Friday, September 26, 2008

Multimedia Friday: Dance Me to the End of Love

In the pursuit of making the grading process less painful (a difficult, and indeed, often futile venture), I branched out with new musical exploration. Ah, online radio is great stuff.

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 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

"Guess what I found in the essay I just finished looking at?" I fumed to the nearest person I could find.

"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

My favorite time of year

September 22 means the official beginning of my favorite season: autumn. Even its very name sounds lovely, I think, suggesting a pensive maturity to the year. (Let's not even acknowledge its shorter, less-elegant sounding alias.)

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
via FoxyTunes

Friday, September 19, 2008

Election madness

Here's one for the WTF files: a recent poll asks which presidential candidate respondents would 1) prefer teach their children, and 2) sit down and watch football with them.

...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

Desultory thoughts


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
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SS: Coffee

Though I am sporadic in following Sunday Scribblings prompts, I knew I simply could not pass up this week's prompt... for reasons which should be made amply clear momentarily.

I present a bit of whimsy, delivered in verse form.

I dearly need my coffee,
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.
Tentative titles included "Don't call it an addiction" or the more 19th-century-sounding "Reflections upon a weeklong separation from my dearest beverage."

...On second thought, perhaps "Coffee's Bitch" could do the trick.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bookish adventures

For some reason, most of my reading this year has been sci fi/fantasy. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've flown the nerd flag proudly for years now*. Most recent first.

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
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Heh. I didn't say it...

...Though I agree with the statements by spells, I also acknowledge that anyone not held accountable for his or her failures and given multiple do-overs for a good 12 years is probably going to be a little... uh. "Dense" is a gentler word, isn't it?

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.]