Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Tomorrow, depending on who you ask, is either a holiday of pagan origin, meant for blood sacrifice and cavorting with the devil (or at least his minions), or it's a day to dress up and get candy.

I never did much with Halloween; that tends to be the case with kids raised in conservative households. Yeah, I thought it'd be fun to dress up, but I had bought into my parents' paranoia about the weirdos just waiting to maim innocent little kids, so trick-or-treating wasn't very high on my list, especially when we could buy bags of the stuff on clearance the following day; the only drawback was the sense of feeling left out on Nov. 1 when all my classmates talked of how much candy they got and how much fun they had. And there was the matter of my immortal soul, of course. I was a solemn little child.

I wonder if any of my students will be dressed up tomorrow; it would make for a nice change of pace. I toy with the idea of dressing up, but it's late, and I'm not going back out this evening. And costumes are expensive.

I could just go dressed up as, well, a teacher. As far as I'm concerned, what I wear for teaching qualifies as "grown-up clothes" or a "teaching costume." The blouses, tailored jackets, and dress pants (or the occasional skirt) are part of a persona, that of "Ms. [Twit]." It's just not me, not as I picture myself in my mind's eye, anyway. Only on campus and at work do I dress like that; otherwise it's--

And that's when it occurred to me. I could go tomorrow dressed up (or down, actually) as myself (whoever that person is). Grungy jeans and a T-shirt with a smart-assed phrase on it. I like the idea; it's almost worth it for the excuse of not having to iron tonight. But that's a bit boring. I look through my closet, over to the half with my formal, special occasion clothing. OK, I like the blue floor-length evening gown--I could invent a story behind it, but there's the matter of the train and my constant urge to hitch it up at every step as it gets underfoot. And a gown like that calls for the evil, foot-killing shoes that I only wear once or twice a year. It's a definite no-go there. Some of the skirts--nope, that'd just look overdressed.

I glance down at the closet floor, rummage under the bags of yarn that seem to have multiplied in my closet; things do fall off the hanger sometimes. I catch sight of my boots--lovely, knee-high, lace-up boots, the kind you see on goth kids and--

I build my outfit from there. Technically, it's not a costume--I've worn it before, mostly in my undergrad days. On a campus with a large population of farm kids and military brats, it got a few gawks. It'll be perfect, if only for the reason that I'll be wearing it, facing the class in the role of teacher. I'll be a Hot Topic poster child. The skirt is layers of lace over a burgundy solid, and top has frilled sleeves and lace. I'll pull out the black eye liner, but I'm not sure if I'll be bold enough to match it with the black lipstick. Erm, I think not.

So, it'll be perfect to go teaching decked out in my finest goth garb. Or, even better--I'll be a student. I'll go as my younger self, take fairly diligent notes with lots of doodles in the margins, sit in the back of the classroom, not say a word unless directly addressed, and slip out largely unnoticed. Of course, that begs the question of who'll teach.

That's easy. My students will.

Heck, even better, I won't just be my younger self--I'll be every annoying student. I'll stand up front and sharpen my pencil for five minutes. I'll put my head down like I'm sleeping. I'll lean over and chat with the person next to me when the "teacher" is talking. If called on, I'll say I don't know or didn't do the reading... Ooooh, I should just make myself a checklist...

I could really get into this Halloween thing.


And I'll be back on November 1st with how my nefarious plan went over. Thereafter, at least for the month of November, I intend to post every day as part of NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. Yes, more drivel from the Overeducated Twit! Lucky you!

This borders on self-promotion (crosses the line, actually), but
you could subscribe in a reader so you're notified when I update. If you want.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

It sounds like science fiction

When I first saw the headline to this article, I immediately thought of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine: "Human race will 'split into two different species.'" The morlocks and the eloi, the scruffy, dirty workers' descendants and the childlike, helpless but beautiful heirs to the upper class. Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry says it's quite possible.

He says humans will reach their peak around 3000, then regress. The two species will arise from sexual selection, and advances in body modification will homogenize our appearances (I would assume some sort of genetic plastic surgery?). According to the article, it's a rather lovely appearance--men, you see, will have symmetrical faces, deep voices, and, ahem, will be well-endowed. But women, my goodness--or perhaps I should say "my goddess!"--will be stunning--large eyes, smooth hairless skin, "pert breasts," and shiny tresses. Need I even point out which one Curry has spent more time pondering over? I understand the power of sexual attraction, I do, but it seems as though--and perhaps there's more to Curry's argument than the Daily Mail is depicting--intelligence isn't a factor? Will humanity become so shallow that physical appearance will be the sole determinant of who's worthy to mate with? Well, Live Science's write-up adds briefly intelligence and creativity into the mix. My bad. So, basically, prime mating material would be aesthetically pleasing, intelligent, sexually desirable people. How in the hell will there be enough of these people to form a new species? And if the other half are ugly, short, and stupid--

It's shallow at best. At least H.G. Wells had a class basis for his depiction.

Then again, it seems a little more than coincidence that this article falls into my hands (or at least, crosses my screen): "American kids, dumber than dirt." Read those articles in context of one another, factor out the shallow emphasis on appearance, and you may be onto something. Evolution is a process. Luckily for humanity, it's been pretty positive thus far--instead of grunting, living in caves, and surviving on hunting and gathering, we cuss each other out on the freeway, live in suburbs, and survive on processed fast food. Instead of killing each other with rocks and arrows, we've got guns and bombs. Progress. It's great.

Seriously, though, Curry does raise the point of technology and medicine "softening" us after a few thousand years. How many drug-resistant bacteria are there? How many prescriptions does the average person take? I could see that taking a toll in the long-run. Diseases have decimated populations before--look at the bubonic plague or smallpox or even influenza. And the technology, much as I love it, could also have long-term effects--Morford points out we have a generation of folks who don't know what to do with the overload of media. Imagine a future of even smaller soundbites, brighter screens, less meaningful human interaction on a daily basis--and take those folks out of their cushy suburbs (or maybe pods by that point that are carefully controlled atmospheres to regulate temperatures, filter pollution, and block the UV rays that will be glaring through the gaps in the ozone...). They'll be lost. But they'll find others who are just as lost, and they reproduce, and so on and so forth... Future doesn't look so bright now, does it? I couldn't vouch for their physical appearances, but the world as a whole would certainly be ugly.

This is, of course, all speculation, but speculation is fun. There's a reason I enjoy science fiction from time to time.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"I don't really care about anything."

I think the next essay I've assigned is a fool's errand on my part. There is an implicit flaw in my planning it. You see, the essay type is "proposing a solution." It's perfect for starry-eyed idealists, for students who have some sort of passion, for students who, well, care about something. Or anything. I'd settle for that right about now.

The book leads them toward finding local solutions. And good of them, too--I told my students that if world problems could be solved in Comp. I essays, they wouldn't be issues. However, what they'd probably find is that they might be able to make small changes on the local level, which could possibly, somewhere down the road, have bigger repercussions. I steered them in the direction of thinking of issues faced by groups they're involved in, campus issues, problems faced by perhaps their religious institutes, or maybe they could branch out into an issue they cared about.

Campus issues? Well, they hate the parking. They hated it in my day, too. If they can propose a viable solution, shoot for it. But what about student groups? Anybody involved in some of th-- I glance up to see shaking heads. "We have student groups?" someone asks. The joys of a commuter campus... They don't know what they're missing out on.

Religious groups? Nope. One guy comes up with an issue whose solution has already been implemented. I toss out the idea of raising funds or drumming up membership, plans they might have some say in. No apparent takers, which is surprising for the Bible Belt. Quite a few students have found ways of bringing religion into their papers in the past.

Any other groups people are involved in or are connected to? A few takers here--people who have friends with small businesses, an aspiring musician facing venue issues, someone into drag racing and looking to address crowd management issues.

And then I make a fatal mistake--what sort of larger issues do you care about? I toss out as an example one we discussed in my evening class--youth voter awareness, trying to get people into the polls by implementing a community plan, or maybe something through a high school, or... That class was gung-ho about it. This one...?

In a beautifully ironic twist, when I was calling on individual students and asking what sort of topics they could come up with, one girl told me point blank, "I don't really care about anything." No embarrassment, and there were nods of agreement.

"Well, I appreciate your honesty," was the only civil response I could come up with (the same one I give to "I didn't read that essay"). I guess I forgot apathy was fashionable.

I wrote, "implement program to fight youth apathy" up on the list of possible topics. The only drawback? It's far, far too vast a topic to be handled in comp. class.

And they wouldn't care, anyway.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

They're going to regret that...

I believe I've been added to some mailing lists--leftist causes and the like. They ask for a small donation to combat this social ill or that global issue or sometimes a certain devastating disease. Some of them even send me mailing labels to sweeten the deal, or at least, heap on some guilt.

That sounded cynical; the mailings don't really bother me. I don't mind giving small donations, and hey, labels are cool even if they probably sent me more than I'll use in five years. The literature I don't want I put in the recycling bin. No sweat.

I usually eye the mailings with relative indifference, maybe setting them to the side to look at later. One made me light up with glee, though (no, it wasn't the jury duty summons...). You see, the Democratic Party wanted my input for their presidential campaign (and a donation of at about $35, but that's irrelevant, I'm sure). I mean, the big thing is, they care what I, a common peon, feel. They truly are, well, democratic, ensuring that I have a say in the direction of our nation. Would the Republican Party court me, a lowly worker (and walking womb woman to boot)? Hell, no, those big-business-loving-war-mongering-rich white guys wouldn't.

(Was that too much? Sorry. I couldn't see through my partisanship.)

Eh. First of all, I don't much respect letters--like the one enclosed--that employ arbitrary text formatting . . . and overuse of ellipses . . . and Gratuitous Capitalization. Granted, I do use those too, sometimes, but I'm a blogger, not someone trying to prove my fitness for the leadership of the country. Picky point, but first impressions are important.

First question: "Thinking strategically about Democrats' role in the 2008 campaigns, which of the following strategies do you think is the key to electing Democrats in 2008? Please choose one answer only." Dangling modifier aside, the question is representative of the thinking I despise in most liberals. None of the options have anything whatsoever to do with policy; instead, they have to do with voter recruitment and advertising. Getting into office is more important than actually offering an alternative.

The questions only get worse. They're very loaded, too. One asks, "How important is eliminating the Republican culture of corruption in Congress to restoring the public's faith in our government?" That's right, kiddies, Republicans hold the monopoly on corruption. Give the Democrats a chance to get in on the action already, will ya? Oh... wait...

Another question asks, "How important is raising the minimum wage to the economic security of working families?" It's pretty obvious what the "right" answer is. I am a proponent of raising the minimum wage, which hasn't kept up with inflation and cost of living, but I dislike the slant. I'm a relatively intelligent person; I do not need to be led to the right answer.

Or try this one: "How seriously will the Republican failure to fund No Child Left Behind Act impact our children's future?" That's right; any negative consequences of NCLB are due to poor (Republican) funding, not, y'know, any flaws in the legislature itself, which passed with bipartisan approval.

Then, there are a few questions about which party I "trust most to combat terrorism and protect America against future attacks" or "trust most to guarantee your retirement security." The options? Democrats or Republicans. I wrote "neither" by those.

So, after more loaded questions with insufficient options, they provide two lines for "additional comments." Two. Lines. But... but, Chris Van Hollen, I thought you said you valued my input in the Democrats' direction. Either you assume you covered all the ground you needed to with the questions, or you're only looking to find affirmation. Hmm. After some thought, I finally wrote, "Questions are very leading. Criticism of the Republican Party is valid, but try providing real alternatives, not just lip service." It lacks the vitriol I wanted to put, but I've got a blog for that ;).

What good will come of it? Nothing, I'm sure. As long as we're entrenched in the two-party system and campaigns are based on sound bites and image and don't forget corporate financing, elections will be an exercise in deciding between Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumb.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Site statistics are fascinating.

Hey, I may be reaching the rank of real blogger. For a while, the only search strings that led to this humble blog were "overeducated ambulance driver" (check the blog roll...), "overeducated twit," "overeducated," and "overeducatedtwit"--in that order. Hardly original or serendipitous.

I've got new ones to add to the list--ironically, one search string is "not all who wander are lost," through a Google blog search. It places me in the company of travel and evangelical Christian/ministry blogs. Kinda funny how the Internet re-defines proximity.

Then, thanks to this post, someone found my blog by searching for "will-o-wisp," which is cool, but I suspect not what they were looking for. Hey, will-o-wisps are misleading, though.

But this one takes the cake:

Well, shit, it's the top hit in the search results.

*sigh* I hope I don't regret that post.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I have a terrible, deep, dark secret. I could send it in to Postsecret, but I may as well spill it here. I'm feeling confessional tonight.

Oh, this is difficult to type. I feel a sense of... shame. About five years ago, I heard of a controversial book series. Kids were gobbling it up, sales were incredible, and some vocal parents hated it. I'm a sucker for forbidden fruit, so I picked up the books--J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Not so bad, you're thinking, eh? Oh, it gets worse. Keep reading.

They were pretty good books. Fun stuff, that magic. The idea of a magical world existing right alongside our own was interesting. I was curious to see what the fuss was, though, what others more sympathetic to the series had to say in its defense. Like a teen "just curious" to see what a cigarette is like, that was my first mistake. I got on the Internet (unsupervised! there was a computer in my bedroom and a door I could close) and searched. What I found was an addiction. There were whole fansites on the series, fan art, bulletin board discussions of finer plot points, and the heroin of HP fandom, fan fiction.

I... I got suckered in, I did. In my defense, I was young and naive. I was lonely. Back in those days, there was a strong sense of community. There were, of course, occasional flame wars and somewhat heated discussion, but overall, I interacted regularly, sometimes for hours a day, with a fun group of people who were anywhere between 13-year-old fangirls who thought Dan Radcliffe was hot to 20-something geeks to grown women with children of their own. We had something in common. Thanks to fandom, I started blogging--Deadjournal, then Livejournal. I posted a lot about HP then, what I thought of characters, the fandom itself, and even Rowling's shortcomings. Between the bulletin boards and blogs, I ended up discussing many a fine plot point, many a discussion of Rowling's depiction of Slytherins as flat characters, and even the craft of writing.

And in the meantime, I read fanfiction. There was plenty about the main trio, and then I branched out. Fandom speculation fleshed out a lot of info about lesser characters, and I read stories that depicted Voldemort's past in a more sympathetic light. I read stories about Harry's parents' generation (Sirius was and is one of my favorite characters in the series, followed by Remus). I was a Severus Snape fangirl, knew, just knew he was OK under his exterior; there were plenty of stories sharing my point of view. I also inhabited a sector of the fandom fascinated by the Malfoys (parents, anyway; Draco never fascinated me) and, yes, before they were popular, the Lestranges. I even... tried... OK, I did--I wrote fanfiction myself.

There. I said it. I wrote fanfiction. It was what would be classified as more genfic, that is, not very concerned with speculating on the couplings in the series. The pairings didn't really intrigue me; my tolerance for romance in fiction is low, but that placed me in what seemed to be a vast minority. Some of the fandom's most heated debates were on who was meant for whom and what the characters got up to behind the scenes (Harry/Hermione! no, Hermione/Ron! no, you're both wrong--Harry/Ron is my OTP!!!1!), whether said couplings were heterosexual or slashy pairings. Or... well, Rowling did make a passing reference to Aberforth Dumbledore getting in trouble for practicing "illegal charms on a goat"; I leave you to speculate what certain fans made of that. Anything suggestive of illicit behavior can probably be found in fanfiction, and with a predominantly heterosexual female fan base, this translated into a dearth of slash, or homoerotic fanfiction. Yep, Harry and Draco's apparent antagonism is truly rooted in sexual tension--whaddaya mean you missed that subtext? (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that many a fangirl adored both Harry and Draco as depicted by Dan Radcliffe and Tom Felton, and well, the only thing hotter than two hot guys is two hot guys shagging each other.)

And maybe I just never looked for it, or maybe it wasn't the subject of great speculation, but apparently Dumbledore too was gay. I fell out of the fandom about the time the fifth book came out and have only read spoilers for the last few books, so I don't know what the trends in fanfiction have been. I'm guessing Dumbledore's sexuality didn't receive much speculation because, well, because he's old and therefore asexual because... he's old and the mental images--ugh. No. He's old. Just stop that.

I want to read the rest of the books now, see if there were signs. It seems a bit sloppy, quite frankly. Maybe there were more blatant signs in the later books (something about wands, perhaps, or Dumbledore inviting Harry to his chamber to practice his 'magic'...?), but the earlier books, from my four-year-old recollection, didn't contain those hints. Not, mind, that Dumbledore's sexuality is pivotal to the series. A character's sexuality shouldn't be, but I can imagine the firestorm that's erupting in the conservative religious camps right now. Not only is Harry Potter dabbling in magic, his mentor was, well, one of those, you know. What values will that teach children?


Er, yes, this blog shall return to its regularly scheduled format after this post. It just sorta sidetracked me. And I do try and break up the teaching posts a bit. Guess I'll just have to start posting more frequently to bump this one down into the archives. Good thing Nablopomo is coming up...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Academia, macadamia...

...they're both nuts, right?

I was trying to fill out an application for a part-time non-academic job the other day. Not pleasant; I resent trying to contain my capabilities within cramped little boxes. (By the way, I have painfully small, jagged writing--if I say the boxes are cramped, the average Joe or Jane probably finds them minuscule.) I know the tricks of action words, etc., etc. I know how to play up my strengths, even though it makes me feel squirmy and just a tad shameless, and all this was even within the limitations of said small boxes.

Here's what stumped me: salary. (What does that matter, anyway? I would gladly accept the going rate per hour they were offering for the position.) When all was said and done, I listed one job by rate per course (adjunct position), one by hourly pay (tutoring), and two by semester (grad assistantship stipend). I suppose I could have gone back through and converted them to hourly wages, but that just would've been depressing and imprecise at best. And that would just beg the question of whether to calculate it by the number of hours per week that admin estimated (pay level would turn out decently) or by the actual number of hours per week consumed by the work (ugh... not going to dwell on that one--I don't want to think about the amount of time or what the hourly wage would be)...

It's just far too ambiguous for my comfort.

I hope whoever's looking at my application has at least some working knowledge of academia... That way, they know it's not me who's a tad screwed up and schizophrenic-looking; it's my employment.

They can realize their mistake after they hire me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Coming full circle

Monday marked the beginning of my fourth class for the semester. As I printed out my roster, I glanced at the room assignment. It seemed vaguely familiar. It'd be funny, I thought, if the room were the same one... Well, it would at least be in the same general vicinity.

When class time came around, I hoofed it across campus to the building, hiked the stairs of the building where I'd had a number of memorable classes, including an honors seminar and several semesters of newswriting with a very, um, unique group of folks. It was also the building where I had my first class, English 101, or comp. I, way back in the Fall '99 semester.

Turns out, the room was the exact one I thought it was--the classroom where I took English 101. I approached it from the opposite direction this time 'round, both literally and in terms of my role. Back then, I was literally a scared kid, finishing up high school while starting courses at the college. I had no clue what to expect, and I didn't know if I'd measure up. The room was huge, it seemed, to a previously home schooled kid. I sat--not quite in the back; the row was taken--off to the right side of the classroom, as far toward the back as I could get. I don't think I talked much in class then; I never really left my shell until the second half of my undergraduate classes, when I started having classes with people I'd at least run into before.

This time, I knew exactly where to go once I reached the classroom. I strode in, books and syllabi in hand, to the front. I sized up the room; guess it shrunk in those intervening 8 (!) years. It seemed cozy, actually, especially compared to the other classrooms I'm teaching in. I felt pretty secure in my role, and I can honestly say it was the smoothest first day orientation I've done (by the fourth one of the semester, it certainly should be!). I'm convinced that it helps that the class is after 11 o'clock, when I'm at my most functional, but I also seem to have a good group of students. They're a 102 class, so they've hopefully gotten some experience under their belts, whether they've been out of school for a while, or perhaps they learned from the sorts of shenanigans my 101 students are pulling. Whatever it takes, though we'll see how they respond when put to the tasks of actual coursework.

It was a good first day, though, the most promising one I've had this semester.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Existentialism and environmentalism

In my hop-skip-jump-style of web surfing, I came across several links to Blog Action Day. On October 15, participating bloggers are to post "about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic." Consider me participating.

The site says bloggers can post something off-topic for their blog, or find a way to work it in to a blog's general theme. What works even better is to keep in the tone of the usual style. I, uh, have a style? Well, I am fond of sharing nifty quotes I've found in my reading. First, I thought I'd find some poetry to share. Wendell Berry, I thought, and googled him, read a few poems, enjoyed them, then thought I probably wouldn't be the first to post his poetry for an environment-themed day. Back to the drawing board, then. It shouldn't be this hard for someone versed in British Romanticism...

Something related to Daniel Quinn's Ishmael? I could re-post that "review" I wrote on my old blog. Nope. Cheating.

So I settled on Derrick Jensen. The following excerpt is from his teaching memoir Walking on Water. Inspiring reading, if you're into environmentalism and teaching and helping to foster creativity. Even if you disagree with his politics, it's at least worth a read to see how his political beliefs translate into what's ordinarily a hierarchical structure in the classroom.

There's really only one question in life, and only one lesson. This question is whispered endlessly to us from all directions. The moon asks it each night, as do the stars. It's asked by drops of rain that cling to the soft ends of cedar branches, and by teardrops that cluster at the fold of your nose or the edge of your mouth. Frogs, flowers, stones, pieces of broken plastic, all ask this of each other, of themselves, and of you. The question: Who are you? The lesson: We're born or sprouted or hatched or congealed or we fall from the sky, we live, and then we die or are worn away or broken or disperse into a river, lake, or sea, ripples flowing outward to bounce back from the far shore. And in the meantime, in that middle, what are you going to do? How are you going to find, and be, who you are? Who are you, and what are you going to do about it?

If modern industrial education--and more broadly industrial civilization--required "the subsummation of the individual," that is, the conversion of vibrant human beings into "automata," that is, into a pliant workforce, then the most revolutionary thing we can do is follow our hearts, to manifest who we really are. And we are in desperate need of revolution, on all scales and in all ways, from the most personal to the most global, from the most serene to the most wrenching. We're killing the planet, we're killing each other, and we're killing ourselves.

And still our neighbors--hummingbirds, craneflies, huckleberries, the sharp cracking report of the earthquake that shakes you awake in your bed--ask us, who are you, who are you in relation to each of us, and to yourself?

Our current system divorces us from our hearts and bodies and neighbors, from humanity and animality and embeddedness in the world we inhabit, from decency, and even the most rudimentary intelligence. (How smart is it to destroy your own habitat? Who was the genius who came up with the idea of poisoning our own food, water, and air?) I've heard defenders of this system say that following one's heart is not a good enough moral compass, that Hitler was following his heart when he tried to conquer the world, tried to rid the world of those deemed unworthy. But Hitler was no more following his heart than any of the rest of us who blindly contribute to a culture that is accomplishing what Hitler desired but could not himself bring to completion. The truth is--as I have shown, exhaustively and exhaustingly--that it is only through the most outrageous violations of our hearts and bodies that we are inculcated into a system where it can be made to make sense to some twisted and torn part of our psyches to perpetuate a way of being based on the exploitation, immiseration, and elimination of everyone and everything we can get our hands on.

Within this context, the question the whole world asks at every moment cannot help but also be the most dangerous: Who are you? Who are you, really? Beneath the trappings and traumas that clutter and characterize our lives, who are you, and what do you want to do with the so-short life you've been given? We could not live the way we do unless we avoided that question, trained ourselves and others to avoid that question, forced others to avoid placing that question in front of us, and in fact attempted to destroy those who do.
If Jensen interests you, there are some video interviews with him on Youtube, a series of about six clips, beginning with this one.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One last huzzah

Next week will probably be the week I begin to (ha!) spiral into a cycle of stress, self-loathing, and self-pity as I pick up with the fourth course. But that's not 'til Monday. This is a weekend for revelry and gathering with friends and family.

It's off to a lovely start. From about the time I fell asleep (3 a.m.) to the time I got up (7-ish), it's been storming off and on--mostly on. I love a good thunderstorm--the rain, the thunder--the dramatics in the sky. A breakfast of PBJ and coffee (yes, that's balanced...) will tide me over until brunch with my family and perhaps a few close friends.

Said friends and I will get together, and all sense of decorum will be lost as our conversations veer from one inside joke to another naughty pun, right back to the inside jokes again. Oh, we'll be laughing our fool heads off, but unless you were there for our once-eventful midnight Monopoly game a year ago, you have no chance of understanding. None whatsoever. It sounds like lunacy to the untrained ear... Uh, moving on...

I'll be completely wiped out tonight and will probably be able to sleep for once sometime before 2 a.m., leaving me refreshed for tomorrow. The forecast is clear and beautiful, perfect for an outing with my sister to the renaissance festival, on its last day of the season. We'll wander around, probably purchase a few minor overpriced knickknacks, maybe buy a turkey leg like she's been nagging me for, and generally have a rousing good time.

Then I go home to grading and finishing prepping for Monday's classes. The rest of the semester will be a doozy. There are new names to memorize, more grading to add to the stack, more students who will inevitably disappoint me, and a few who will exceed my expectations. But that's not here yet.

Now, it's time for one last huzzah.

Right now, this minute, today, life is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Take time to smell the... you know...

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon--instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today." --Dale Carnegie

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What planet do freshmen come from?

I recently asked one of my former classmates what she thought of teaching freshman comp, once she'd undergone the baptism by fire of her first set of papers. "Freshmen are freakin' retarded," she said. I was having a tender moment of affection for my "little darlings" at the time and thought to myself, that's kinda harsh.

I've since concluded that that sense of affection was merely the result of misplaced hormones or something 'cause let me say, I'm inclined to agree with her. At the very least, they must come from some alternate universe where the logic is a foreign concept and deadlines function merely as suggestions.

These last few weeks seem to mark an unprecedented slide into slackerdom. There are always students who don't turn things in. Duh. I know that. I just haven't seen it to this extent. It's in my syllabus (y'know, that thing they lost by the second week) that they've got to do peer review or lose 10 points, to keep them from blowing it off. It also says I won't accept papers any later than a class period beyond its original due date (something I added after getting papers a week after they were due... the 30-point deduction made grading feel like a joke). I suppose the issue of peer review is a moot point if they don't turn in the papers (and god bless that third of the ones who showed up without drafts in hand). That same third didn't turn in the most recent essay. Yeah, like that won't hurt their final grades.

I just don't get it. Do the math. I'm a humanities person, but even I could tell you--without taking off my socks to count--that in a class with four major essays, a couple lesser essays, and daily work, missing basically 1/6 of the points will hurt the grade. And it doesn't seem to faze them. I get pissed when they give me excuses. I almost get more pissed when they don't. I shouldn't take their apathy personally, but it gets under my skin, especially when, say, the first essay was promising or they showed potential in the classroom. If they were just flat-out, across-the-board dumb-as-door-posts, I don't think it'd bother me. But they're not. They're not. They demonstrate at least glimmers of intelligence (and like will o' wisps, they are lovely, misleading glimmers that disappear in a swamp of stupid decisions). Why do they do that?

Why can't they do the reading, for that matter? It's not that much. One class in particular is bad with this, the daytime class comprised mostly of traditional students. My other classes, one-night-a-week evening classes of mostly non-trads, manage somehow to work in time to do their reading in between their jobs and families and other homework. The young snots? Can't do 10 pages. Failing their little reading quizzes doesn't seem to faze them, either, and they continue to fail them with great aplomb. Now that I've given clues to the demographics of my classes, can you take a wild guess which class had the lowest ratio of completed papers? Yep. The traditionals.

And this is the bottom line of what I don't get: the curriculum of the community college has fewer papers than the university I taught at before. There were students who fell by the wayside, of course, but they didn't usually start slipping until the second half of the semester. I could usually see it coming, and I tried to ward off the slippage. Maybe nostalgia clouds my memory, but I don't recall this number of tardy and missing papers, and there were papers about every other week (compared to about every three weeks) with a comparatively more intense reading load. Maybe it's my new department's grading rubric, or maybe it's the softening effects of time, but I feel that I've gotten more lenient--they shouldn't be flunking my class. I don't have unreasonable expectations, unless having firm deadlines counts as "unreasonable." Heck, if they let me know what was going on, what was getting in their way of functioning effectively in class, I might be willing to figure some way to help the little twerps out.

I understand that things come up--family issues, delayed culture shock from the transition between high school and college, hard lessons in time management. I've had my moments as a student--even earned a D in my senior year of college, thanks to incomplete work. There'd been an upheaval within my family that summer, and... let's just say intense social anxiety in a journalism class is not helpful to the ol' GPA (the prof could probably have--rightly--flunked me). Students have come to me with issues before, and they've managed to include outright references to the stress of college in their essays--I've listened and tried to help, maybe to the point of being too lax, but I tried to work with them when I could easily have used their (lack of) progress to encourage them to just drop the course. They can't all possibly be going through traumatic events, though--it defies logic.

What does that leave? Apathy? A misplaced sense of invulnerability? Is it the effect of a modern-day high school education? A combination of factors? They aren't much younger than me, but I almost feel like there's a generation gap. Yes, sonny, when I was your age, I had to complete all my work. And by golly, we had to do it on time, too. And you, missy, quit sulking because I forgot to write the next day's reading on the board--it's in the syllabus. Don't give me that look; I expect you know how to read by this point...


My friend got to the root of the problem, though. She said, "and yet there are those few bright souls who somehow made into one of my classes that make it all worth it, the little dears." And she's right. It's not the cynicism and disappointment that'll gnaw at me and do me in, leaving me with grey hair by the time I'm 25; it's hope--that last shard in Pandora's box.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Poetic interlude

I couldn't find satisfactory poetry at the library the other day, so I went home to rifle through my stuff, seeing what I could find. How's this:

Some days we’re ripped and torn away
From the shores and tossed to a watery grave
Set adrift in the depths of the drink and in the hands of the gods we curse

We call for help when no one’s around
Shot down bleeding thoughts never make a sound
Set adrift in the depths of the dark, in the heart of the sea where we wish….

I feel it in my bones when the storm is close
Then I wait for the rain and the wind to blow
As dark colors fill the sky, I’m drenched and feeling so alive
My eyes closed tight and my ears open for the boat.

We all carry the tune we love
Think of home when the waves and the going get tough
Hold our breath and go down with the wish of just one last kiss to rest

I feel it in my bones when the storm is close
Then I wait for the rain and the wind to blow
As dark colors fill the sky, I’m drenched and feeling so alive
My eyes closed tight and my ears open for the boat.
--Chuck Ragan, "The Boat"
Want to hear it put to music? Have a listen. And if you want more, there are about four other songs streaming on his website.

Is that cheating somehow to pass off song lyrics as poetry? Maybe. I've heard the argument that lyrics are not poetry. And it's true, not all lyrics are (yes, "humps" and "lumps" rhyme, but...). Good song lyrics are poetry, though, and these are good songs on all fronts.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Not all who wander are lost"

Once again, Friday finds me exhausted, thanks to a long week of grading and teaching and hibernating in the odd moments in between.

I needed to break the routine today, the routine of "home, work, repeat ad nauseum." So I went to the library, ostensibly to get audio books for my grandmother to listen to in place of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. And I did get her books on tape, but I'd be lying if I said the time I spent wandering the rows of books was spent looking for her.

I associate the library with familiarity and relaxation, having practically grown up in various libraries. As far as I was concerned, the library was one cool place to hang out, whether it was the huge downtown branch of my childhood (there were globes about as big as I was! and they had a card catalog, which I knew how to use! and they knew me there!) or the first library I found when my family moved to a new city. Come to think of it, with an outlook like that, I never had a chance to be anything but a nerd. I didn't have many friends, but that was OK; friends often grow apart with time, but books and libraries are lasting friends.

The branch I went to today is one of the more familiar ones; I used to know a few of the librarians. I didn't see a familiar face there today, but I wasn't heartbroken--like the classic introvert that I am, I prefer my own company when I'm tired and overwhelmed. Books don't infringe on my solitude.

I wandered the rows of books without much order. I dabbled a bit in the nonfiction, hovering in the aisle with the literature books for a bit, searching for some poetry. I didn't find anything that tickled my fancy, though I did pick up some Thoreau, skimming through excerpts from Walden to land on a passage, ironically, about the value of solitude. After that, I darted over to the large print books, and then I wandered around in search of audio books. Finally, having completed the task I came for, I wandered fiction for a bit. I wasn't looking for any specific book or even reading titles; I just skimmed across the spines, pulling out an interesting looking one and just as arbitrarily putting it back. There were books at my fingertips and the smell of paper around me--doesn't get much better than that. My students had once again irritated me, so I was unwinding a bit. Once I had uncoiled, I paid more attention to the books themselves, bypassing the ones that had heart stickers on the spines (romance) and skulls (mysteries), largely ignoring the stickers that indicated a book was religious in nature--in short, ignoring the genre fiction. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I knew what I didn't want, and from there, I found a few books that may or may not be read by the time they're due in a month.

Still, it wasn't about the books themselves. I probably check out twice as many books as I actually read when I go to the library. The library itself and being surrounded by the books is the real draw. A much more efficient way would be to use the library catalog to make sure a specific book is there, or even place a hold if a book isn't, and I do these things when there is a specific book I want. But efficiency is something we have far too much of already; sometimes we need to slow down and be deliciously inefficient. So I wander libraries, enjoying the books and the quiet, lost only in my own thoughts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Carving out a little "me" time

It's so easy to get caught up in work, especially something with teaching. Like a stray, the work follows you home and just will not go away. If I ignore it too long, it's liable to turn around and bite me at some point, and I'm not too keen to find out what sort of infections I can get from a rabid pile of freshman prose. So I appease the mutt, bending over backwards sometimes and all but holding the door open for it. Ooof, but it's an ungrateful houseguest, taking over the floor at an alarming rate and devouring my little desk.

Sometimes I have to say enough is enough, though, and lock the brute away for a spell in spite of its snarling. This is usually the point at which I've begun to fray, chafing from the demands of work. I have to carve out places for me. Selfish? Maybe, but I need it.

I blog, for one thing. If, as a friend asserts, writing is a fundamentally selfish act, blogging is doubly so. I make no pretenses of universal truths or infinite wisdom; all I know is my own self-contained world. Moreover, I write with the idea that someone, somewhere, may want to read about my little bubble. And I write to think things out, sometimes discovering new things by the end of a post. "I" is probably the most frequent word in this blog; it's navel-gazing at its most obvious. Toss in a little music in the background and a hot cup of tea, and it's practically a little oasis of self-indulgence.

Music is another obvious indulgence. I have certain "comfort" albums that I've been gravitating to again lately, playing and re-playing them to get pumped up on the drive to campus or to unwind after a disastrous day of teaching. I know when I pull up the My Chemical Romance again (yeah, I know...), the stress has gotten to me; Gerard Way's been getting quite a bit of play lately. Campy pop punk is a vice if ever there was one... Even grading seems a little less tedious with a punk soundtrack.

Sometimes quiet is in order; leisure reading is something that tends to fall by the wayside during the semester until I realize that I'd like to read something completely non-work related. I hit that point last week. With this week being Banned Books Week, I figured I'd take my own advice and read a book from the list: Of Mice and Men. Sadly, I've chosen it as much for the fact that it's short (meaning I stand to finish it within, oh, the next month) as for the fact that it's on my bookshelf and never been read. I'm only reading a few pages here and a few pages there, but it's voluntary reading and hence a luxury--it almost feels like stolen time to read for a little while, and stolen time certainly is sweet time.

As Eliza Doolittle once said, though, "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words; I get words all day through, first from him, now from you...." I restlessly put the book aside in favor of doing something with my hands. That's where crocheting comes in. It's the perfect relaxation technique--it's repetitive, and it's constructive. I like having something to show for my efforts, whether it's for myself or for a friend, whether it's a pot holder, a baby blanket, or a warm winter scarf. And for extra indulgence factor, I can buy pretty yarns in funky textures. I just started a scarf for a friend, using two strands of yarn--a mohair blend and a... yarn of another texture, sort of like ribbon. It works up fast, so even in fits and starts, I make progress on it. I'm quite pleased with it, enjoying the play of the colors and the glints of sparkle in it. Crafting things by hand, while currently vogue, is still uncommon enough that giving something made by hand is usually enthusiastically received, so I take a bit of smug pleasure in doing so. Even the seemingly altruistic act of making and giving a gift is selfish. See? It really is all about me.

Two of my favorite laptop distractions.
Image quality is the camera's fault; I am to blame for the composition.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

This school is not cool.

I'm usually embarrassingly oblivious to the news, too caught up in my own mundane existence to expend energy keeping up with the outside world. Sometimes a headline on Yahoo news will capture my attention. This one certainly did: S.C. pioneers in single-gender classes.

My first thought, a typically academic one, was "I'll bet they mean sex." Well, actually, gender is quite accurate for what this school's doing. Oh, the children are separated by sex all right, boys separated from girls, to help avoid some of the trauma of middle school and help them learn better by tailoring curriculum to each sex's learning style. I've heard theories of the differences between boys and girls; there may be some validity to it, but I suspect a large portion of that is socialized, or attributable to gender.

This school truly is separated by gender, though. Boys are loud and need to move around, so teachers use microphones and incorporate movement into the daily routine. Girls "can take yelling more personally than boys," so their teachers lower their voices against a backdrop of classical music. I can say which classroom my middle school self would have preferred, and... it wasn't the carefully cushioned atmosphere allocated to girls. But I'll play devil's advocate for a moment; some girls may prefer that soothing, dare I say, nurturing atmosphere--then what? In the long run, will they be prepared for a world that doesn't slow or quiet down for anybody? I think not, unless they are being prepared for a world where their delicacy is held at a premium (nineteenth century separation of spheres, anyone?).

Minor details, though, really. Let's look at the content differences. Boys in math get to sprawl out on mats, "using skateboard parts and measuring tape to learn pre-algebra." Girls survey each other about shyness and puppies (the only things missing are rainbows and glitter) to learn about fractions and percentages. Oh, that's right, girls don't do well with math, and they've got that chatty thing going on, whereas boys are more about logic and being hands-on.

Then again, I'm a humanities person--math's never been a passion of mine (plus, I'm a girl, if you recall). So let's see about reading. Boys study novels with action because that's all they'll sit still for (see above). Otherwise reading's for girls. Girls, conversely, don't usually like science, so the way to make it more palatable is to let them study "what [they] like... allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects." That's right; the only way to get the sweet little gals to like big bad scary science is to make it relevant to their interests. By definition, then, girls must be interested in make-up. Well, if they weren't interested in make-up before, those lessons would certainly teach them that make-up should be something relevant to their lives. I've heard the theory that separating the sexes cuts down on distractions; this seems to take away the distraction but still reinforce the process of objectification for male appreciation. In other words, it teaches girls to embrace stereotypical femininity. Sounds like conditioning to me.

One man touts the success of the program with his daughter: "He believes that because she wasn't self-conscious about boys' opinions of her, his daughter felt comfortable speaking out in class and her confidence flourished. She was eager to go to school every day, he said." Now a freshman in high school, the girl is doing well. OK, one success story. There are bound to be a few kids whose learning styles mesh with their designated gendered classroom styles. But what about the ones who don't fit those molds? It seems to me the atmosphere would only exacerbate the trauma of early adolescence. They may no longer have to contend with their peers of the opposite sex; instead, they're left to contend with an entire school culture that says "this is what a boy is, and this is what a girl must like," finding themselves not matching up to what the adult authorities say they should be--how is this less scarring an experience? The quiet boy and the rambunctious girl alike would be alienated and made out as somehow out of touch with their own genders.

My grade: F.