La Lecturess

(But our beginnings never know our ends!)

Email: lecturess[AT]gmail[DOT]com

Recent Posts Archives Things I Read and/or People I Like

Late Spring To-Do List

  • Read scholarly book #1
  • Read scholarly book #2
  • Catch up on professional journals
  • Administer evaluations
  • Grade seminar research papers
  • Write two final exams
  • Grade final exams
  • Compute final grades
  • Order books for fall
  • Find apartment in New City
  • Attend INRU Commencement!

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Well, I guess some money is better than no money, right?

So I got my first paycheque today, right on schedule!

That's the good news.

The bad news is that, after taxes, it's much, MUCH less than I expected. Fully 27% of my gross has gone to taxes (my extra benefits also eat up a little money, but only about 2% of my gross). Is this normal? I can't possibly be in the 25% tax bracket, with what I earn. I know I'll get a lot back come tax season, but damn! Right now, after I deduct my transportation costs, I'm making about what I made last year, between my part-time job and my teaching salary.

So, there goes my plan to pay off a chunk of the $2000 I had to charge to my credit card this past month, while I was waiting for this fucking paycheque. Not to mention my computer. And all the debt I've been carrying for all these many, many years.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:10 PM | 8 comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Diss submission break-down

So, yes, it's submitted--and although I'm not supposed to know who my readers are until after the faculty have voted, I wound up seeing the form with their names & addresses when I dropped off the unbound copy of my diss at the grad school.
  • Reader the First: senior faculty, former chair, current DGS, and one of my recommenders. Said fac member is not in my period, but has already read 2/3 of my diss and I believe really likes it.
  • Reader the Second: golden child associate prof whom I've known since college, whom I've TAed for, and who has written me about 15 rec letters over the years.
  • Reader the Third: Eccentric senior prof who may or may not know me from a hole in the ground; really the only person in my field at INRU with whom I don't have ANY relationship. Said person did attend a colloquium at which I gave a paper last year, though.
They're very heavy hitters, but I feel good about them. I don't have any doubt that they'll recommend approval, but I hope they like it. At any rate, I hope that their collective wisdom will produce useful feedback for my eventual revision process.

Everything else went well, though today was a miserable day to be trotting around with 10 lbs of dissertation slung over one's shoulder: windy and rainy, the rain blowing sideways much of that time. Still, it was rather nice to be back in Grad School City. I think it hit me today that this is it: after eight years of living in that city, ten and a half of being enrolled as a student, and three of teaching the younger generation, I'm really done, and it's not my school or my town any more. Of course, I'm an alumna and I'll be back in town occasionally for the rest of my life for the big football game or for college reunions, but I still had a strange and somewhat empty feeling as I wandered around campus.

After turning the thing in, I went and bought myself lunch at my favorite pub-y restaurant: a big ol' turkey club sandwich and an equally impressive glass of Jameson's--practically the size of a double. (Did they know I was celebrating? Or did they just figure that anyone who was drinking at 2.30 on a rainy Thursday really needed it?) Then I did some window shopping, which turned into real shopping: a black top on sale at Ann Taylor and a pair of FABULOUS shoes on massive sale at a nearby boutique: Via Spiga 3-inch heels, in shiny dark brown calfskin with punch-work detailing on the toe (rather like what you see on wingtips). Retail: $164. On sale? $45. No tax.

Then I got myself back on a train, and now I'm home and totally screwed for my classes tomorrow--supposedly, I'm giving a mini-lecture on a topic about which I know lots of odds and ends, but which I've hardly organized into anything coherent. Wonder if I can wing it.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:45 PM | 4 comments

Grand total: $270.30

  • Paper and toner for one copy of dissertation: approx. $2.00
  • Three velo-bound readers' copies, courtesy of Kinko's: $68.80
  • RT train fare to Grad School City: $28.00
  • Bus to campus (hey, it was raining!): $1.50
  • Grad School diss binding fee: $20.00
  • UMI copyright registration fee: $45.00
  • Pre-ordering three bound copies through UMI: $105.00
Being done? Priceless

(And, yes: that whole "priceless" shtick would be much more convincing to me and everyone else if I did not now have more than $50K in student loans and credit card debt in the high four figures.)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 7:25 PM | 10 comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Remedial comp, redux

Faithful readers of these pages will recall the problems I was having with my comp class, and how I was pretty much hating the course, the students, and everything else about it.

Things have gotten much better since last I wrote. The class period is still long, the interpersonal chemistry still isn't great, but I've been managing to fill the time with enough activities, the readings have started building on one another to the point that there's something worth talking about, and I've finally just started importing wholesale the rhetoric-based techniques I used in my comp class last year (which, as far as I can tell, aren't a standard part of how writing gets taught here at Big Urban). We discussed the three appeals on Monday, along with issues of audience, and my students were WAY more on top of that shit than they've been on the larger, vaguer, more topical questions that supposedly freshman here are really psyched to discuss. As GWBoyfriend says, "These kids do well with tools."

And then there was today. Today I had nearly five hours of individual conferences to look over and discuss my students' rough drafts--and it was fantastic. Seriously. I mean, it was a long-ass day, and I really should have thought ahead before scheduling eight of those conferences back-to-back (hello, bathroom break), but this is the first time I've exchanged more than a couple of sentences with any of my students one-on-one. . . and they were so sweet and shy and funny and eager, and for the most part very different from how they are in class.

One student, who always looks pissed off or exasperated in class (and never more so than when she's raising her hand to answer a question), came in all anxious and apologetic, telling me how bad her paper was and how she didn't know how to write--and she refused to sit in my office as I read it--but her paper was actually fantastic, and very raw: she concluded it by saying that she was angry about how she was raised, didn't really know how to be who she was supposed to be, and didn't like who she was. It was a draft, but it deserved a B+ right there.

Other students wrote about similarly personal issues, albeit rarely in such direct terms and never quite as well. I learned a lot about them, and I was impressed. Yeah, a few of them are terrible writers, but all of their papers had their moments, and most demonstrated extremely sharp self-analysis and self-reflection; I was surprised by what they were willing to write and let me read, and I came away feeling really good about their potential as thinkers and learners.

And, finally--I'm hopeful that this might represent a turning point for our classroom dynamic as well. Maybe having met with me one-on-one will make them feel that they and I now have a relationship that they trust and that they have a stake in, and maybe that will translate into more classroom participation.

One can dream, anyway.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:38 PM | 2 comments

Monday, September 26, 2005

Found item

Discovered on the podium in one of my classrooms:

An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, in the dead center of which is typed

method of tenacity - ostrich
1. method of authority - church
2. a priori

If anyone had any idea what this means, what course it could possibly have been left over from, or what classroom use it could serve, I long to hear from you.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:07 PM | 5 comments

Hooray! (I think?)

I gave a copy of my dissertation to Advisor a week and a half ago, and since I hadn't heard anything from her I sent her an email yesterday to check in and make sure that the thing was okay to submit later this week.

She wrote back with a three-sentence email saying that she had "skimmed" Ch. 4 and sent an email to the DGS to say it was ready to be submitted. She added, "Full speed ahead. It is beautifully presented."

Several things occur to me here:

She's saying, I'm quite sure, that she didn't actually read anything (although I'm willing to believe that she flipped through the thing). Had she read any of it, I think she'd have made at least a passing comment about my introduction (completely new) or some of my revisions to Ch. 4 (quite significant).

This disappoints me, although maybe I should regard it as a compliment: she's a very important and powerful woman, very concerned with who and what she's associated with--and she trusts me and my work so much that she doesn't even have to read the final version to know that it will reflect well on her! In fact, she fucking loves my work! Well, maybe. But even if that's true, it's still a little disappointing.

Next, what does that "beautifully presented" mean? She likes the typeface? My margins are a-okay? She thinks my epigraph is awesome (which, actually, it is)?

I know that I shouldn't obsess over this, and that I should just be happy to be done and to have Advisor's approval, whatever it's based on--but, damn. I just can't believe that this is it, that life goes on, that nothing really changes as one crosses the line from being notdone to being done. Can't I get a thoughtful line or two from her, reflecting on the work I've done? A pat on the head? A big-ass party?

I've mentioned feeling like the middle child in her advisee family, but she herself is like the classic remote, withholding 1950s father that the child never feels she can satisfy but whose approval is the only thing she values. I do treasure every sign of her approval, and she's given me several of late--but always in the hasty, oh-yes-you manner of that email quoted above.

Ah, well. I guess I can always throw that party myself.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:16 PM | 4 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Odds & ends

Apologies for the light blogging of late--I've hardly had a moment to myself for days.

Lowlights of those days:
  • An all-day Human Resources orientation at Big Urban on Thursday--Thursday being, otherwise, one of the two-non-teaching, non-commuting days that my sanity depends upon
  • Getting about five hours of sleep both Weds and Thurs nights
  • Getting stuck on the subway for AN HOUR Friday morning, standing the entire time
  • Thus missing my train to Big Urban, thus requiring me to sit around the train station for over an hour to take the next one, thus arriving on campus exactly 7 minutes before my first class (luckily, my classroom building is a 4-minute walk from the train station).
Highlights of those days:
  • George Washington Boyfriend in town Thurs eve through Sun eve!
  • Going to see a really awesome new play by our friend PW1 on Friday night
  • Spending 12 hours Saturday up at the Chateau Fergusberg

The highlights almost make up for the lowlights (although all of them have made me rather tired and worried about how on top of my shit I actually am for the coming week). Saturday was glorious: sunny, and even rather hot in the sun, but still the first day that really felt like fall around these parts. GWB and I took the train to Small City, where the Fergusbergs live, and they and we and a whole bunch of friends had lunch and then . . . went apple-picking!

The orchard up the highway is situated in a lovely little town and is nice in itself, although the experience is clearly geared toward cityfolk and suburbanites: ooh, a petting zoo! Homemade ciders and pies and preserves! Indian corn and pumpkins! Easter-Island-like figures made out of hay bales! And, of course, delicious but overpriced apples that require far more time and effort and are more expensive than the same apples bought in a store.

But what the hell: you're paying for the experience, right? And it's an enjoyable and even rather meditative activity, this wandering through the trees picking out your own fruit. GWB and I had gone with just the Fergusbergs last fall, on the last day of the season, and quite enjoyed it. And if this time there were mobs of people and the whole experience felt a tad less fresh and a tad more artificial, we still enjoyed the excursion and the company.

After picking our fill, we caravanned back to the Chateau, popped open some beer and uncorked the wine, and spent the next four hours drifting in and out of the kitchen and sunroom, talking, preparing dishes for our apple-themed dinner, and grazing on the endless supply of snacks. The Fergusbergs are fantastic cooks, great hosts, and have such gatherings often, but this one was bigger than usual: in addition to our usual group of 11 (college friends + sig oths), we had two additional college friends plus Marielle (the female Fergusberg)'s brother, his girlfriend, and dog, who are all Katrina refugees and are currently staying at the Chateau.

And I don't know if it was the larger number of guests, or the mellowness of this time of year, but this particular party was even more enjoyable than our gatherings always are. J-Fav just lost her father unexpectedly, only two weeks ago, and yesterday she and G-Fav announced that they're having a baby (the first pregnancy in this group of friends)--and I wonder whether it isn't all of these changes, the one so tragic and premature and the other so happy and full of promise, that made me more aware of how much I treasure these and all my friends, and how lucky I am to have them still. I hope that, ten years hence, we're still getting together to drink and eat and laugh together.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:51 PM | 2 comments

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wait, I've heard this one. Something about a beam, and someone's eye . . .?

Well, it's finally happened. And I want nothing more to do with that man.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:25 PM | 4 comments

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Seven things meme

Once again, too tired to blog (and I have to get up at 5-fucking-a.m. tomorrow for a ridiculous 9-hour HR orientation at Big Urban), so here's my version of the 7-things meme as seen pretty much everywhere lately--Crazy's, Clare's, Stewgad's, et al.

Seven things I plan to do before I die:
1. Get a tenure-track job in which I'm content
2. Publish a couple of well-received books
3. Travel through India and Egypt
4. Live in Europe for at least three consecutive months
5. Work my Latin back up
6. Read all of Pepys' diary
7. Live in the same city as George Washington Boyfriend

Seven things I can do:
1. Write backwards (i.e., so the text can be read in a mirror) rapidly and flawlessly
2. Regale you with the complete lyrics to "Come on, Eileen"
3. Make an excellent, very dry Martini (and about eight other mixed drinks)
4. Arrange an extremely attractive living space
5. Install and uninstall a 75-lb window airconditioner seasonally
6. Recite from memory various canonical poems (none, let it be said, more than about 24 lines long)
7. Create ingenious fixes for household problems with any/all of the following: Krazy Glue, binder clips, duct tape, Q-tips, tumbtacks

Seven things I can’t do:
1. Snap the fingers on my right hand (I can snap those on my left, just not my right)
2. Refrain from being a bitch when my blood sugar is low
3. Pay off my credit card and educational debt
4. Patronize establishments with names like "Pluck-U" or "Fuddruckers." I just . . . can't.
5. Wean myself off coffee or gin for the long term
6. Wear flip-flops (well, I guess I can wear flip-flops--but I find them both physically and aesthetically uncomfortable)
7. Survive a day without whining

Seven things that attract me to people of the opposite sex:
1. (Resonant) voice
2. (Great) height
3. (Good) teeth
4. Ease with self and others
5. Hamminess, esp. a propensity to do voices or impressions
6. Strong opinions
7. Sensitivity toward others' feelings and opinions

Seven things I say the most:
1. Jesus fucking Christ
2. Motherfucker
3. Um
4. Dude
5. Okay
6. Right
7. No, what I'm saying is. . .

Seven celebrity crushes:
(Man, I'm bad at this one. No one really comes to mind except old people, or dead people, or people who aren't really celebrities.)
1. Bing Crosby
2. Katherine Hepburn
3. Lisa Kudrow
4. Stockard Channing
5. Billie Holliday
6. Tom Stoppard
7. Uh, Owen Wilson, I guess?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:59 PM | 3 comments

Monday, September 19, 2005

There oughta be a (natural) law

I teach two sections of the same survey, one in the late morning and the other in the early afternoon. The students in my morning survey are generally livelier and more engaged--they may well be smarter, but they're almost certainly more on top of their reading. Usually my morning class goes very well, while my afternoon class is only okay.

BUT: on those days, like today, where my morning class is only so-so, my afternoon class is always great.

Why is this? My lesson plan is exactly the same. Am I subconsciously trying harder? Is my routine more polished after running through it once already?

Or is there some natural law at work here, of which I'm unaware?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 3:19 PM | 5 comments

Ugh, Monday

Suddenly I feel as though I'm back in the 9-5 world, with that depressed-on-Sunday-evening, what-a-long-crappy-week-ahead feeling--only, of course, it's worse because this weekend I felt such an obligation to be productive in the futile hope of being ahead of the game once papers from all 80 of my students hit virtually at once.

I did, actually, get a reasonable amount done: wrote a rec letter for a former professor of mine, who's now up for a tenured job elsewhere; finalized my job market materials, set up a spreadsheet to track my applications, and assembled ELEVEN entire job applications (right now I'm only doing those that don't yet require recommendation letters, since most of my recommenders are in the process of updating their letters); sorted through tons of papers and started various new files; painted my toenails; talked to several good friends on the phone; tried but failed to finish putting together a summary report of my research for Schmancy.

Then last night, after mass, I went downtown to D's apartment, where she and I and two other friends hung out on the roof of her building with wine and a pair of delicious French cheeses as the sun set. It was a full harvest moon last night, golden and luminous between the rooftops, seemingly suspended just a hairsbreadth away. As we chatted and drank, Mr. D., meanwhile, was slaving away over a hot stove four stories down--"getting in touch with his creative side," D shrugged--and shortly after 9 p.m. we went down to feast on his creations.

Really lovely. Except that I spent all the long subway ride home fretting about how unprepared I was for my classes tomorrow (today), and wondering whether my relative lack of concern about same made me a bad teacher.

Damn. What happened to the summer?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:03 AM | 2 comments

Saturday, September 17, 2005


One of the things I hate about the travel industry is the way that airfares can change from one day to the next. However, being my father's daughter, I'm a fairly patient comparison shopper.

I'd been looking for a ticket to European City for a conference at the end of October, and prices were hovering between $600-$800--but I have real restrictions on my departure time that were making tickets in the cheaper range hard to find. A few days ago I'd finally come up with a fare around $650, through United (my preferred airline), that seemed like my best bet. . . but when I checked back last night, the fare had gone up by some $100.*

But TODAY I found the lowest fare I've ever seen, and also through United: $535! And booking through the company website gave me an extra 1000 miles, meaning that, altogether, I'll have enough miles for a free ticket to the U.K. next summer. Whoo-hoo!

*In theory, I'm being reimbursed for my airfare by the conference organizers, so it shouldn't matter--but my contact has become very cagey of late about whether or how much of my costs they'll be able to cover. So, I'm not going and booking myself first-class or anything just yet.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:59 PM | 0 comments

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sensus fidelium

Although it seems that the Vatican has not yet officially ruled on whether homosexual men can serve as priests--even when living celibate and godly lives--there are signs that such a ruling, and possibly even a purge, may be coming.

This article in the New York Times discusses the investigations now beginning in the seminaries, intended to locate and root out any support for or toleration of (and one presumes, even compassion for) homosexual inclinations among future priests.

Andrew Sullivan, whose analysis of the Church I almost always agree with, points out that this is not a case of the RCC finally getting around to an issue that it had previously neglected, but that it's an actual reversal of the Church's position on gays and lesbians, which has long been that, while homosexual acts may be sinful, the orientation itself is biological--apparently an act of God--and thus morally neutral. Sullivan writes,

To bar gay people in committed relationships from the church is one thing. To bar even celibate, faithful gays from the priesthood is quite another. It is also implicitly a statement that no gay man can, in practice, live a celibate life, which is to say that the entire basis of the Church's doctrine about how gay men and women should live is false. If the church cannot expect celibacy from one of its own priests who has successfully stayed celibate for over a decade, what does it expect of the rest of us? Under this pope, I think, homosexual persons have become inherently morally sick, Untermenschen in his own language, moral lepers incapable of self-governance and liable to make the church "unclean." They cannot marry or form stable relationships; they cannot remain celibate; and they are all potential molesters of children. What other logical inferences are possible from this new policy?

(Complete post here; it's worth reading in full.)

A more emotional case is made by an anonymous gay priest in this great essay that appeared in Commonweal several months ago. The priest writes,

If the Incarnation shows us anything, it is that God loves us in our humanity, even in our weakness, as St. Paul says--perhaps especially in our weakness. We all have a need to see ourselves as loved by God as we are, even in those parts of ourselves that embarrass or sadden us. Perhaps we think ourselves too plain, too unintelligent, too untalented, or too unsuccessful to warrant God’s love. But God’s love is always far greater than we can imagine, and embraces our entire selves. In my own life, one of the most profound experiences of God’s love came when, after many years, I finally accepted that I could not change myself into a straight man: I was gay and that was simply the way God had created me. Encountering God’s love as I am was a transforming experience, one that I have wanted to share with parishioners not as an example of any personal sexual liberation, but as a sign of God’s infinite, and always surprising, understanding

. . . . .I realized that my decades spent fearing rejection and feeling marginalized had fostered within me a deep love for the materially poor of this world, who are marginalized and rejected in far worse ways.

I don't know that I have anything to add, except my fury at the direction the Church appears to be going. I'm angry, of course, at the Church's treatment of gays and lesbians, its willful blindness to the real causes behind the sex scandal, and its apparent lack of concern about what barring homosexuals will do to the already steeply declining number of priests*--but ultimately I'm most angry about what is to me the larger issue: the fact that the hierarchy seems so unable or unwilling to recognize that the church IS, in the final analysis, its members. Especially as the number of priests declines, and religious orders completely disappear, most of the work of a given parish is done by the lay men and women who run the religious education programs, act as eucharistic ministers, organize fundraisers, or even just sit quietly in the pews week after week.

My parish is blessed with a large and lively (and socially progressive!) community of Franciscan friars, but even so the work of the church wouldn't get done without the hours of mostly unpaid labor by dedicated laypeople. And in many churches, where there's only a single priest--or no full-time priest at all--the situation is even more extreme. I'm well aware that the Church isn't a democracy, but shouldn't the governed at least be asked their opinions now and again? And shouldn't those who are on the front lines of the faith--teaching religious education and confirmation classes, running the choir--be allowed to speak from their experience?

And doesn't Benedict believe in the sensus fidelium--the unerring sense of the faithful--as to when a teaching is consonent with true faith? Or does he simply think that what he senses is what we sense?

*For the record, I think both women and married people should be ordained, but if there has to be a first step, I think the most logical one is not ordaining married men, but ordaining celibate women. Not that you asked.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:40 PM | 4 comments


As seen on Wonkette.

Q: What's Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:36 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Assorted good things

  • Handed off a copy of the complete dissertation to Advisor today
  • Received an email from said Advisor (she of the insane productivity, the 16 independently-authored books, etc.), in which she wrote, "I am full of admiration at your organization." (!!)
  • MLA Job List is now up, and it looks to be another good year in my field. Several of those jobs are even reasonably close to GWBoyfriend.
  • Had a very nice meeting today with Robo-Job Officer. He's still a bit too intense for my tastes, but since he praised my materials, how much can I really dislike him?
  • Next term I'm teaching only TTh at Big Urban, thus seriously reducing the number of hours I spend on the train every week--and giving me a nice long weekend every weekend.
  • I'll also be teaching two courses I'm really psyched about: one on Super Huge Famous Author (in my field, and pretty much the bread-and-butter of my field, but since I don't actually work on him having a proven teaching record is key), and one on Pretty Darn Famous Author, whom I do work on and love to pieces.
  • Emailed the editor of Big Journal in My Field to get the page span for my forthcoming article (for my C.V.) and was very pleased to find out that it'll be nearly 40 pages. And that it's coming out in 2.5 months!
  • I caught the mouse that's been running around my apartment the last three nights. d-Con traps are the best: they seal up tight and you never have to see the beastie.
  • It looks like I'll be able to get a not-absurdly-expensive fare to European City for a conference next month--and with United, where I have an active mileage program; this trip should put me over the top for a free ticket.

Of course, it's not all such sweetness and light, and the fab teaching schedule next semester unfortunately also involves four courses (the other two are two sections of the survey I'm currently teaching), and thus a painfully long Tuesday and Thursday and an insane amount of grading and prep work--but I'm preferrring to focus on the positive for once in my life.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:59 PM | 3 comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Question for the internets

I have a Katrina refugee in one of my survey classes; she joined on Monday. I talked to her after class, told her that the books were in the bookstore, and briefly let her know where we were on the syllabus. Luckily, she'd apparently previously read the first work on the syllabus, so she won't be too monumentally behind.

However, I gave a quiz today, and she apparently only knew the answer to two of them (the two terms I had discussed in class on Monday), so she came up to me after calss to explain that she didn't have the book yet, because she works at a bookstore and they were ordering it for her so she could get it free rather than paying the $50-60 new price. It should be in next week. And I said, well, you really need to be doing the reading before then. You can't help the fact that you missed two weeks of class, and obviously I'm not going to factor into your grade any of the homework or quizzes that you missed before you joined us, but you're going to have a really hard time catching up if you don't start now. There are copies in the library. There are editions on the internet.

And I'm wondering whether this is reasonable, or if I ought to show more leniency. My instinct is to give her a 2/10 on the quiz, but be generous at the end of the term if her quiz or overall grade is borderline. I just don't think it's in her own interests to get that far behind, especially in a work that presents many students with language problems (if you know what course I'm teaching, you can probably guess which text I'm talking about!).

Also, although I don't know her escape story or anything, I do know that she's native to the area, and so presumably back home with her family rather than completely relocated. Which I think matters.


link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:59 PM | 9 comments

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On trying NOT to be the worst teacher in the world

So I emailed the course director to see whether I could meet with him and discuss my class, and I mentioned the problems I've been encountering (minus, obviously, my belief that the subject matter and materials kinda suck), and he wrote back with a few moderately helpful suggestions, probably the best of which is just to do a shitload of different things each class period: reading quiz, discussion, in-class writing, group work, etc.

That makes sense, and after coming up with about five related but very different activities I'm feeling much more positive about how things will go tomorrow. I've also been assessing my expectations for the course and from my students and realizing that I may simply not have properly anticipated what these students can do and can't do, or thought through the ways in which my pedagogy needs to adapt. For instance, I hadn't really seen much point in giving them reading quizzes when the reading load is so light (and it's pretty evident who's done the reading), but I think it's true that my students aren't always reading very carefully. Short quizzes will a) allow me to find that out, b) put them on notice that they need to be reading closely, and c) provide a starting point for discussion.

I was also a little surprised when I looked over the introductory paragraphs I'd asked them to write, in groups, for an imaginary 4-page paper that would compare and contrast two essays we'd read (and for which I'd given each group an argument, although not a precise thesis). My plan was to type these up and have a discussion on Weds about the strengths and weaknesses of each that would allow us to talk about what an introduction should do, and how to construct one. However, these introductions are a total mess. One of the four approximates an introduction with a thesis; the others are odd, semi-summaries that just kind of begin and kind of end.

Obviously, starting out by looking at these things would be a disaster, there's just so little to work with. So I've decided to do two things. First, stealing an idea from an instructor at INRU, I'm going to take an effective introduction from a published essay, cut up the sentences and put them in an envelope, and have my groups attempt to reconstruct the original paragraph. Then we can talk about the logic behind their decisions, and the ways in which good writing flows quite clearly in a single direction, each idea growing out of the next one. I'll also give them a couple more introductions to look at and talk about. Then I'll have them look at the introductions they wrote, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, and return to their groups to re-write.

Perhaps another thing I'm not doing enough of is encouraging my students to apply the readings to their own experiences. I generally shy away from that, encouraging just enough to get discussion going or to show the relevance of something we're reading to their own lives--partly because that's my personality and partly because that's my pedagogy. A great personal story can be very instructive, but I don't want class to become a big encounter-group session and I don't want to shift too much attention away from the argumentative and rhetorical strategies that I feel are really the point of the class. But at BUU, the point seems to be, in part, to get them to start thinking about the subject of the readings in newer and deeper ways and to really challenge their assumptions on a personal level. I tend to assume that that happens along the way, as they're learning to write their own arguments. . . but maybe starting with the personal assumptions can also be a good way of getting at argumentation.

We'll see. Hopefully this will become a feel-good learning moment for LL--a nice job-market anecdote to answer the "tell us about a time that you failed in the classroom and how you recovered" question. If not, well--I'll be hating life for the next three months.

UPDATED 9/14 at 9.30 p.m.
Well, it went okay. The class period passed reasonably quickly, the participation level was noticeably (although by no means dramatically) higher, and I think we got some useful stuff done. However, I still feel frustrated by the collective atmosphere of apathy that seems to threaten to overwhelm even my most engaged students from time to time--one minute they're alert and participatory, and the next, BOOM! They're staring off into space as if just unspeakably bored. I guess that the best I can do is keep busy, continue to project a brisk and upbeat manner (no matter how much I want to slap certain students upside the head), and continue to design activities that I believe are teaching them vital skills. And they can come along for the ride, or not.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:46 PM | 2 comments

Monday, September 12, 2005

The worst teacher in the world

That's me. Or at least that's how I feel about myself today, after another miserable meeting of my comp class. I hate this class. And although I know that many of the things that make it so miserable aren't my fault, I can't help but feel that, if I were a better teacher, it would be fun, lively, and productive at least some of the time.

I taught my first comp class last fall at INRU, and it was fantastic. It was a ton of work, of course, and along the way I made mistakes and learned a bunch of things not to do in the future--but overall I was really happy with my management of the class and with the fact that most of my students visibly improved as writers over the course of the semester. Based upon that experience, I was quite content to be assigned a comp class at Big Urban; in fact, I was looking forward to it.

But. There are some problems. At Big Urban, all the comp classes follow a standard syllabus organized around a topic that I personally find only passingly interesting--and that apparently my students find even less interesting. We read only one or two very short pieces per class, none of which have been substantive enough to sustain more than 20 or 30 minutes of discussion apiece. And yet my class periods are ONE HUNDRED AND TEN MINUTES. Add to this the fact that the class meets laaaate in the afternoon and the chemistry among my students is decidedly lackluster. . . and, yeah. Very bad.

I've been trying to incorporate short writing activities and group projects that build on our readings while also building writing skills--write the introductory paragraph for an imaginary 4-page paper on topic X; find three pieces of evidence that support and three that challenge a thesis we've just constructed--but everything feels just so, so painful. We'll have several good exchanges in a class period, where six or seven kids will get briefly engaged, but those good moments are punctuated by long lulls in which the most straightforward and focused questions produce NOTHING.

And the thing that kills me is that I know they're hating it, too--hating the readings, hating the pace of the class, hating the fact that they can't give me what I want (because really, at least half of them seem like good, hardworking kids; they just aren't interested in or able to engage with the material in any extended way). But what can I do? If it were my own course, I'd double or triple the amount of reading--and pick better fucking readings to begin with--and cut the class period by 30 or 40 minutes. But it's not, and I'm not allowed to do those things.

All I can do is grind my teeth and anticipate my hideous teaching evaluations.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:33 PM | 3 comments

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Holy shit.

People, I don't know how to say this, but . . . I think I might be done. With, uh, that whole dissertation thing.

I don't know how this happened. Yesterday (Friday) I was sweating over a crappy draft of my introduction on the train home from Big Urban. I got through about two paragraphs before saying the hell with it. Went out for dinner and then to see The Aristocrats with my actor friend Jonesy. (Vile, the film, but hilarious. I think I may be in love with Sarah Silverman.)

This evening I had tentative plans with two different friends, but both fell through, so I kept working off and on for most of the day. And then, quite suddenly, the intro started to look okay. And then after dinner I sat down and wrote a completely new abstract. Just . . . sat down. I tinkered with the end of the final chapter, typed up a title and copyright page, and futzed with the acknowledgements. Then I came back to the introduction, rewrote the last couple of pages, and. . . well, like I say, I think I'm done except for renumbering my pages and footnotes.

It's weird. I don't really feel any different. Maybe it will hit me once I get a physical copy (or four) out of my life? It's going to Advisor on Thursday, and will go to the graduate school at the end of the month; Advisor might conceivably suggest changes between now and then, but I doubt it (when I emailed her last week she said that she'd be happy to claim to have seen it in final form, since she knew I "wouldn't embarrass" her--that might have been a vote of confidence, but I think it's really her way of saying she is SO OVER this project).

We don't have a formal defense at INRU; after your advisor approves it, you submit the thing, several faculty members read it, they present the project and their recommendations to the rest of the English faculty, and they vote up or down to approve.

So, once it's in, it's in. Damn.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:30 AM | 10 comments

Friday, September 09, 2005


I just had a really good class with my morning survey section--I was moving all around the room, performing parts of the work we're reading, getting my students into groups, directing traffic. And everything was great!

Until I left the room at the end of the hour, looked down, and saw that my fly had been unzipped the whole time.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:07 PM | 2 comments

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Andiamo, amici!

I've just returned from a quick trip to the local research library to track down a few outstanding citations for my dissertation. This mostly consisted of double-checking page numbers, but it also involved calling up a scholarly work in Italian that I had never in fact read to begin with: I'd come across its title and description in the INRU library catalogue, determined that it dealt with exactly the subject I was discussing in one small portion of my dissertation, and threw the citation into a footnote. It's not a make-or-break reference, since I have other sources, but given that the subject in question is, in fact, an obscure bit of Italian intellectual history, it seemed cool to have an actual Italian source. But of course I'd never gotten around to checking the thing out.

Now, I should say here that my Italian is better than my Latin only because Italian is a) an infinitely easier language, and b) much closer to French (which I can read well, understand passably, and speak haltingly and with a terrible accent). So I wasn't sure how well this whole project would go, but it wound up being rather fun. Every individual section I tried to read was really quite easy to understand, but skimming was hard and I found it difficult to get a quick sense of a given passage just by glancing at it--the key words don't pop out in a foreign language the way they do in English, and I'm not even certain that I would know what those key words would be, this subject is so esoteric. Nevertheless, I did succeed in finding a few large chunks of text that seemed relevant and that will do as citations for the meanwhile.

And I think again how much I wish I were fluent in some language other than English, or even just comfortable getting around in it. I feel like such a fraud for the large chunks of Latin that I cite in one chapter, and if I'm to stay in this field I REALLY need to work that language back up at some point--but where's the time? And how would I start?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:49 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

No more white shoes

Back home now after a long weekend in Quaint Smallish City and what felt like a nearly-as-long day today teaching at Big Urban.

It was a relaxing several days, though--a good Labor Day, end-of-summer vacation--and for the most part George Washington Boyfriend and I just stayed in, catching up on work, starting the 4th season of Six Feet Under (and yes, I *do* know how the fifth season ends, damn Nancy Franklin to hell), and working our way through back issues of The New Yorker.

Saturday night, though, we went out with Dr. Fun and his fiancee, Adela, to a new restaurant/bar in town. The place was attractive enough, in a generically upscale-modernist kind of way, but the crowd was awful. Imagine the young, overly-tanned policy wonks of D.C. or the bankers of New York, with all the blustering and the bellowing into cell phones and the sizing each other up--but minus whatever intelligence or interest those people might conceivably have--combined with the trying-much-too-hard-ness of a small city. . . and you've got an idea of the scene.

We were not loving it. But midway through our first round of drinks we discovered the rooftop bar and migrated on up, where we were able to find a table to ourselves well out of the way of the meat market. The weather was gorgeous and the stars all out (some of those stars, disconcertingly, kept moving--there's an airport not far away), and we wound up having a great time. Dr. F had just returned from a writers' colony where he narrowly escaped death in a rowboat, thanks to a dangerously low tide and an island full of aggressive seals--just as last year he narrowly escaped death during a series of drunken races in snowmobile-type thingies. Adela is also a novelist, so the conversation eventually turned to the State of the Novel--but only when it wasn't turned to the perils of Spanish name-giving (Adela comes from a family of Chilean emigrees) or the sweetness of little foreign grandmothers who give their teenage granddaughters trinkets in the shape of the Playboy bunny logo, innocent of the full meaning of that rabbit head in profile.

Otherwise, not much to report. I did in fact throw together a draft of my dissertation introduction, if by "draft" one means something patched up out of my ancient dissertation prospectus, my dissertation abstract, my job letter, a four-page chunk excised from an early draft of Chapter One, a random quotation from Howard Dean, and about three pages of new text. It's dreadful, is what it is, but I was totally blocked and needed some place-holders for my ideas. Hopefully it will be better by Monday.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:10 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I just heard from an old friend today--one of my closest and most cherished friends, who's been going through a rough patch for the past few years: a not-totally-healthy relationship, drugs, and a variety of identity and self-esteem issues that I can only guess at. We live in the same city, but for a full year he wouldn't return my phone calls and I never saw him; I talked to his boyfriend once or twice, and when I walked past his building I'd check to make sure that his name was still on the buzzer and crane my neck to see if I could see signs of his desk or curtains through his fifth-floor window; anything to reassure myself that he was still alive.

We got back in touch, finally, in February, and he seemed happy when he saw me--but I got the impression that he was working himself up for it and maybe just putting on a good face while we were together; he'd answer my calls but wouldn't call me himself, and he didn't seem to want to talk about whatever was going on. I was hopeful that he was pulling himself together--but what can you do, really, but make someone aware that you love them and are there for them?

A few months had gone by and I'd been meaning to call him ever since I got back from NW City, but what with the diss and starting teaching I hadn't gotten around to it and I didn't really expect that the result would be any different. But this afternoon he called me--and then called me again in the evening--and he sounded great. Happy, excitable, and interested in everything, wanting to talk about everything. He's apparently out of his relationship, done with the tina, and is now trying, as he put it, "to re-socialize."

And--what can I say? I'm hopeful. I want my friend back.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:30 PM | 5 comments

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina disconnect

As seen in various forms at Wonkette and Andrew Sullivan:

CNN's compilation of the statements made by administration officials, most notably at FEMA and Homeland Security, versus the statements made by people who have actually, you know, spent the last week in New Orleans. It's appalling.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 6:17 PM | 1 comments

Miscellaneous tidbits

Quick update from Quaint Smallish City, where I'm spending the very long weekend (Friday night through Wednesday morning) with George Washington Boyfriend. The goal is write the introduction to my dissertation--or at least a respectable draft--so I probably won't be blogging for a few days unless something dramatic happens with either the diss itself (unlikely, but you never know) or in the outside world.

Yesterday was a productive teaching day--where "productive" means that I jolted a little fear into my survey students: I gave them a quiz. It was a ridiculously easy, 10-question jobbie that really only required that the students have paid some minimal attention in class on Wednesday, when we'd discussed a few terms (which I'd also written on the board and put on a handout), and have completed all of the not-very-many-pages of the reading. My morning section did about as I'd expected--one or two 10s, lots of 7s and 8s, and a few people who bombed out--but my afternoon section did abysmally: lots of 5s and more than a few 2s and 3s.

I didn't know their scores until I looked over the quizzes last night, but, interestingly, in the post-quiz portion of the class hour, my afternoon section was totally on its A-game, producing an interesting, lively discussion in which probably 90% of the students weighed in at least once and many students who hadn't yet said a word lead the way. Compensating for their shitty quiz performance? Realizing they maybe had to put forth some effort? Discovering that class was more fun when it wasn't just me and five students talking? Whatever. I'm happy to see it, and I'm more fun and much more of a ham myself when there's more energy in the room.

* * * * *

I haven't said anything on this site about Katrina yet, mainly because other bloggers are doing a much better job of it; the whole thing is heart-breaking, and so deeply enraging. Until arriving at GWB's place last night I was spared most of the actual images, since I don't have a television, but just listening to NPR has started me crying with every new story. I've never been to New Orleans, but I've been to Gulfport, once, and I loved the leafy old neighborhoods of 1930s and 40s bungalows set way back from the city's rather barren central thoroughfares, and flying into the local airport over those shimmering white beaches was breathtaking. I haven't seen any photos of Gulfport now, but I gather it's been completely obliterated.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:54 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Done, that is, with Chapter 4, the final chapter of my dissertation.

Those of you who are keeping up will remember that I still have to write the introduction to the whole damn project, which I don't expect to be a cakewalk--but all the same, getting to the end of my dissertation is extremely satisfying.

I find conclusions hard to write, even when I'm able to identify all the pieces that I want to be in there. It's that tone--slightly grand, slightly elegiac--that I just can't muster unless I'm in the mood, and unless I really feel done with a given subject. And I feel pathetic for admitting this, but when I do get that tone right, when it matches the substance of what I'm trying to say and when it bids a proper farewell to the material, it makes me cry. (I guess that's how I know that I have it right, but it also makes me feel like a big old cheeseball.)

I don't think I can explain it further. I've always cried at strange moments in movies or novels; moments when, for one reason or another, a sudden stabbing sense of the loveliness and vanity of human endeavors--those attempts at love or success or simple decency--comes upon me. (I bawled all through the epilogue to Middlemarch, both times, if that gives you any sense of what I'm talking about.) And the feeling that I have when I write an effective conclusion is similar, though I don't know what the referent for it is--am I just so damn moved by my subject matter? By my own deathless prose?

Dunno. But it's damn weird.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:05 PM | 7 comments

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