out about the concept of "Banned Books." Like any rebellious teen, the controversy made me seek out these forbidden books. I did so with my mother's blessing.

I was never forbidden from reading anything. Did I ever pick up books that were maybe a little too "mature" for me? Yes, and I was probably more strict a censor of my own reading than any well-intentioned adult would have been. Kissing? Umm... I think I'll skip that part. Uh-oh... he's touching--I think I'll return this book. "Bad" words made me squirm, but I think I either mentally bleeped them out, or else I secretly reveled in reading them, careful not to think them too loudly to myself. I may have been a strange child, but I knew my own limitations, and as I got older and more curious, I read edgier things. The concept of anyone trying to dictate who can read what, and moreover, trying to dictate what is and isn't "appropriate" for others, is one that strikes me as puritanical.

People who know me know that I will read just about anything. They also know that this whole "banned books" issue is one of my soapbox issues. Since I found the ALA's list of "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000," I've made it a personal goal to read every book on it. So far, I've read about a third.

This week is, if you've followed any of the links, Banned Books Week. It's as good a time as any to pick up a new book, or else dust off an old favorite. Chances are, some book you enjoyed is on any of the lists of challenged books floating around the Internet. Heck, if you broaden your criteria for "challenged" material, the list includes John Locke, The Canterbury Tales, Candide, and any number of Shakespeare's plays. There's a lot of good stuff out there that someone, sometime, somewhere, thought you shouldn't be able to read. Doesn't that just make you want to defy them?

Or if that won't, try this: Those books have been deemed subversive, sexually explicit, violent, offensive, and "too negative." Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

All hail the king

For years now, I've been told that the Internet was a great democratizing force, an opportunity for everybody's voice to have equal weight. Apparently, I was wrong. We are a monarchy, complete with a king. A generous king, to be sure, but a king nonethless.

I've been a good subject of the blogosphere, toiling scribbling away in obscurity here, until, lo! King AD graced me with a link... I am humbled by the attention. I thought I was seeing things when I checked my Sitemeter this morning, but no--19 hits total for this week, then today: 34 (and counting!). It's a lot compared to an average of 2-3 hits per day.

Goodness, but if I'd known I was having company, I'd have tidied up a bit after last night's messy post. Regardless of where you're visiting from, you're welcome to pull up a seat and stick around. I haven't got much by way of furnishings (I've only moved in within the last couple months, y'see), but in time, there will be more. And if you're just passing through, maybe our paths will cross again someday.

Welcome, regardless.

From my messy bookmarks folder to my... blog

It's been a long week. The semester's starting to wear me down.

Normally, I sit down to write, and though the words may start in a trickle, they start to flow as my mind wakes up (yes, this is a brilliant idea at 1:00 a.m....). Tonight, I've logged in and out of Blogger several times, trying to kick start the words, clicking through the drafts for a thought to complete. No luck.

If I let myself not post just this once, I'll probably tumble back off the regular update wagon. So I'll share some links instead.

PC World's "The 10 Funniest Sites on the Internet" is a good place to start. This article is what led to two of the "Vices" links in my sidebar: Overheard in New York and Pictures of Walls. Both appeal to the voyeuristic impulse.

I've always enjoyed sitting back and listening to exchanges of conversations, a hobby made more interesting by the complete lack of context, but in my sleep-deprived haze lately, I've been rather unaware of my surroundings, so Overheard fills a bit of an absence. It's been a while since I heard anything quite as blunt as some of these anecdotes, though.

Pictures of Walls can be funny by spells, but many of the things written on walls in those pictures aren't. It reminds me a lot of Postsecret with the candidness and range of messages. Some writings are funny ("This wall is boring. Fix it." "I will."), others are political ("War is menstruation envy"), some are quirky ("U made me question myself... / ...that's so cool!!!"), and others are vulnerable ("HOLD ME" written in chalk over a "CLOSE" sign).

Lolcatz is a bizarre cross between Postsecret and I Can Has Cheezburger?, veering much closer to the ICHC end of the spectrum.

I don't always want silliness, though. I've spend inordinate amounts of time on LiveScience, clicking through related article after related article. It's like Wikipedia surfing, but more respectable and just as fun.

In the spirit of my favorite season, I also found MSNBC's Autumn in America, with readers' submitted photos of autumn's splendor. So many stunning shots... one of these years, I'll get to see a New England autumn. Until then, this is cheaper than a ticket.

And that's it. I leave with one of my favorite (so far) images from Pictures of Walls:

It's a valid question I've been asking myself lately. But that's a post for another day ;).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Driven to think

I've noticed recently that I'm two for two in not posting for a week, then posting twice within 24 hours. I just freeze up, wanting every post to meet up to the absurdly high standard I hold myself to. (Every post must somehow be profound, must be unified in tone, must... I'm not sure I can even articulate to myself what that platonic ideal is.) In the beginning, I just left posts in my draft folder, eventually deleting or completing them. Now, I'm down to a couple or so drafts that I'll probably scrap.

No, I need to just get over myself and post. It's a blog, not the next great American novel. Onward, then.

The first few weeks of the semester swept me up faster than I could process. Heck, I'd be lying if I said I'm not still overwhelmed. But I've started to feel some twinges of nostalgia for my old campus. I miss the friends I made there, the profs I interacted with, the sense of belonging to a community that was the highlight of grad school. There's a lot I don't miss, too, like the structured learning of formal education, the courses that finally made me lose faith in and excitement for grad school, the commute...

I clocked my commute at 58 miles each way. I certainly don't miss the gas costs, but I preferred the convenience of living in the city, not a town where typical weekend activities either included bar hopping or a trip to the local Wal-mart. The drive was nearly all highway, past fields of ragweed, past about three gas stations, around several curves that were frightening in the winter, past the places where the cops hid as they ran radar (four years and not a single ticket, thankyouverymuch), past the strip clubs that belie middle America's wholesome image, past the requisite tractor supply store. It was a drive that dragged some days, while on other days, I'd be surprised to find myself suddenly on campus. In the winter, I'd often leave my house before the sun was fully up. Oh, I did my fair share of grumbling about that, but the drive offered some consolation in my viewing some of the most striking sunrises I probably wouldn't have been awake to witness otherwise. Some mornings, there was low-lying fog that obscured all the surroundings, creating a sense of driving through a misty tunnel. Whatever elements the temperamental Midwest threw at me, I drove through them, thanks to a campus that wouldn't cancel classes for the Apocalypse itself.

One semester, I commuted with a colleague. It cut costs, but even more importantly, it gave me much-needed social contact. We talked about a lot in those hours, from what aggravating things our students did, to the social undercurrents of the English department, to personal matters. Sometimes we didn't talk much, and that was fine, too. We bought each other coffee and shared music, from 311 to My Chemical Romance. We both felt the difference when we had to go back to driving alone, last spring semester.

That was the only semester I drove with someone, though. The other semesters, I drove alone. It was rough sometimes; some cold mornings, I would roll the window down just to keep myself awake. Sometimes I drove in silence, sometimes I listened to Democracy Now!, but mostly I listened to my music. A commute may not be much fun, but you can't deny the appeal of driving on a mostly open highway with the music cranked up, whether it's the crooning vocals of Muse, the symphonic quality of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, the fist-pumping energy of Rise Against, the screaming of On the Last Day. It helped pass the time.

Regardless of what I was listening to, though, I tended to tune out a lot of the time, tuning in to my own thoughts instead. I went through spells; sometimes, I'd be preoccupied with matters of work, other times I'd be bouncing around ideas for fictional pieces that rarely ever made it onto paper, sometimes I'd be thinking over a reading for class, and for a spell, I was obsessing over tough metaphysical questions. I can't say I'd readily embrace another commute, especially an hour-long one, but I do miss the quiet solitude.

Now, I have a much shorter commute. I'm on the highway for a short spell (and that can be avoided, if I so choose), but all of my driving is within the city. I don't like it as much. The other drivers get on my nerves; I understand the rush of morning traffic is no one person's fault, but I do still get irked when I'm driving at what seems like a snail's pace behind someone who brakes every 30 seconds. It's an impingement upon both my autonomy to move as I please and my ability to tune out a large portion of my surroundings. It's more efficient, but it feels like something's missing.

At least I still have my music. And my thoughts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Subject to interpretation

"There are three things you never ask a lady," I once told a class when they started asking personal questions. "Her age, her weight, and the entire contents of her purse."

That got a few laughs, and then they asked for each item of information. Fresh kids...

Tonight, I broke my own admonition. I don't advertise my age, and while I don't have a problem with my weight, it simply isn't relevant information. No, I displayed the contents of my purse.

The first assignment for my remedial class is one I borrowed from a colleague: they are to study the door of some figure on campus, trying to discern what the person is like based simply on what they can observe. It's a scaffold for a profile piece, where they actually interview the person to find out how on-target they are in their inferences. I had intended to bring pictures I had taken of my old cubicle, but in my rush to get out the door, I forgot to print them out.

So I improvised, giving them the same directive as the essay: they wouldn't actually be talking to the owner of the door (or purse), simply making inferences based on what they could see. I was thankful I'd taken the time to clear out some of the extra crap I'd been lugging around during my summer travel. There was still enough junk, though. Movie ticket stubs, car repair business cards, a Circuit City receipt, a couple crochet patterns, a Target receipt, punch cards for different places, my jump drive, a wallet, the checkbook, a Borders giftcard, a battered notebook with any number of things jotted down in it, my cellphone, a Walgreens giftcard I'd completely forgotten about. As I pulled things out to display, I started giggling before they did.

Finally, one person started laughing. "What?" I asked, thinking the randomness was starting to accumulate.

"You like coffee," she said.

"Oh? How do you know that?" She needed to support her illustration, dagnabit.

"You have three punch cards for different coffee places."

I hadn't even registered that fact. Of course, one was for my old campus and I no longer go there, but without that background info, it looks like... an addiction. Ahem.

"Good inference and use of supporting evidence," I said, laughing.

Shortly thereafter, I pulled out a drink card for a gas station. "This is not just for coffee, for the record," I explained, pointing out it was also for cold drinks.

"Like Mountain Dew?" she asked, gesturing to the 20 oz. bottle I'd nearly polished off. Student: 1, Twit: 0.

They made some good observations, over all, pegging me pretty quickly as a caffeine junkie. They guessed I'd had some car trouble by the number of business cards for repair places. Based on my movie stubs, crochet patterns, book-related items (lists and gift cards), and written directions to different places, they guessed I was a social person who wasn't too big a TV watcher (half right there... I don't watch much TV). I had a few coupons stashed away, too, which they read in context with the business cards, guessing I was one to shop around for a bargain.

If they can apply the same level of analysis in their paragraphs, I'm looking forward to reading them.

I think I may have been more amused by the whole thing than they were, though. I've joked about my purse being a microcosm of my life, but I guess it's true. I'm tickled by the coffee bit in particular. I know it's a vice; I didn't realize it was obvious.

Still, it's the worst vice I have. And really, it may be beneficial in the long run. Yep, I'm going to be a spry old bird. I'll probably still be crocheting, too. And enjoying books in some form. And to think, you can learn all that from my purse.

Monday, September 24, 2007

It's all in the spin...

The first set of papers I ever collected horrified me. So many grammatical errors, and I thought, such basic ones, too. Well, I still think "there" basic mistakes (oooh.... even in quotation marks, that grates on me...), but I no longer "take it for granite" that everybody knows the proper way of doing things. I pretty much count on covering fragments, run-ons, and comma splices in the beginning of the semester.

The thing is, I went for literature because I liked analyzing the ideas of literature. Grammar came naturally to me because I practically grew up in libraries, or at any rate, with my nose in a book. Now, my comp courses were a good eight years ago, so it's possible I'm forgetting, but it doesn't seem like my profs spent much time on grammar--it was assumed we'd either already grasped the basics, or we'd learn as we went. Bottom line: I haven't had to do much with grammar, and it doesn't particularly excite me, but it's a necessary evil.

So it was as much sarcasm as anything else when I wrote their reading homework up on the board last Friday, with the following underneath: "Grammar fun time!" A bit cheesy, but as an English teacher, I recognize that a certain amount of groanworthiness is allowed, nay, even expected.

Today, after I'd taken care of matters of housekeeping--roll, handing back assignments, etc.--I asked in a chipper tone who was ready for fun with grammar.

I got a couple lukewarm responses.

I stopped. "I want to hear you cheer," I demanded. What can I say? The power gets to my head sometimes.

A small chorus of "alrights" and "yeah!s"

"That's better." I then split them off into pairs, breaking up some of the buddy units that have developed, and gave them a worksheet that asked them to identify the sentence-level error and correct it. I let them use their books (for those who brought them!), as I'm more interested in them gaining the concepts right now. It also tacitly rewards those who've done their reading and further rewards those who brought their books.

It took most of the remaining class period, during which I circulated through the classroom, giving pointers here and prompting with questions there, and I used the last ten minutes to start going over the answers as a class. I reinforced the rules as we went, and I also backtracked to pay a little more attention to comma splices, which seem to pose the biggest problems.

I don't know if it was the group work, or what, but they were buzzing, calling out answers and everything. I asked first for the type of error, then for the fix, and then if anyone came up with alternate fixes. It gave me an excuse to half-sing the opening lines to "Conjunction Junction." ("Nooo..." a student groans, covering his ears.) Oh yes, I was hamming it up. English teacher's prerogative.

We were almost out of time, but we go over one last sentence, a run-on. One student wants to fix it with a comma. I stopped in mock horror and asked "what [he] just did to that poor sentence."

The others call out, laughing, "It's a comma splice!" Hallelujah.

I've never had that lesson go so well. I'm glad it did. This class was my early morning class, and they've been D.O.A. for the last few weeks. I'd been waiting them out, waiting for them to thaw a bit and start getting involved. I'm holding my breath, but this seems like it could be a turning point. And to think, I have grammar to thank. And a healthy dose of spin combined with some good-natured sarcasm.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My students are amazing

An incident in my evening class tonight made me stop and think back to my first semester teaching. In particular, I remember one student who e-mailed me a couple days before a paper was due, telling me that a close family friend had just been killed in a car accident. A cynic would be reading this, waiting for a request for an extension. I believe I was half expecting one as I read her e-mail. No such luck. Her paper was done, she said, and she wanted to know if she could turn it in early, and if so, where she should leave it before she left town to be with the family for the funeral. It wasn't the best paper ever, and I could tell when I read it that her friend's death was weighing on her mind (it came up later in the semester, too, when she wrote an essay on drunk driving), but she went above and beyond what the stereotypical slacker student would have done.

Flash forward a year. Tonight was the first night of my late-start remedial class. I start off using the old standby "interview your classmate" routine. Two students in particular seemed to hit it off, asking interesting questions and showing a genuine interest in their new classmates. They're an unlikely pair, too, a young male traditional student who can't be long out of high school, and a single mother of two returning student. After introductions and reviewing the syllabus, I gave them a small break before buckling down to a brief, one-paragraph diagnostic essay that involved, once again, interviewing a classmate in response to a specific prompt.

The room was quiet as I waited for the last couple of students to return.

"Tell her," I heard the female student urging her classmate.

He seemed distracted and subdued. "No," he said, "I've got to do this assignment."

I asked if anything was wrong.

He hesitated, then revealed that he'd received a call that his brother had been in an accident.

I asked if it was serious.

He didn't know, but his parents were there with an ambulance.

"Do you need to be with your family right now?" I asked.

He hesitated again, before saying yes, "but what about the assignment?"

I gave him an alternate way to complete it and then sent him on his way.

I've read my fair share of professor's tales of student excuses. I've also heard my own share of borderline-plausible-but-probably-false tales of woe. It never hurts to take things with a grain of salt, but cases like these...

They're the ones most entitled to an exception or an extended deadline, and they're the last to ask (and that's an "if"). It's a good reminder not to let cynicism take over completely. It's also a reminder to me of how much power is invested in the role of "teacher." As students have reminded me, sometimes in a positive context, sometimes negatively, our impact goes beyond the classroom. It's worst case scenario, I know, but I would hate for something to go wrong and for my student not to be there because of a one-paragraph assignment that I gave.

Students like these humble me.

More signs

Well, it's official--I am a Master of English. The diploma came in the mail the other day. It is, like most diplomas, very impressive looking. The filigree in the university name is lovely, and the text is sort of...raised? somehow, and even better, it's got my name on it.

My family and friends are impressed by it. My response has been more low-key. "It's just a piece of paper," I mumbled. And it is a piece of paper, true, merely a signifier for the two years of blood, sweat, tears, and internalized pressure that I voluntarily subjected myself to.

I don't mean to denigrate my degree; goodness knows there are enough people ready to do that. No, what I meant was, and I clarified on a couple of occasions, as far as I was concerned, my degree was complete the moment I hit send to e-mail my prof the last paper. But that still isn't quite what I meant. What I think I meant was, "OK, this is sort of a big deal, but I still don't know what to make of it, so I'll play it cool."

Graduation, the actual ceremony, was a numb experience for me. There were friends and family there, all wishing me the best and praising my efforts. There were other people I knew, too, fellow GA's who still had one more year to go, classmates I may never see again, professors who wished me well and urged me to keep in mind a PhD somewhere down the road, a former student who gave me a congratulatory hug. There was an air of celebration, yes, but there was also an air of finality and farewell and impending change. I smiled when I was supposed to, shook hands and hugged people I wouldn't otherwise admit into my circle of personal space, but they were just motions. I wasn't really "there."

I went home that night and scribbled out a poem expressing my graduation angst:
Future beckons
with crooked finger
mocking, seducing
all at once

leave all you've known
take a leap, come

you'll learn to swim

soon enough
It made me smile wryly as I realized just how melodramatic it was, but that encapsulated my mood. I'm surprised now to realize that even in my self-indulgence, I had pinpointed what made graduation so jarring--fear of the future. It still drives me, this fear. Oh, it tries to disguise itself as a cool dislike of change and nostalgia for the past. That's what I told myself as I gloomily cleared everything out of my former cubicle, remembering all the random discussions with my fellow grad assistants, ranging from what X Prof said to the merits of Metallica to what our students had the audacity to do to What Came Next. I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance to work with such a neat group of people again, or so I told myself. I was scared stiff of moving on, of searching for a job and risking rejection, or equally frightening, finding a new job and having to adjust accordingly.

Fear of change, when I look at it honestly, is what drove me to grad school in the first place. I may have whined about the podunk campus and the commute and the student body as a whole, but it was familiar, and it bought two years to postpone any big decisions. Fear of change is at least 50% of what prompted me to take this job, teaching at the college I started out at, with colleagues who know me. It's what paralyzes me when I think about What Comes Next, when I think about whether to put down (or more accurately, maintain) roots here, or take a chance on something new.

As a grad assistant, I had a new role with new responsibilities, but while I was transitioning into the role of "teacher," I still had one foot firmly on the "student" side of the equation. Now, I'm solidly on the side of "teacher." That thought really messes with my head when I let it. I've watched with wary interest as my high school classmates have been moving away and marrying off and having children within the last few years, thinking to myself that they're going places, changing, and that they're not irresponsible youth anymore. Somehow, I'd managed to detach myself from that equation--I may not have moved away or made too many changes in my personal life, but my education and work have indeed moved me past some invisible line between... whatever I was and whatever comes next.

My diploma is a reminder that a door has shut behind me and a sign that things have changed and will continue to change. An arbitrary sign, perhaps, but a sign nonetheless.

...Who knew semiotics would be useful to understanding post-graduation angst?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Adding up the signs

A few weeks ago, I started noticing fallen leaves in the grass. The spiders also returned, spinning large webs that make venturing out onto the deck at night a dangerous prospect. Autumn, I realized, was on its way. Recently, the heat's started giving way to crisp, almost chilly mornings. When I tread through the grass in the morning on campus, my feet (still in summer's flip-flops) get wet from the dew, and the chill is enough to make me consider the possibility of pulling out more "practical" footwear, or at least, consider walking on the designated paths.

The calendar may not say so, but I think autumn is here. I can never decide which is my favorite season--autumn, or spring? During spring, I enjoy the emerging green and the flowers, and the promise of summer and its break. But fall is more suited to my temperament, I think. A friend once said that autumn was great for curling up with some Poe. I knew exactly what she meant. It's deliciously melancholy--just enough to indulge in, but not as depressing as the extended bleakness of winter. There's just a sense of things coming to an end--leaves, flowers, the year itself. It's fun to go crunching through the leaves, but the barren tree branches are a reminder that their once glorious splendor of green, then yellow or red or purple, has passed. Right before the first true freeze, the leaves start to turn to rot under the faintly grey-tinged sky. It's sort of shiver-inducing, when you stop to think about it.

And what better to ward off the shivers than a hot cup of tea? I'm quite partial to coffee, true, but evenings are for tea. I love drinking out of clear mugs, all the better to see the shades of red or amber, depending on the tea. Right now, I'm keen on a blend of black currants and vanilla, a beautiful vermilion in the cup nestled in my hands. Through the open window, I can hear the crickets chirping and the whoosh of passing traffic. A bit of a breeze blows through the still-mostly-clad trees, rustling the leaves. The temperature is just a smidge on the cool side, but it's a comfortable cool, not bracing like air conditioning, and the tea helps warm me. It's pretty peaceful, and right now, so am I.

Yep, I'm pretty sure it's autumn.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I feel a bit like a transient lately, belonging neither here nor there. Two of my classes are late-start, which means right now I'm only on campus to teach for an hour or run copies (or pinch-hit for a couple hours in the writing center), and then I'm gone again. My cubicle hasn't been assigned yet, so I could do like some of the other adjuncts and just commandeer a spot. Perhaps I should, to get to know people a bit better. Heck, I should probably just hang around more, period. I did for a bit last week, just shot the breeze with several other faculty members, exchanging tales from the trenches and speculations on the time-space continuum on campus (it's possible to leave one building at 8:55 and arrive on the other side of campus 10 minutes also works in reverse, to many an instructor's chagrin). It reminded me of the pleasant times in the GA office, swapping tales of what our "little darlings" had done that day. It's both establishment of common ground and light-hearted grousing, always a fun combination. And yet, I don't feel quite at ease here yet.

I know most of the department already, whether they were my instructors back in the day or whether I tutored their students during my work at the writing center, and some I met through the infinitely helpful new adjunct orientation I went to (seriously, 20 minutes on the mission statement and only 10 on exactly which of our dozen log-in-and-password combinations will get us into Blackboard...). It's still awkward for me, though, because half of my now-coworkers are in my mental file marked "teacher," not "colleague." They're all too happy to treat me as a colleague, even trying to recruit me to different committees (yeah, no cynical comments, please--I'm aware of the double-edged sword of committee involvement); it's just me. There's a ready community there if I just put forth a little more effort.

That's the situation with "my" campus; one class is on another campus downtown. The first time I went to go teach there was the second time I'd ever set foot in the place. It is by far the strangest campus I've been on. I can only speculate that it was designed during a late-night planning session, with the assistance of a copious amount of some sort of mind-altering substance--classrooms aren't numbered chronologically, hallways lead off into dead ends, stairwells are in strange places, it's actually two attached buildings and that's it... I normally have an uncanny sense of direction, but this place throws me. When I can find it, there is an office available for adjuncts, but it's dim and empty in the evening and I'd just as soon not stay longer than needed. I've met members of the administration for the campus, but other than them, I don't know anybody there. Most hallways are vacant, save for few occasional students--it just doesn't have the feel of a campus at all.

I'm not actually unhappy with this; these are just a few observations I've made regarding my feelings of not being settled. I barely had time to transition from vacation to the new semester, so I'm just now able to start to process things. It's only week three, after all.

I suspect the first of several composition meetings this Friday will take care of my last traces of disconnectedness.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Five blogs I read

I found an article on Yahoo about BlogDay. I'm a bit late with this, but better late than never, eh? So, here are five blogs I read and why.

  • Scrivenings - When I was considering grad school, I stumbled upon his blog. I've been lurking faithfully since (actually, I may have popped up once or twice under any infinite number of possible pseudonyms...). There's a bit of everything--teaching, life issues, kid stories, art, and pictures. And he had green hair at the time, if memory serves, which struck me as pretty cool.
  • Writing as Jo(e) - I believe I found this one through Scrivenings. Beautiful storytelling and accompanying pictures. I've probably been lurking just as long at her blog, too. Not very good manners on my part. Whenever I try and convince people that the world of blogging is more than just 13-year-olds with Xangas or people with too much time on their hands and the convenience of a ready Internet connection, Jo(e)'s is the first one I link them to.
  • Cranky Epistles - Get yer fix of snark here. I honestly don't remember when I first stumbled on her blog, but there's a good chance my computer monitor does.
  • Joshua's Walkabout - I knew Josh through the campus peace group I was part of during my senior year. For anyone (like myself) who's ever thought about the Peace Corps, it's an interesting chance for the vicarious experience. Lot of food for thought on this one.
  • Postsecret - This one may technically be cheating, but I don't care. It's not one person's blog, but it's more of a collective baring of the soul. The idea is that people send in their secrets anonymously, and the result is an interesting mixture. They run the range from heartbreaking secrets about abuse or being in the closet to declarations of having found happiness to the sometimes bizarre. It's fascinating to see how much in common we have with our fellow humans, whether for good or ill.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The beauty of silence

Over this summer, I've been reading voraciously--"literary" fiction, children's books, whatever I can get my hands on. I can never quite silence my English major's analysis as I read, but I've been marking passages of books that struck me as especially beautiful or thought-provoking, learning once again just to savor the words and ideas and images.

To break up the gloom of my latest Cormac McCarthy binge, I'm working on Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. I missed this one as a kid, but now's as good a time as any to rectify that. Many passages either make me chuckle or groan with their puns and wordplay, but I found this one thought-provoking:
Milo walked slowly down the long hallway and into the little room where the Soundkeeper sat listening intently to an enormous radio set, whose switches, dials, knobs, meters, and speaker covered one whole wall, and which at the moment was playing nothing.

"Isn't that lovely?" she sighed. "It's my favorite program--fifteen minutes of silence--and after that there's a half hour of quiet and then an interlude of lull. Why, did you know that there are almost as many kinds of stillness as there are sounds? But, sadly enough, no one pays any attention to them these days.

"Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn?" she inquired. "Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause in a roomful of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're all alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful, if you listen carefully."

A bit didactic, perhaps, but it never hurts to be reminded.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Places I didn't mean to be

"You were meant to be a teacher," a friend told me the other day. It's not the first time someone's told me that, and given the number of close acquaintances who've had to sit through one of my classroom recap narratives, I know where the impression comes from. And yet...

I've never felt a calling to any one profession. Several years ago, pre-grad school, I sneered at everyone who suggested that I could use my degree in English to teach. I'd never do that, I thought. I didn't know what I was "meant" for, but teaching certainly wasn't it. I was too free-spirited to work within the confines of established curriculum, and really, formal education is an exercise in following directions, and I'm so not a public speaker, and I don't have the patience to deal with kids, and besides, my degree was a B.A., not a B.S.E., so you see, it really wasn't feasible. I had a litany of reasons why I wouldn't be caught dead in front of a classroom.

With graduation looming ahead and few (desirable) job prospects, I decided to ward off the existential crisis in the stereotypical way--I ran back for more school. In my second year, I landed a position as a teaching assistant. As is the case with many public universities, I had full responsibility for my classes. I loved it. I hated it. It charged me. It drained me.

Soon, another graduation loomed ahead. Mid-summer, I decided I needed to step back from academia in order to assess my goals and gain some new perspective before committing to it ("committing" fits). This adjunct position literally fell in my lap, though--I took it, against a backdrop of reservations.

I have a post sitting in my draft folder, where I was trying to chronicle some of my reservations about this gig. I may return to it, or I may just sit down with my personal journal and write it out--but some of them are lifting. And that has to do with the experience of being in the classroom.

However overwhelming the back work is, from lesson plans to grading, the classroom experience is unique. I do enjoy how it's possible to teach the exact same lesson plan to two different classes and have completely different experiences, whether it's due to different classroom dynamics or perhaps slightly different discussion tangents. It adds an element of uncertainty, to be sure, but it also keeps me on my toes. It's a challenge to figure out how to hold their attention and how to rescue a dud class. I get a bit frustrated with my morning class when they're zombies, but frankly, their teacher's not a morning person, either. However, one off-the-cuff student comment or the excitement of succeeding with a new approach is enough to give me a charge for the rest of the day, as surely as the cup of coffee in my hand.

And then there's always the dream class--I think I'm in love with my first one-night-a-week evening class. It's pretty small, and two weeks in, they've got wonderful rapport with each other and with me, and they're on top of their reading, and they have stories to tell and interests that will probably teach me about new topics this semester. They have doubts about this scary "writing" thing, but I also love them for that, too. They're mostly returning students who have outside jobs, too, so it's a new dynamic for me, but having started out at the same community college I now teach at, I understand some of what they're facing.

As I drove home the other night, wired by the experience, I couldn't help but think, "So this is why I teach." I still can't say one way or another if it's what I'm destined to do, but here and now, it works for me.

I'm willfully ignoring the fact that grading looms ahead.