Sunday, December 28, 2008

Movie binge

With a lot of free time on my hands, I've been keeping myself occupied. While on the positive side that means I'm doing a lot of crocheting, it also means I've been doing a good deal of movie watching, much more than I usually do.

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
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I found a window of bliss this afternoon. Tired from odd sleeping patterns and cranky with several people, I was sprawled out on the floor. With purposeful strides, Visiting Cat approached me, butting his head under my chin. One stroke of my hand, and his motor was going. After a few minutes of this, he curled up in the crook of my arm. I shifted slightly, using my arm and him as an impromptu pillow.

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
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Define "problem"

I knew I had a lot of yarn; shoot, I haven't seen the closet floor in months. The system of organization I had was "meh" at best--lots and lots of craft store bags with different types of yarn. So I bought a bin. A big bin. A 95 quart bin.

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

Full of win.

Pardon the short post, but I think having completed all my grading in a timely manner and being done with this semester warrants a gratuitously self-promoting post.

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
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A tale of two students

They were the best of students, they were the worst of students...

(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
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sounds about right...

As an instructor of largely 18 and 19 year olds, I can only respond to this article with one word: duh.

Yup, Livescience confirms: Teen Self-Esteem May Be Too High.

Seriously, that's news?

Now playing: Bright Eyes - Poison Oak
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 5, 2008

Overheard at the coffeestand

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to ward off the chill of winter (so says the 20-something...). On my way off campus today (last teaching day!), I stopped to get a cup of tea.

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

Tumbling to the semester's end...

It's that time of year again--the mad rush, rush, rush to get everything done. My grading is currently mocking me, baring its teeth and snarling back when I try to get close enough to make a dent in it.

(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
via FoxyTunes