Sunday, December 28, 2008
Here's a sampling of movies that stuck out for one reason or another:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - My response to this is mixed. It was, for one thing, rather long and slow-moving. That in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did find myself a bit impatient. Redeeming features were a great soundtrack, stunning landscapes, and fascinating characters. Brad Pitt was surprisingly good as the famous outlaw, balancing both his human side and the less glamorous aspects of his temperament. Casey Affleck did well, though, too--his transformation from starry-eyed hero-worshipper to assassin is compelling viewing indeed.
Grace is Gone - Meh. It had potential. The story of a father who could not tell his daughters their mother had died in Iraq could have been very poignant, but it just seemed to drag, and as someone who was raised in a family that values honest communication even about uncomfortable subjects, I wanted to shake the John Cusack character and tell him to just spit it out already. Additionally, the movie tried, in a couple places, to engage with the politics of people's views on the war, and it felt too forced--and a little less nuanced than I think the writers intended.
Martian Child - Somehow, I ended up with two John Cusack movies from the library. This one, however, redeemed him. It's a story about a lonely widower who adopts a boy who claims to be from Mars. I say the movie redeems John Cusack; in a sense, it does, but the real star is the title character--Bobby Coleman plays a downright weird kid--he eats only Lucky Charms, is convinced he will float away without his gravity belt of batteries, appreciates the "holding down belt" in the passenger seat of the car, and delivers it all with a spooky otherworldliness. Ultimately, it's a sweet story about two people trying to figure out the intricacies of forming a family. If you liked K-PAX, I think you'll appreciate this one.
The Island - Tacky. 'Nough said.
Edward Scissorhands - A re-watch of an old favorite. Also, it has Johnny Depp in it. 'Nough said.
Little Women - Another re-watch of an old favorite. If I were put on the spot and asked to name an ultimate favorite movie, this would be it. The movie is almost, dare I say, better than the book, and them's strong words of praise from a staunch purist like me. Winona Ryder is engaging as Jo March, and oh, do I ever identify with so much of her character. Also watch for young Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale. The movie has it all--great acting (one of my favorite scenes is less than a minute long, but it's portrayed so beautifully in few words and poignant expression), a wonderful soundtrack, and a satisfying tale with coming-of-age aspects, a dash of romance, and an enduring tribute to the love of home and hearth and family. Gah. Listen to me ramble. It's a great movie, OK? Trust me on this.
Now playing: The Wallflowers - One Headlight
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Ever had a soft, warm, faintly purring pillow? If you haven't, you don't know what's missing.
I think he was content, too, or so I gathered from his little feline sigh and continuous soft purring.
Now playing: Poe - Fingertips
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Ayup. That's about most of it. (Minus about 10 skeins, a bunch of odd balls, and 5-7 started projects.)
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
So, go Twit. You are awesome indeed for not having throttled a single student. And when that guy whined and bitched about improving his writing, and you stood your ground firmly and only a bit impatiently, and he finally straightened up to produce better writing than he had been doing? Good going there, too. And lastly, for maintaining your sanity under grading duress, you are indeed to be admired, you overeducated twit, you. You're just going to have a great winter break, I know it, and when spring semester rolls around, you are going to kick ass with those syllabus revisions. You are full of win indeed (and only the least bit schizo for addressing yourself in second-person point of view).
Now playing: The Gaslight Anthem - Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
(Sorry, Dickens, man. Couldn't resist.)
A theme that I've been continually pondering this year in general and this semester in particular is perspective--keeping things in due proportion, not allowing the negatives to prevail, not blowing positives out of proportion, either. Sometimes it's easier than others, like today.
I administered the first of four finals to the class that is, frankly, my biggest headache. Attendance is spotty, students would rather Facebook or visit with their buddies than listen, and no matter how many times I repeat the most basic of concepts, they do not seem to be able to retain anything. One particular student has all three strikes--and the grade reflects that. Naturally, it's my fault. The grade, this student said--upon looking over the test, paper, and quizzes I handed back--was "bullshit." Vocal intonation? Indignant, delivered in a rising pitch.
In the same class period, I had some slightly different feedback from a student who's coasting to a smooth A finish. "I hope you don't think I'm trying to suck up or anything, but I really learned a lot in this class. I think I'm a better writer now. Thank you." I played it low-key in my response, but those were sweet, sweet words to hear.
Again, some perspective, though--I can no more claim responsibility for the A than I can for the F.
The A student came into the course ready and willing to learn, ready to ask questions, eager to revise, and quick to be able to apply concepts from one context into another. I sit down in tutorial with this student, see one draft, sometimes two drafts if time allows, and see a substantially improved draft by the time the assignment is due. This student's questions tend to start with, "This may be a dumb question, but..."--they rarely are. In contrast, The F student was ill-equipped to begin with; I don't refer to the lack of serious English in high school--I mean general attitude. This student speaks of wanting to learn, but demonstrates by action a sense of indignation that I deign to interrupt social hour by lecturing. Frequent exclamations are along the lines of "this is stupid" and "I just don't get it." Questions are usually the ones I've already answered five times in the two preceding minutes and will answer at least twice more because said student wasn't paying attention to my answer.
I can only do so much; the rest is up to them. I can--and do--look over each paper before they turn them in, a requirement for the course. I can tell them where they need commas, what sentences are run-ons, where transitions are needed, and how to construct a thesis statement. I can take pen to paper and cross out extraneous material, telling them to focus more on the subject at hand. I can quiz the dickens (ha!) out of them over concepts. I can remind them time and time again that attendance counts, that quizzes can't be made up, that deadlines are not suggestions, and that questions should be voiced. But I cannot make them take any of that advice. I can only guide, in some cases command, and ultimately leave the rest to them.
I am but a conduit of information at the least, a guide at the best. Which I am depends entirely upon the student.
Now playing: Rumbleseat - Restless
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Yup, Livescience confirms: Teen Self-Esteem May Be Too High.
Seriously, that's news?
Now playing: Bright Eyes - Poison Oak
Friday, December 5, 2008
After I paid, the time it took for me to put away my wallet gave me the opportunity to overhear an interesting conversation.
The guy behind me stepped up, began talking to the lady like he's a regular.
"So, do you read [the student newspaper]?"
"No, I... sometimes. Why?"
"Well, if you pick up the new one, I'm in it, and I don't want you to be upset or anything."
I don't recall what her response to that was, but he continued, "I was arrested this week. But it was for a crime I didn't commit." The paper does print names and addresses of students arrested for crimes, 75% of them being minor in possession charges.
I was certainly intrigued by this point, but my wallet was in my purse, the lid was on my tea, and I could only be so surreptitious before I, er, stopped being surreptitious. I only caught the beginning of his story. "See, it was really my dad. He's already got a prior conviction, and he'd be in trouble if he got another, so he gave them my student number..."
I'm guessing some sort of possession charge. Still. Either that's a whopper of a tale, or he's quite the dutiful son to take that rap.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
(Yes, my grading is sentient. It's dangerous, too. I hope it doesn't bite me; lord only knows what I could get infected with from freshman prose.)
In addition to the grading crunch, this time of semester brings with it the bane of many an instructor's existence--evaluations. I have gotten some constructive feedback from evaluations, but I've also been the recipient of disgruntled bitching. I suspect nothing helpful--good or ill--will come from one campus's evaluations; for one thing, I shan't be there after this semester, and for another, it reads pretty much like a satisfaction survey with no room for even a comment or two. One class, I know, is not satisfied. They're a difficult group, and I've found myself frustrated and flummoxed by them more times than I can count. The other is, for the most part, a more capable bunch, and the classroom dynamic is a lot better--it lacks the undercurrent of hostility and frustration of the other. I will be curious to see those ratings, both classes', and I hope I can let the sting of some of the numbers roll off my back (and numbers they will be, somewhere in a range between 1 and 4--I hope I get them with a reminder of what questions were asked...).
Evaluations are also on the brain because I have another faculty observation tomorrow at the other campus, the one I will continue to teach for (assuming I receive a schedule of classes before spring semester!). By far, faculty evaluations now leave me much less tense. My department is a relatively drama-free one, and the faculty members who have evaluated and will be evaluating me are supportive. Any reservations they have about my teaching will be honestly noted, and should I have follow-up questions about how to improve on a given area, I can ask them and grow from the knowledge. They are qualified judges of my teaching capabilities, and I respect that. In addition to the faculty evaluation, I will receive student evaluations--the form allows for a combination of quantitative feedback and room for additional comments. There will, of course, be students to whom nothing I did was right, but they will always be there. From the rest, though, I may very well be able to glean a sense of what worked for people and what didn't.
If I'm honest with myself, I can already identify several flaws in the course this semester that will be duly changed. I'm ready, almost, for a new semester. This time last year I was never gonna teach ever, ever, ever again. I'm no longer going to make such emphatic, sweeping statements. A better route than teaching may someday reveal itself to me, but for now, this fits relatively well.
Now playing: The Jones Street Boys - One Last Love Song
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I need to get my blogging mojo back, and I'm not sure how to do that.
If you've continued reading in spite of a lack of content, I thank you for your patience. I hope to bring it back up again eventually. If you left because of the aforementioned, well, thanks for having stopped by. Again, I hope to fix that. If you're a new reader, I promise you I am capable of better writing. I hope to prove it again soon.
Now playing: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Windows
Saturday, November 29, 2008
In the meantime, here's a shiny toy I found online: Wordle.
It generates a cloud of words based on recent content. Here's what it made of mine:
Friday, November 28, 2008
Consumerism, for as much of a hold as it has on even my life, still baffles me. At the end of the day, folks, the things you buy are just things. They won't make up for 364 days of not being there for your child/significant other/family. Sorry.
Now playing: Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Gems I've found upon a perfunctory exploration include: a new way to heat sausage, a pointed way to register discontentment with government, some photographs that are practically frame-worthy material, a glimpse into a shopping experience that could raise some awkward questions, and a series of photos that look like they are worth at least a thousand words apiece.
This one's definitely going on the sidebar under... hmm. Vices, I think.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Right then. In a day and age when the election of the nation's first biracial president has, among other things, shown a small spike in racial hate crimes, and when blacks still have higher poverty rates than their white counterparts, and when the black-white income gap remains persistent, we ought to be worrying about dress codes. Uh-huh. Gotcha.
The kicker, though, is that it strikes me as--dare I say--racist to presume a particular racial demographic holds a monopoly on poor fashion taste.
Now playing: Tori Amos - Winter
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"All because of you,
I believe in angels.
Not the kind with wings,
No, not the kind with halos,
The kind that bring you home,
When home becomes a strange place.
I’ll follow your voice,
All you have to do is shout it out."
Music itself is good, too, though--have a listen.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
1. Taking a good book with me while waiting for someone. Even Wal-Mart's bustle and rampant consumerism become background noise when you've got your nose stuck in an Orson Scott Card book with a bookmark in hand to twirl about absent-mindedly. Eighty pages in, and I'm loving it. Wry humor and a good tale to boot.
2. I about started giggling aloud as I exited. The woman said, "Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart. Have a nice day." Immediately after that, to the person I was with, "Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart. Have a nice day." A second later, to the person behind us, "Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart. Have a nice day." Hardly remarkable, one might (rightfully) say, but it reminded me of a movie I just re-watched recently. If you haven't seen Idiocracy, you ought to. It'll probably make you laugh more than you'd be willing to admit to and then make you want to weep at the future it projects--a future whose seeds have long been sown.
3. I pulled out a coloring book and markers this evening for the first time in, well, quite a while. The picture was a Celtic-knotwork-type design, and the markers were new, an impulse purchase a few months ago. There is no simpler joy than sitting on the floor, coloring book in lap, markers spread out so you can see all the colors. Slowly, the abstract line art transforms into a colorful work of art that might not turn out exactly how you intended but usually ends up striking all the same. It's the closest a non-artistic type like myself will ever come to creating art, so I enjoy it all the more.
Friday, November 21, 2008
My overall verdict: wait for it on DVD.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
LJ Secret, though, takes up some of the slack. The mature concepts warning is largely a precaution implemented to avoid lawsuits, I guess, from parents who don't supervise their children's online activity and get upset at what kids can find. The secrets here tend to be more computer generated imagery, but the concept still stands--people confessing secrets in absolute anonymity. Livejournal has a reputation for being a haven of drama and teen blogs, and sections of it can be, but it's got a varied, thriving community of different people, so the secrets display a similar range of identifiable sentiments.
It may be voyeurism, but I find others' secrets fascinating. I would like one day to work up the nerve to submit one of my own, but it feels so personal all the same. *shudder* No, not there just yet.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Pfft. Complete and utter tripe, I said.
I stand corrected. Today's horoscope on Yahoo convinced that they must indeed have some secrets to my life.
After all, how could they know that I am in the throes of grading pain (soon to be over, but painful nonetheless)? I offer evidence:
How could they possibly know that grading makes me want to vacuum, dust, shoot, even do my ironing as avoidance tactics? It has to be more than coincidence.
Now playing: The Crash Engine - Weary Anthems
Tomorrow's horoscope says tomorrow I should be completely honest about how I feel. I'm giving back papers to two classes. I think they'll find the grades completely honest. Brutally so, some may say.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Ah, yes, much better:
Puts things right in perspective :).
Now playing: Brand New - The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows
Monday, November 17, 2008
It's cool to see language adapt and change.
Shoot, once upon a time, people probably wondered how come we started using words just invented by some scribbling hack.... Words come from the darnedest places.
Now playing: Tom McRae - For The Restless
Sunday, November 16, 2008
That's OK; lesson learned. I'm taking notes about how I'm going to re-structure the course next time I teach it. There appears to have been too big a gap between the early papers and the big research paper, so I think I'm going to break the process down into a few more short papers before the research paper. I'm also going to give students more leeway with topic choices; they'll have to pass the topics by me, of course, but I hope that by tapping into subjects that they already know at least something about or have some interest in, I'll receive better products. I realize that even I would've struggled to drum up an interest in some of the topics offered in their reader (I'd also have found a way to make a given subject work, but that's a topic for another post...).
I'm also going to spend more time addressing issues I didn't think had to be addressed in Composition II... Thanks, education system; don't worry, I don't mind playing the role of triage nurse. Gah. I really do wonder if I wouldn't be better off trying to staunch the grammatical bleeding from within the system. Can 9th through 12th graders really be much worse than the 13th graders I already teach?
This batch of essays is painful and depressing to grade; I hope for their sakes they take me up on my optional revision opportunity.
Now playing: The Mammals - Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave
Saturday, November 15, 2008
On the other hand, it seems a bit insulting to the substance of the book itself when it only costs 33 cents and is on the same shelf as a score of paperback romances.
Not that I objected, mind. I actually let out an audible squeal of delight when I found Derrick Jensen's A Language Older than Words at the thrift store, but I felt a bit like a bandit for having gotten it so filthy cheap, especially since it initially took me months of waiting on the library list to get it the first time I read it. A twenty-dollar list price, and I got it for 33 cents. Thrift stores rock.
Now playing: Dustin Kensrue - Consider the Ravens
Friday, November 14, 2008
One song, "I Knew You Before," speaks of the loss of innocence and purity of a young woman who has been taken under the spell of "magazines and media...with their plastic protocol." The song concludes, "And all I can say is I knew you before / You were beautiful back then. // You could be beautiful again."All together ladies, please, a wistful sigh. Another song, "Please Come Home," addresses a prodigal son with the plea in the title.
The song that grabbed me and made me hit re-play more times than I ought to admit, though, is "Pistol," a loving tribute to his wife. She sounds like quite the woman; I'm inclined to envy her, actually...
Thursday, November 13, 2008
My inner bleeding heart says I can't understand fully the circumstances that would lead parents to such a measure. That said... How does a person raise a child for over twelve years and then one day decide s/he can't do it anymore? That it's become too unmanageable? Children don't become monsters overnight, not even with the onset of maturity. I know teenagers are difficult; even this goody-two-shoes pitched her share of tantrums. But how does a person turn away from a blood relation so many years in the making? Some of the parents dropping kids off drove across quite a few states to do so, a time in which they had ample opportunity to think about their actions. What will that knowledge do to teenagers who were apparently already troubled enough?
It just saddens me.
Now playing: Jeff Black - Higher Ground
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A couple of students were awed by my spur-of-the-moment composition, but then one student made this observation:
"You know some really interesting people. I don't know many people like that."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
And yet, when I stopped to talk with the division secretary, she remarked that "It's four weeks to the end of the semester, and you're still smiling."
"Why do you think I'm smiling?" I responded.
I did tell my students as I eyed the stack, "There goes my weekend," and yes, it will be painful. But I shall overcome. I have not let work consume my entire life and every last shard of energy this semester, and I shall not in the last quarter.
Now playing: Murder By Death - A Masters In Reverse Psychology
Monday, November 10, 2008
I can tell the semester is getting stressful, though--I've cast aside the Jane Austen in favor of, um, fluff. Yeah, I couldn't quite get into Sense and Sensibility, so I picked up Diane Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard. I would say, "Ahhh... much better," but that seems like blasphemy. So I'll just say this: the latter is much more satisfying and entertaining a read at this moment in time.
She's a woman of my own heart, I think. This description of a library made me smile and nod in delighted agreement: "The library had been a private home once, and it hadn't lost the look of one despite the crowding of all its rooms with bookshelves. The walls were paneled in mahogany and oak, and the place smelled warm and brown and booky."
"Warm and brown and booky." I believe I now know how I am going to give my instructions to the builders of my dream country home when I am an old, contented woman.
Now playing: Jason Reeves - In Between The Rain
Sunday, November 9, 2008
On the subject of blogging, I've wooed another over to the dark side. My dear, dear friend from high school has this habit of frequently posting news stories and videos and whatnot on her Facebook profile, accompanied by some commentary that frequently sparks a discussion amongst her friends. I nagged her intermittantly to start a damn blog already, and about six months later (a conservative estimate on my part, actually), she has started one.
I am happy to be the first (or at least one of the first) to welcome Sayida Siyasa of Arabia to the blogosphere.
Now playing: Hot Water Music - Moonpies for Misfits
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Goodness, but I don't remember my own freshman year being so traumatizing.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
When I was about 9 years old, my family moved from one end of our block to the other; the move, though hardly remarkable in distance, was a vast improvement over the lower-income, high vacancy rental section we previously lived in. The end of the block we moved to was more stable, for the most part, comprised of retired couples who had lived in their homes for well over 30 years.
Our next door neighbors introduced themselves to us well before we even moved into the house; they fussed over both me and my deceptively cute two-year-old sister. They only had one grandson, and they looked forward to having two little girls to spoil. They loved seeing us play out in the yard, acting out small dramas and picking flowers and later playing with our cats. Even if our parents hadn't raised the two of us to be courteous to our elders, I don't think we could have done anything that wasn't precious. They encouraged us to come over anytime, and we did; my sister would frequently go over to swing with the wife on their front porch, sitting on her lap and practically melting in her arms.
The coolest thing they ever did, though, is probably part of why autumn is my favorite season. Because the neighborhood was an older one, many of the trees were massive; three such massive trees were in the stretch of front lawn our homes shared. The husband one fall brought out his leaf blower--not to clear the lawn of all the fallen leaves, but to condense them into one central pile. After doing so, they invited us to come over and play in it.
Know the joy of crunching through a build-up of crispy, crunchy leaves? Multiply that at least tenfold in order to understand the excitement of flinging yourself bodily into a huge pile of leaves, laughing with abandon, and heaving yourself out from underneath them to do it all over again. It's a full sensory experience--the feel of crackling leaves, the smell of them in the crisp air, the chilly nip that you only feel when you pause long enough to register the mild discomfort, the sight of the sky filtered through leaves above you and bare branches further above... There's nothing like it in the world.
It's one of my top favorite memories of childhood.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
...figures out a way to make 18-year-olds straighten up and act like the young adults they should be...
...creates essays that grade themselves...
...finds a way to fit more than 24 hours into a day that would otherwise be to short to get everything done...
Do that, and I will vote and campaign for that person, bartering everything up to my soul to get him/her into office. I'm bushed. Can't believe it's only Wednesday and I'm already this tired...
Now playing: Hot Water Music - The End Of The Line
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
As I wandered about campus for this and that, I could feel a humming sort of energy. Shoot, in spite of my pessimism, I felt a bit charged after penciling in my scantron ballot. And it occurred to me: voting is as much social as it is political. It's a way of at least feeling like one is part of something bigger, like one has done what one has been obligated to do.
It's... a cynic might call it brainwashing.
That said, I bought into it, voting across party lines and voting on a couple issues in a way that my 18-year-old-self would've been surprised to see. And I got a free, bitter cup of coffee that was worth every penny I paid.
Monday, November 3, 2008
I have ideas of how the world should work, how it could work, could be better. I believe, remote though the possibility is, that a better world is possible. I once harbored the idea that I could even have some say, some contribution to that betterment. I think part of me still hopes that's true and hasn't entirely given up on the notion.
And, as they say, the higher you walk, the farther you fall. The zeal that led me to joyfully participate in my first presidential election in 2004 met head-on with the reality that I could vote either for a candidate who could be elected or a candidate whom I could believe in. That realization stung, and the pang has stuck with me. As with 2004, this year I am faced with a choice between two candidates, neither of whom I can in good conscience support--and neither of whom I want to legitimize with a ballot cast.
I will vote on state matters; I realize, pragmatically, that the local and state levels are ones I have some say in. But I'm leaving the presidential spot blank because my idealist wants a candidate she can believe in, and my inner pessimist thinks the whole process is a sham.
Now playing: Thrice - Cold Cash and Colder Hearts
Sunday, November 2, 2008
As painful and painstaking as yesterday's weekend excursion onto campus was, the quiet of a weekend enabled me to prance about and take pictures of the autumnal beauty once the torture was done. Only one shot turned out decent, and I realize it's one of those shots that one sees in a college catalogue, usually adjacent to the one with the smiling group of students sitting on the grass with notepads on their knees and sunshine in their hair.
See? Looks quite lovely from this angle.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
I shall never be able to erase that imagery of the brutally maimed English language from my mind. The wanton mutilation and perverse lack of regard for propriety were heart-rending. I fancied myself hearing, within those endless pages of tortured prose, the death cries of a language violated beyond recovery. Much as the experience appalled me, I could not look away, could not remove myself from the scene of the crime, could not...
In spite of some attempted resistance from some of us few brave souls, our fight, we learned, has been for aught. In the end, we were overtaken, forced to admit that our attempt at rebellion was only triage at best.
I truly hope I do not ever have to participate in remedial-level, department-wide writing assessment again.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I sit down with them and mark as I go, a flurry of red. I grade final drafts in other colors--sometimes blue, sometimes purple. This time it was green.
While handing back papers today, I overheard this comment:
"It looks like freakin' Christmas all over my paper."
Now playing: American Steel - There Could Be More
Friday, October 24, 2008
Have a good weekend, folks, and in the meantime, enjoy an oldie but goodie: Greensleeves. This has been my favorite rendition so far, both in terms of the music and the video.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Each semester, I get at least one essay on two recurring topics:
Hunting (and the benefits thereof)
Football (see above).
The former I don't mind so much; I learn interesting things from those, whether it's different weapons and methods or even facts about the animals' survival instincts that help them avoid being dinner.
But the football essays just... Some of them are solid enough essays. They're clear, explanatory, and meet the criteria of the assignment. They all run together... Next semester, that's going on my "no-no" topics list.
On the topic of "writing what you know," I've decided to go for National Blog Posting Month in November. I made it last year, so I'm hoping to do so again with similar success. Wanna play along?
Now playing: Nick Cave - Into My Arms
Monday, October 20, 2008
I knew it was a bad idea to go to that place of dubious repute so soon after payday. I knew temptation would only be a heartbeat away, knew that before I could so much as register it, my pulse would commence to racin' and my will would weaken, and yet--I pursued temptation anyway. The first lapse was egregious enough, but to abandon all pretense of moderation in an episode that could only be described as hedonism--well, there is no penance great enough for that failing. I know my weaknesses, too--a glimmer of intelligence, a provocation of thought, a beauty that emanates from a homely, sometimes battered-looking source--
Damnit, I have no defenses against the wiles of a used bookstore that offers special sales to educators.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
He held out a hand for a shake. "Congratulations," he told me, apropos of nothing.
"For what?" I asked, puzzled.
"Oh, I don't know. There must be something worth congratulating."
"O... kay." I returned the handshake. "Congratulations to you, too, then."
"I just finished grading 40 essays," he said.
Finally, I got the idea. "And I finished another round of paper tutorials with my students," I said.
"The thing is, this time I can see improvement. It's the time of semester for that." A worthy feat for congratulation indeed.
I thought about that a second. "You know what? Me too. They are improving. This coming batch of papers is a little better than the previous ones."
The thought sent me off to my first class with a smile. A little perspective is useful sometimes.
Now playing: Able Baker Fox - October
Monday, October 13, 2008
My family's kidded me for a while now about being a 40-something at heart. It started with innocuous things at first--my tendency to drink hot tea in the evening, a love of crocheting. When I started tutoring writing, they ramped up the harassment. You see, I had been complaining about the things the "kids" I tutored did. The "kids," I note, were not much younger than me, chronologically speaking.
And if I started feeling alienated from my fellow youth by virtue of tutoring, teaching completed the process. The constant phrase on my lips these days is something along the lines of "I never would have done that as a student." I never would write phrases involving the word "booty" in a proper academic paper, and wouldn't have dreamed of using the word "asshole." For that matter, I wouldn't have missed class two weeks in a row and wondered why my quiz grade was pulling down my overall average so much. I wouldn't have sent e-mails with a complete lack of punctuation and capitalization (and yes, we did have computers when I was a wee undergrad).
I wouldn't have surfed the Internet and played online games while my teacher was talking. And if I had, I wouldn't have done it again, much less in the same class period. And if I were to do it, I wouldn't have harbored the delusion that my slowly tilting the monitor away from the center of the room would go unnoticed. And if my teacher were to have called me out on my antics, I would've scrambled to close the game window. Stat.
And, and, and... I tell you, the kids these days... They have no respect for time, their own or others'. And by "others'," I here mean their instructor's. If I had an appointment with one of mine, I'd make darn sure I made it on time--early if possible, on time at least, and if I were late, I'd be genuinely repentant. I'd be especially cordial if I knew I was one of 42 such conferences to take place over the span of three academic days, outside of the allotted time--
Is a little courtesy and consideration so much to ask for? I swear, those "millennial kids," they'll herald the end of civilization as we know it, what with their slackerdom and misplaced priorities and overall slovenly ways. They're nothing more than fondling fops and scurvy sneaksbies.
If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get a cup of tea to ease the tension of the day. This stress isn't good for my blood pressure.
Now playing: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)
Friday, October 10, 2008
This week, I finally purchased The '59 Sound. I consider it an investment; it has barely left my car CD player this week. What is their appeal? Well, they're either a punk band with a bluesy feel, or they're a blues band with punk sensibilities. Whatever the case may be, they write heartfelt and catchy tunes. More than once I've caught myself bobbing my head, drumming the steering wheel to the tune, and singing along (and this in the midst of mid-term grading stress!). They have a sensibility I can identify with--the songs go from bittersweet, older-sounding reminiscing ("Here's Looking at You, Kid"), to youthful exuberance ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"). More than that, though, their references don't date them as a young culturally oblivious band; allusions include Elvis, Tom Petty, Audrey Hepburn, and even Charles Dickens ("Great Expectations"). And the vocals, like many of my favorite bands, are distinctive--a little gravelly, a little wary sounding.
My absolute, absolute, hands-down favorite song is "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." The opening chords grabbed my attention immediately, the opening lyrics made me nod in wistful agreement, and the chorus had me tapping my foot and singing along with joyful abandon. Give it a listen, or two, or three, or... Just leave a comment. Let me know what you think.
Now playing: The Gaslight Anthem - Film Noir
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Murphy laughed right in my face, the bastard. I had no one to go with. I had to find an alternate plan, so I reverted to an old stand-by: a rambling walk in the park. Ramble here is an operative word: the park I planned to explore was really more of a riding trail than a walking one, so I followed a couple winding streets through some rural stretches, ending up in my old suburb, which I knew had a great walking trail. Indeed, the trail I strolled was within walking distance of my old neighborhood.
A good stroll it was, too. Follow me, and I'll take you through it. We can skip the rec center parking and the crossing of a back road to get to an entrance to the trail. It's an open area to start with, a few trees, a trash can, a bench. Road behind you, trail ahead. Some trees. And wait, something's crashing through the trees. Several loud somethings--several big somethings, the silhouettes indistinct. Suddenly, there they are in the clearing--four deer. Before I can even grab my camera, they're gone, in and out of the trees, across the trail, seeming to play in the sunny early afternoon. I follow in their general direction.
The leaves are still mostly green, and many trees are festooned with spiderwebs. Thistles grow here and there, along with a few black-eyed susans. The trail goes in and out of the trees, over a couple bridges. When a bike rider approaches from across the bridge, I hear the clatter of wheels over boards.
This one bridge had all sorts of writing on it: names, dates, logos, and the following message that clearly means something to someone:
Just past the bridge, more trees. Rain has started to fall, and I briefly have to weigh my choices: continue in the hopes the rain ceases, or turn back? I decide to gamble on the rain ending. It pays off, slowing from its gentle patter to an end. Ahead, too, a consolation prize for an earlier missed opportunity:
The others enjoying the trail with me were silent and cautious. For my part, I moved slowly when I was aware of their presence. The one in the forefront was the most expressive, craning its neck to re-examine me, trying to discern my intent. I clicked away, snagging a few shots before they scampered away.
I watched them until I couldn't see them, which, er, didn't take long. So I go on my merry way. Spider webs dangle across the path from time to time, some of them snaring leaves so they look like flashes of red suspended in mid-air. One strand had a spider dangling from it, leaving me to dodge it abruptly. Shortly thereafter, I hear some crackling noises from the trees. To my side, within ten feet, I see...
Lest you think this post nothing more than a series of en-deer-ing shots, I did also take some pictures of other nature-y things. Not all of them turned out to my satisfaction; few do. This one did, though. I'll be darned if I know what the vine is, but it is spiky, and spiky things are nifty by my book.
Shortly after the vine-draped bridge, I turned around to head back, aware that the further I went, the further I'd have to walk back. My legs by this point were starting to register complaint. Pacing across a classroom just isn't adequate exercise to prepare for a 45-minute walk. The occasional bench tempts me to sit down, but I decide not to--getting back on my feet will be that much more work. Onward, then. Goodness, but I've gone quite a ways, following a fork here and a turn there. My inner compass remembers which turn I took where, though.
It's less exciting this time around. Until... until I hear a sort of...crunching sound...
I really don't know how many deer there were in the park today total, but on at least three separate incidents, I saw deer. In the middle of the day. I thought that was pretty nifty. I do not think they were so impressed. Ah well.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I try to take the opportunity to read, or re-read, a banned or challenged book in its honor. This year it's Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. The first time I read it, I was 13--a very sheltered, conservative 13. I squirmed as I read it, sure that lightning would strike me down at any moment. But I read it anyway, intrigued, and no well-intentioned adult tried to take it out of my hands, a notion I have only in the last few years realized was radical. I'm not sure what censors are afraid of, but I was at the time quite grounded in religion, and as heretical as what I was reading was, and as thrilling as the aspect of reading the ideas was, 13 years of strong guidance weren't so easily discarded upon the fleeting fancy of an author's fictional conceit. Is it so radical a concept that children will encounter new ideas and sometimes ideas that are more mature or radical than what they may be ready for, whether those ideas are in book form or otherwise? Seems to me the route to go would be to encourage healthy inquiry and, as a parent, be willing to discuss those ideas with the child, not run around trying to eliminate them entirely...
My response to Pullman now? Well, I'm only in the first book of the Dark Materials trilogy, so I'm not yet into the deeper stuff, but I'm enjoying the tale all the same, and I'm definitely not waiting for the lightning this time around. Circumstances, encounters with new ideas, and the intervening years have quelled that original conservativism--some of which came in the form of books, but many from life itself. The Golden Compass is a tale of adventure and growing up--a timeless combination, and I'm enjoying it for that reason.
What about ye gentle reader(s)? What challenged or banned book will you be reading?
Now playing: Bayside - Have Fun Storming the Castle
* - Goodness, but I'm tired. That sentence actually entertained me.
Friday, September 26, 2008
One semester I found female-fronted gothic metal great to grade to. Another it was emo music I hesitate to admit liking. This time around, I was exploring the music of Nick Cave, in part because he's supposed to be scoring The Road, a movie I dearly hope does justice to an amazing book, and in part because I'd heard his name bandied about and always meant to explore his music.
But the joy of online radio like Last.fm or Pandora is in its related music, which can take you down new paths of discovery. In this case, the stations I was listening to re-introduced me to a few artists I'd heard only in passing, songwriters like Leonard Cohen, for one. When the following track popped up in the playlist, I was entranced by it--it's a lovely song in every sense of the word, with a lovely accompanying video.
Leonard Cohen - "Dance Me to the End of Love"
(Can't embed, but give it a watch/listen. It's worth it.)
Thursday, September 25, 2008
"Crazy Aunt Jane?" she asked.
"I f--yeah. Crazy Aunt Jane."
You see, about a year and a half ago, I received a narrative-type essay written about a student's "Crazy Aunt Jane." It didn't, strictly speaking, meet the assignment prompt, and something felt "off" about it, but I was willing to concede that maybe the student just felt he could embellish things a bit. Call it the idealism of an unexperienced teacher. After all, it certainly could have been a lack of historical awareness on his part to note that she grew up when slavery was still around. Finally, I read a portion of it to a fellow GA a couple cubicles over, as we were wont to do.
I was maybe a paragraph in before she said, "It's Fried Green Tomatoes." The names had been changed, but the story was the same, and thus was my first encounter with sheer, wholesale plagiarism.
No two forms of plagiarism have been the same since, but the sting is always there. I know it isn't a personal slight against me or my assignment, just laziness and academic dishonesty, generally fueled by a sense of desperation. It still smarts for some reason that I cannot pinpoint, something beyond "Just how stupid do they think I am?" I guess the saddest part of it is, even one pinched paragraph from another source can sink what would otherwise have been a borderline competent assignment, and most times, their own worst, most incoherent writing would generally have gotten them a better grade.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I could write a whole new post about what it means to me, but I did so last year in a post that may not have generated any feedback but pleased me. Instead, a couple/few goals:
- Get out more to play in the leaves.
- Get out more, period. Gotta get back into that grading groove and get it out of the way. There are places I haven't explored in their full autumnal splendor.
- Get moving on grad school apps. (Slightly daunting)
And for the more immediate time:
- Get to bed. Long day tomorrow, long week ahead.
Now playing: Modest Mouse - Satin in a Coffin
Friday, September 19, 2008
...Because, y'know, the way to pick a president is by whether or not you can bond over a bunch of burly guys squabbling over an oddly shaped ball. If that by itself weren't asinine enough, the comments from people within the article are: one thinks McCain's stories would be interesting, but another thinks he'd have a fiery temper if his team lost. A 29-year-old thinks he'd have "more in common" with Obama, though, and another poll respondent thinks the younger candidate is "someone you could be comfortable and at ease with."
Thank you, pollsters. Were I planning to vote in November, I feel comfortable knowing that the media have done an adequate job of informing me on the important issues. Actually, not quite. There are a few things I need to know more about before I could in good conscience cast my hypothetical ballot.
As a concerned citizen, I must know their stances on caffeine. If McCain's not a coffee drinker, that's a deal breaker. If Obama likes a little bit of coffee in his creamer, it's a no-go. Furthermore, McCain's look really isn't doing it for me; my candidate needs style. And cute shoes. Lastly, and definitely not least, I must know where they both stand on the issue of soapbox derby racing. It's crucial to the running of this country.
I would like to know more about their stances on kittens, doilies, NASCAR, and wrasslin', but I do understand the constraints of time and will try to make do with what information has already been provided.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Grading a stack of quizzes and realizing yet again two things: 1) that group of students is still struggling to grasp basic concepts we've spent a week going over, and 2) they still do not know how to follow the freakin' directions. It's more #2 that's irritating, really. And I'm tired of conjunctions and sentence combining already.
I finished grading one class's set of papers this weekend. I also started revising a story and even scribbled out a silly bit of verse. Also, I made an awesome cake. Truth be told, it was the frosting I craved, but I had to convey it to my mouth somehow.
Not sure how to classify:
I got my evals from last fall, comprised of notes from an observation by a full-time faculty member (highly positive) and student evals (mostly positive). As usual, the one or two negative comments stuck with me. Unlike previous semesters, though, I read all the comments once through, registered the good ones, and was able to put them away and not dwell. Honestly, I had to laugh--the negative one was countered by another slightly less negative one complaining about the complete opposite. Also, the overall high evals from the students were probably explained by the penultimate question: apparently, 71% of them were expecting to make an A in my course. Needless to say...
Now playing: The Gaslight Anthem - Boomboxes And Dictionaries
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I present a bit of whimsy, delivered in verse form.
I dearly need my coffee,Tentative titles included "Don't call it an addiction" or the more 19th-century-sounding "Reflections upon a weeklong separation from my dearest beverage."
that potent morning brew--
it wakes me up and helps me
get done what I need to do.
It empowers me with its aroma;
its taste is rich and full.
Without it, I am exanimate,
and the world seems dank and dull.
It's a truth I will own up to,
and I won't hesitate to admit--
I may be fond of caffeine,
but I am every inch coffee's bitch.
...On second thought, perhaps "Coffee's Bitch" could do the trick.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Christopher Moore, You Suck: A Love Story. This is the perfect book for a busy, tiring week--it's morbidly entertaining, light, and quick to read. I could knock out a couple chapters before bed, get a few chuckles, and nod off. Actually first picked it up while waiting for a friend in a bookstore; read about 50 pages in one go, which says something about its ease of reading. The characters are, for lack of a better word, immature. The two main vampires were about 19 before they were turned, and their "minion" is a 16-year-old who alternates between valley girl and tragic goth caricature. I've complained about books with potty humor in them before, but I don't hold it against Moore, and indeed, a snickered quite openly at protagonist Tommy's response to the changes brought about by his transformation. Overall, a fun romp.
David Almond, Skellig. Re-read. Juvenile fiction. What I love about David Almond is the poetry in his language and deft handling of complicated issues. In this book, for example, he toys with the ideas of William Blake, death, and miracles, and he does this subtly--even though he writes "kids' books," I can re-read his books repeatedly, enjoying the room for interpretation he leaves.
Neil Gaiman, Stardust. Also re-read. Fantasy. Dry humor and an original take on old fairy tales. The recent movie was not entirely faithful, but also fun, for the record.
Patricia Gaffney, Wild at Heart. I asked my romance-reading aunt for a recommendation of a good romance novel, maybe one of her favorites. This was her rec. I will admit, it had a couple twists I didn't anticipate, but other than that, it's prety solid stock characterization and predictably outcome. Bonus points for a historical setting that didn't quite seem convincing.
Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time. Fantasy. Ah, this was golden. Religion and philosophy and death, delivered with irreverence and humor. I really do need to read more Pratchett. Up my nerd cred, so to speak.
Currently by the bedside: Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy. As far as anthologies go, this one's solid. I haven't skipped a story yet (halfway through), and it has enough variety to keep things interesting without seeming too far-flung and incoherent as a whole.
Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch. This wasn't quite what I was expecting--for all the supernatural elements at work in this book, the emphasis is more on the suspense/mystery/political side of things. Some of the twists and turns had me struggling to keep up, which is probably why it's stagnated 2/3 of the way through. It's interesting, but not good bedtime reading after long days...
Currently in the car: Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses. I've decided to give audio books another try, now that I've got a long commute again. We'll see how it goes, but I tend to set them aside after the first CD or so. It's just not nearly as satisfying as actually reading the book myself. What might give this an advantage is McCarthy's amazing prose.
Next on the to-go-by-the-bedside stack: A recent XKCD comic strip reminded me that Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves was just sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. So it's getting shoved to the top of Mount TBR. Also, I plan to read Ian McEwan's Atonement soon. Might as well put in a plug here: both these books made their ways into my hands courtesy of the good folks at Bookcrossing.
* - Because, you know, sci fi is more nerd cred than, say, a master's degree in Romantic-era literature...
Now playing: Straylight Run - The Perfect Ending
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Let me qualify that a little more. While I do take radical steps like enforcing deadlines and not allowing certain assignments to be made up and reinforcing department attendance policies, I consider the first broach of any of the requirements a mistake. A mistake with varying degrees of penalty, to be sure, but a mistake borne of ignorance of how the real world functions.
When the behavior is repeated, it qualifies as stupidity, or willful error. It's the same standard I hold other folks to.
[I also make this statement now, in week 3 of the semester. By another few weeks, I will be nowhere near as gracious. The ye olde patience is already fraying.]
Friday, August 29, 2008
a. Chatting via Facebook in an otherwise quiet classroom where the only audible sounds are the instructor's voice and the clattering of keys
b. Sitting in the front row directly in front of said instructor and surfing Facebook
c. Visiting quite animatedly with one's fellow students while the instructor is talking
d. Continuing to chit-chat after being shushed multiple times throughout the class session
e. All of the above
For the record, re: c. and d., the offending students have one-on-one tutorials with me next week, whereupon I shall warn them that if they continue to yammer in class, they shall find themselves separated, a maneuver I generally hate to resort to at the college level, and indeed, should not have to, having apparently held the mistaken expectation of some semblance of maturity or at least respect.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It occurred to me this evening that my one-year blog-a-versary (however the heck you spell it) should be coming up.
Um. Yeah. Missed it, actually.
Good thing this blog isn't, say, my lesbian lover, or else I totally would have had to buy flowers for that oversight.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The chance to return to my old stomping grounds excited me. I thought, even, before they told me I'd only get two courses and wouldn't be needed for the spring semester, that it might even entail a move to the town that I had become attached to in four years.
I realize now my attachment was not to the town, or even the university in particular--it was to a handful of people--some of whom the connection with has grown tenuous--and to the comfort of being in a department where I knew almost everybody. I don't actively dislike the job now, or the department, or the campus for that matter. But I'm no longer so infatuated with it all.
I think this job is good for me, giving me the closure I need to move on. I couldn't/didn't move on after my bachelor's, and after my master's, I gazed wistfully back. I'm back now, and the hallways aren't so high, the atmosphere no longer so glossy. I think I grew up in the intervening time.
My future's ahead, and I'm planning on doing what I need to blast my potential wide open. This involves ogling of graduate programs and dreading the math component of the GRE and dreaming of the possibilities a new degree will bring in terms of career and knowledge gained and new experiences.
Now playing: Hot Water Music - Another Way
Thursday, August 21, 2008
This had me smiling:
Stick with the article for the last line; it had me cackling. And note my use of punctuation in the preceding sentence.
Catherine Price: I'd never really thought of punctuation as gendered, though I suppose the wink of the semicolon could be considered more girlish and coy than the straightforward, masculine em dash.
Tracy Clark-Flory: Clearly, men find the em dash a reassuring phallic symbol, while the semicolon reawakens their Freudian castration anxiety. What better way to cope with penis envy than to make frequent use of the semicolon?
Now playing: This Providence - Card House Dreamer
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tomorrow, new students to get used to as well. New class dynamics to marvel at, new names to memorize, new voices to watch struggle to emerge.
Each semester I teach, so many new things. I learn things--new excuses and antics to be wary of, new behaviors to despair of, new struggles--and on good days, triumphs--to witness, new information to learn of via research papers, new anecdotes to share with those who tolerate my teaching tales.
Each generation of faculty, too, has its own "new" things. Two years ago, I don't think that semester (college) orientations covered what to do in the case of a gunman on campus (with horrific consequence, I acknowledge). Building lockdowns would have been the merest of afterthoughts, and the follow-up questions about how to stay clear of the windows might not have been asked with all somberness. The refrain of "when in doubt, report. Better to be safe than sorry" is a disheartening one when you think about it.
Students have long been afraid of faculty; times change, and the tables turn. Are we safer now than we were, or just more frightened?
...Seriously, I'm more petrified at the sheer bulk and quality of their prose than the remote prospect of their violence...
Now playing: The Mountain Firework Company - the exit's at the back