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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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Rock on, airport shopping

What with all the time I spent today first in European City Airport and then in Heathrow, I wound up wandering aimlessly through a lot of shops. Which shops resulted in:
  • A two-pack of 1-liter bottles of Jameson's, for 27 euros, or about $33 US (bottles run around $28 EACH at my local liquor store)
  • Random, last-minute, not-totally-crappy gifts
  • Franz Ferdinand's debut album, for 8 pounds sterling (the new release was there, too, but for 11 or 12 sterling--which, with the exchange rate, fucking hell!)
  • A hugely overpriced donut and even more ridiculously overpriced bagel sandwich. But by that point, it was all fake money anyway.
Uneventful travels, otherwise. Read for my classes, made up a quiz for my comp students, wrote a pretty damn enthusiastic recommendation for a former student I don't actually totally love (but who's smart, very hard-working, and I'm quite convinced would be an exceptional summer intern), and finally started in on Slammin' Sammy Pepys. Good to be home. Not so good to be teaching tomorrow.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:45 PM | 2 comments

Friday, October 28, 2005

More effusions

I worry that my posts have been unduly enthusiastic lately--but fuck, this conference is just incredible. I love these people. I'd been thinking I'd have to make friends with the younger folk in order to have something to do in the evenings--but in point of fact, the older scholars are just as crazy. (Which reminds me: should I really have addressed one of my fellow keynoters--a tenured prof at an R1 school and an expert on Neglected Author--as "motherfucker"? Perhaps not. But he provoked me, dissing on Northwest City like he did!)

The conference proper wrapped up today, and after seven papers, all kinds of grand plans to put together new editions of Neglected Author, and pledges of undying friendship, we went out to dinner and then took a booze-fueled moonlight walk through University City, visiting places that our boy had once lived in or patronized. And then, after one thing and another, we climbed up to the old city citadel, passed around a couple of bottles of champagne, and toasted each other extravagently.

Isn't this what the community of scholars is all about?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:34 PM | 4 comments

Thursday, October 27, 2005

God DAMN, these people can drink! Or, several days abroad

So. The highlights for those of you who don’t want to wade through a travelogue: love this country, love the people, and am totally in love with this conference. If there’s been a single panel that hasn’t totally held my interest, it’s been, literally, a single panel. That’s the nice thing about a small conference devoted entirely to a single author: it’s like being in a master class. I've felt as though I've actually learned quite a lot. And, oh yes—my talk went very well. I got the impression that I discomfited a couple of people with my somewhat revisionist take on a much-loved work, but by and large the response was really positive. The only scholar whose opinion I actually care about was very complimentary—and an awesome guy, to boot.

To back up a bit: I arrived in European Capital about 2 in the afternoon on Tuesday, and, after dumping my things at my hotel, I spent the rest of the daylight hours tromping around the city. My conference is in nearby University City, but I deliberately booked a flight early enough to allow me a look-see around the capital first. I visited one of the city’s main museums, but otherwise just walked up and down, hitting one of the central squares and getting the lay of the land. It’s absolutely charming, is what it is, and reminds me bizarrely of Oxford although the architecture is not remotely similar—I guess it’s all those three-to-five story buildings and everyone cruising around on junky old bicycles.

Went to bed early and slept for 11 hours, having only gotten about four hours of not very good sleep on the plane. I didn’t intend to sleep for quite so long, but dawn comes extraordinarily late—around 8.15 a.m., I’d say—and when my alarm went off at a pitch-black 7 a.m. I just couldn’t bear to get up.

I thought about going to see another museum before I checked out, but I didn’t really have the time, so I just walked around a bit more, stopped in at a café, and browsed in a few stores. Then I made the epic mistake of deciding to walk to the train station. It looked to be about a 30 minute walk, in a roughly straight line from my hotel, and I figured hey: I’ll get to see more of the city and not have to figure out the local transportation system.

Now, I pride myself on my sense of direction, and as I say the train station was almost in a direct line from my hotel. However, the streets themselves do not run in direct lines—most of them are aslant. I looked at the map, figured out about where I’d have to jog over, and I wasn’t too worried: I’d seen pictures of the train station and knew that it was HUGE, and architecturally striking, so I figured that even if I approached it from several streets over I’d be able to see it and orient myself. But after about 35 minutes, I wasn’t seeing any train station. I checked my map and discovered that somehow, in taking a slanting street here and a slanting street there, I had completely turned myself around and was back off at a diagonal even further away from the train station than my hotel was.

This wouldn’t have been that big of a deal—the weather was gorgeous and my small suitcase rolls—but I kinda had to be in University City, in my suit, ready to give my talk, in just over two hours. So I charged back up the map, shouldering past tourists, sweating fiercely, and this time finding signs that directed me to the train station. I managed to figure out the timetables AND the ticket machine, even though both were in a language that I don’t understand and I kinda guessed about which buttons I was supposed to push, got up to the right platform, and eventually made it to University City with about 30 minutes to check in, change, brush my teeth, and get over to the university. Phew!

My hotel here is lovely, though rather bizarre. The room I'm in is enormous, and reminds me of the master bedroom in someone's great aunt’s house: textured wallpaper, French provencal furniture, a chandelier and tulip-shaped wall sconces, an enormous wardrobe and a lovely vanity with a velvet slipper chair. There’s also a strange collage-like thing of a 1960s chanteuse I’ve never heard of, made up of her album jackets and some necklaces strung up decoratively inside. Oh, and did I mention the gnomes? There are five, count ‘em, FIVE garden gnomes scattered around the room, four sitting on the deep, low window ledges and one (most disturbingly) atop the wardrobe. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see THAT, is what I’m saying.

And yes, we’ve been drinking heavily. Last night featured four glasses of wine at the reception, a beer with dinner, and then another glass of wine and another beer at the hotel bar afterwards. Tonight was a bit lighter—three glasses of wine at the reception, a beer at dinner, and a beer afterwards. One of the other keynoters missed my talk, but I’m completely in love with her and her husband, who have turned out to be deeply interesting and unusual people—and, not insignificantly, my major drinking buds.

God. Is it any wonder I don't want to go back to teaching next week?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 4:57 PM | 1 comments

Monday, October 24, 2005

In 20 hours. . .

I'll be in European City!

Provided, of course, my plane does not go down in a firey explosion before then.

As for what shape I'll be in when I get there, that's debateable. Had a great weekend with George Washington Boyfriend, the highlight of which was seeing my friend Jonesy's latest play. She's been working steadily as an actor since we graduated from college (though supporting herself with a day job) and has assembled some really good reviews in major publications, but this is the biggest production she's been in yet, and it was fabulous--as was hanging out with her and the other female lead over drinks afterwards. I hope this production portends good things for her career.

Unfortunately, all this good-timing (and my rather inefficient use of the rest of my time) meant that I was up until nearly 2 a.m. last night writing a midterm for my survey students, which a colleague will be administering on Wednesday; figuring out workshop details for my comp students; praticing my talk; and packing. So here I am, on four hours of sleep, uncertain whether I'll get even that much tonight on the plane, with my stupid suitcase which I have to lug BACK to Major Eastern City and to the airport for my 9.30 p.m. flight.

Oh well. The conference opens Wednesday afternoon, and I'm the only real speaker that day. Although this arrangement has a possible downside--the fact that not everyone may have arrived by then--its benefits are obvious: by 4 p.m. Wednesday, I can cut loose and enjoy the rest of the trip!

Not sure what internet access (or the social scene) will be like, so I may be blogging or I may not. Until soon~~

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:24 AM | 5 comments

Sunday, October 23, 2005

It was bound to happen

Last weekend, I came up with what I thought was a pretty great introduction to my keynote: snappy, engaging, and above all appropriate for an audience that already knows Neglected Author backwards and forwards.

But this week, as I was practicing my delivery, I found myself a little puzzled by the tone that I was developing in those opening lines. What was this, exactly, that I was going for? Kind of a hard-edged charm: sweet and seductive, but with a rather vicious underlayer. And as I broke it down, I was totally digging on it: yes, that's exactly what I want! Charming! Iron hand in the velvet glove! Seductive, but bitchy! Yes!

And then I realized, fuck. That's Advisor all over, isn't it?

I suppose it was bound to happen. I chose her as an advisor not only because our intellectual interests overlapped (there was at least one other faculty member who would have been an equally good choice), but because our temperaments also seemed to overlap. Before starting my dissertation I had had two graduate classes with her and she was heavily involved in departmental workshops on professionalization and publication and looking-ahead-to-the-job-market. She's been a part of my grad school life since the beginning. How, then, to tell which mannerisms and attitudes I've always held; which are lifted straight from her; and which are some combination of her influence on my own preexisting tendencies?

It's a little worrying, but in some ways I'm delighted when I recognize the influence of others in my professional persona. If I stop to think about my classroom manner, I can see the influence not only of Advisor, but also of two great professors I had as an undergrad. That aggressive delivery style, that Camille Paglia-like interrogatory "okay?" at the end of every other sentence? That's a professor I had my senior year of college: straight out of grad school, wicked smart, and gorgeous with an incongruously deep and abrasive voice. The bemused, wondering tone I take when pointing out authorial foibles or bizarre sexual fetishes? That's a professor who taught the lecture class that I took sophomore year and that, ultimately, got me interested in almost everything I work on today.

Whatever echoes there are, are unintentional, but I like that sense that I've learned something from the many wonderful teachers I've had--and that indeed I've learned it so well that it's become second nature.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:22 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wanted: one klezmer band

I went to my local Staples today to pick up yet another ream of printer paper (damn those job applications!).

On the way up the escalator, I criss-crossed, on the down escalator, a stocky black man probably in his early forties. He was dressed with hip-hop flair, his eyes hidden by sunglasses, and he was grooving slightly from side to side, snapping the fingers of one hand. . . while with the other hand he held a fully-assembled clarinet.

Staples. What the fuck?

I love this city.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 6:56 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Midterm evaluation

It's now the dead center of the semester here at Big Urban (which has an even worse fall schedule than INRU: no breaks, not even Columbus Day, until Thanksgiving--which break at BU is only a four-day weekend, and one that falls about a week before the end of term; thanks, Pilgrims! You couldn't have had that feast maybe a month earlier?). I've returned my first batch(es) of papers, it's now dark when I get home, and the kids are already registering for spring classes. It's a good time, methinks, to take stock of this job.

The School
I really like it here. It's a good enough school, in an attractive enough location, that there are a number of bright and very well-prepared students--students whose performance is indistinguishable from that of INRU students. But there are also a lot of students who clearly went to shitty high schools, are the first members of their families to go to college, and who often struggle--but who are uniformly hardworking and very serious about their education.

As one administrator said at my orientation, "teaching here, I never wake up in the middle of the night wondering if all I'm doing is transferring class privilege." They're really good kids, and the relatively few faculty members I've met have been extremely welcoming. They seem both smart and down to earth--great colleagues, if they actually were my colleagues and I saw them at any point other than when we're jockeying for the photocopier at 10 a.m.

My classes
I love my survey sections. This is absolutely the kind of course I went to graduate school in order to be able to teach: I love being able to charge through the decades and paint literary history in broad strokes with relative assurance. Maybe I'll get sick of it eventually, but right now it's great fun.

My composition class is okay. If I were here next year and teaching it again, I'd rearrange the readings considerably and I'd do a number of other things differently, but it's okay--it's a job, I do it competently, and my students are learning by fits and starts.

My teaching
I hesitate to say this, but I think I've become a pretty good teacher. Yeah, I'm (usually) engaging and effective in the classroom, but what I mean by saying that I'm getting good is that I'm getting much more relaxed about the whole enterprise. I usually write out my lesson plan on the train, or in the 45 minutes before class. I'm able to adapt or switch gears in the middle of class if things aren't going well, and I'm able to mix up the format as it fits the material--group work, collective boardwork, discussion, lecture.

I'm not saying that I'm any better at this than anyone else who teaches, but those classroom mechanics are things that I've really sweated over--and really overthought--in the past. (It's probably time to mix things up a bit, but what can we do? would it be good to have them break into groups? but what would they do in groups? Think, Lecturess, think!) Partly it's just that it's the middle of the semester, and I've got the rhythm down for these particular classes; for the first three or four weeks I was still feeling sick to my stomach for fifteen minutes before my first class of the day, every day, and I'm sure I'll feel ill at the beginning of next semester, too--but I think I'm fundamentally more confident in my own teaching skills.

The commute
I guess the best thing I can say here is that I've only missed my usual train to campus once, due to a massive subway delay (and I still made it to class on time, since I take a much earlier train than the one I actually need). However, every single fucking day I'm running late.

I leave my apartment exactly 30 minutes before my train departs. It takes about four minutes to walk to the subway; the subway, once it comes--and if it's running at normal speed and there are no delays--takes just under fifteen minutes to get to the train station; getting from the subway and onto my train takes about five minutes. See the problem here?

I tend to arrive at the train station with five minutes to spare, and CHARGE down a flight of stairs, through the turnstiles, across one extremely crowded floor (waving to the nice National Guardsmen with their M-15s), up an escalator, down a long hallway--briefly skidding to a near-halt to squint at the departures board to check my gate--run another 50 yards to the gate, flash my pass, clunk-clunk-clunk down another escalator, and jump onto my train. All while in heels and lugging a heavy bag or two. (Do I hear the theme music to Rocky as I run? Why yes--yes I do.)

You might ask why I can't just get up ten minutes earlier. And all I can say is, it wouldn't help. When I get up earlier, I just waste that time checking my email or puttering around, and I leave at the exact same very-last-moment. I did the same thing last year, commuting at a much more reasonable hour to INRU. My theory is that maybe I secretly need that adrenaline rush after five hours of sleep.

But on the bright side: who needs a gym membership?

Gah, am I doing any scholarship? I guess so--I did finish my dissertation last month, I sent in one conference paper submission a couple of weeks ago, and I'm nearly done with this other conference keynote (although both papers are just reworkings of material from my diss; they're nothing new). I've also got a couple of short, non-refereed articles to punch out before December. It's something.

If I relabeled this category "professional identity," though, I think I'm doing well. All that time spent standing in front of a classroom, fielding questions, must be making me a better public speaker, right? And thus better at fielding questions at conferences, and job interviews. . .?

Well. Stay tuned.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:22 PM | 3 comments

Monday, October 17, 2005

Good things

  • Being done grading all the papers from my survey classes and 1/3 of the papers from my comp class.
  • Having my survey students work through some really challenging new material in class today, with really good results.
  • Titillating said survey students by getting them into the naughty bits of a work they'd thought was pretty straightlaced. There's just nothing better than cocking an eyebrow and saying, "and did the ground move for you?" before a roomfull of youngsters--and then encouraging them to let their dirty minds run riot as they read the rest of the poem.
  • Watching a sweet Disney fairy tale with my comp class.
  • Having a kick-ass keynote talk all but sewn up.
  • Starting to get follow-up requests from departments with job openings. Booyah!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:01 PM | 5 comments

Friday, October 14, 2005

Writing weekend

I may be away from my blog through the weekend, as I'm trying desperately to carve out some writing time. So far I've knocked off 54 of my 60 survey papers (unfortunately, 15 papers from my comp students have arrived in the meanwhile), so I'm hoping I'll be able to spend all day Saturday working on my talk for that upcoming conference in European City.

You remember that conference? The one for which I'm leaving in nine days? Yeah, that one: the one where I'm supposedly giving a forty-five-minute talk on Neglected Author, while being witty and charming and--I don't know--all Promising Young Scholar and shit.

I've alluded to this in the past, but this is the deal: completely serendipitously, and through no real merit, I wound up being asked to give a keynote address at this conference. It's something that I feel weird mentioning, since it sounds a) self-aggrandizing, and b) as though I'm actually secretly a superstar and I just haven't been letting on to that fact here on this blog--and since the whole thing just makes me feel weird, period.

On the one hand, I think that I have fantastic and revolutionary things to say about my subject (a relatively well-known work, the scholarship on which is piss-poor and the standard reading of which is, in my humble opinion, complete bullshit--my talk is coming from what is probably the strongest chapter of my dissertation). I also think that I can give an engaging and entertaining talk when the spirit moves me. But on the other hand . . . I was a last-minute substitute (for my ADVISOR, as I found out later); the invitation was issued by someone who was, at the time, drunk off his ass; and said person may well have thought that I was faculty at INRU, rather than a grad student. And, fundamentally, who the fuck am I to be giving this kind of talk, anyway?

I'm excited, but I'm also feeling rather opressed and freaked out. I know that it's not actually that big of a deal (it's a small conference; I'm not the only keynote speaker; there aren't even that many scholars from the States who will be attending), and that one way or another it'll be a sweet line on the C.V., hopefully a useful connection or two, and a trip to a country I've never visited. But of course, I kinda want it to be a big deal, at least if I pull it off--and, yeah. It's stressing me out.

(But at least I know what I'm going to wear!)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:33 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Paranoia strikes deep

People, I'm losing it.

Over the last week, I've had hits from three institutions where I'm applying for jobs--and from which I've never before received hits. And of course, my immediate response is, "oh no! they've found me!"

Then today a student dropped by my office when I wasn't expecting it, and I had a screen up that contained my blog address. I know he got a look at the screen for at least ten seconds while I fumbled around minimizing and then closing the window. When, half an hour later, I came across a suspicious IP address from a suburb of Big Urban on my sitemeter, I was CONVINCED that it was my student--nevermind that it would have been damn hard for him to have traveled that distance in that time. So I took down a couple of posts before recalling that, oh yeah: I have a reader at a small college in an adjacent suburb who might very well live there.

God. Clearly some people aren't cut out for pseudonymity.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:18 PM | 13 comments

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Well, I can see how *I* rate. . .

Received in the mail today three thanks-for-your-application-we'll-get-to-it-shortly letters.

The first one, addressed to "applicant," asked me to return the standard affirmative action form. . . but did not include an envelope.

The second one, which did succeed in identifying me by name, also asked me to return their affirmative action form. But. . . they didn't include the form itself.

The third letter successfully enclosed both an affirmative action form and a postage-paid envelope. . . but thanked me for applying for a position in [field wildly and impossibly unlike my own]. (This is especially galling since I applied to this department last year, for the same position, and got more than one request for follow-up materials. . . from the same person who signed this letter.)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 6:22 PM | 5 comments

He really IS a little shit

That kid. The one who sent me the email? He sucks even more than previously suspected.

Backstory: after not replying to my email and not showing up for class on Friday, he came by my office later that day to drop off his paper. Uh, sorry he wasn't in class--the trains were delayed, or not running, or something. He seemed rather nervous and stammering, and I felt sorrier for him than I'd expected, so I told him that I'd "think about" letting him use his extension retroactively.

And you know, I'd even made up my mind to let him do it, too, when I finally got around to reading his paper:
  • the paper's format is unacceptable (too short, huge margins, no bibliography, etc.)
  • he quotes from the poem he's supposedly analyzing exactly once
  • that quotation appears to be from a modern prose "translation" of the poem in question--decidely not the version we're using
  • he gets the NAME of the POET wrong, repeatedly
  • there is no thesis
  • there is no structure that I can discern
  • one entire page is nothing but a long-ass plot summary
  • it's not always clear that what he's writing is in fact English
I've never given a D in my life, but this is a D paper. And for writing a fucking D paper and giving me bullshit excuses about it, you get no extension. (Four days late, asshole, and you give me this??)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:59 AM | 6 comments

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Started this a week ago, and have only just finally returned to it. Not sure it was worth it--but why waste a post, right?

Tonight at mass we had a great homily by a visiting priest. It focused on the rather scary first and third readings, which both have to do with a vintner whose best efforts are continually disappointed: in the one case, because, despite his heroic gardening measures, no good grapes grow (leading him to completely destroy the vineyard), and in the other because the vintner's ungrateful tenants start thinking they have a right to the land he's leasing them, and beat and abuse all his messengers, until finally they kill the vintner's own son. (This reading ends with the promise that the vintner will dispossess those tenants and rent out his land to a more worthy group of tenants).

What the homilist focused on, however, was the vintner's (i.e., God's) sadness and disappointment that all his care and trust had not produced anything, and he went from there to discuss the ways in which we often think that our relationship with God is pretty free and comfortable and quite unlike the relationship that we have with any earthly boss--God's a nice, forgiving guy, and doesn't really expect anything in particular, except maybe showing up in church now and again and sometimes giving a little money. But how do we actually live our lives? What gifts are we given, and how are we using them? How does our work life relate to our spiritual life? Do we have a sense of acting meaningfully in everything we do--and of trying to meet a standard of justice, morality, and compassion?

His homily made me think about the issue of vocation. Not to the religious life, but in the weberian sense of a true professional calling. When George Washington Boyfriend and I started dating, at the end of my second and his fourth year of graduate school, I remember his talking about his sense that academia was that for him, and that it was something he'd felt for a long time. His best friend in grad school also had that same sense of mission--and, sure enough, both of them came to grad school straight from college, finished their Ph.D's in five years, and got great tenure-track jobs.

And I remember finding this so strange, and wishing that I could say that I felt the same way. I pretty much snuck into the Ph.D. program through the M.A. program, which in turn I'd decided to do because I wasn't ready to commit to law school. I wasn't particularly happy in grad school those first few years, I wasn't convinced I was smart enough to be there in the first place (clearly I'd gotten into the M.A. program only because I'd been an undergrad at INRU and knew some people, and clearly I'd gotten into the Ph.D. program only because I'd already proven that I could do the coursework). Even after I decided to stay in grad school, I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to stay in academia.

But somewhere along the line, I have become convinced that this is my calling. I could and would leave it, if the job market doesn't feel the same way for long enough--but at some point I guess I started to get good at this and to derive real satisfaction from it. After a rough start, my dissertation blossomed into something that I feel passionately about and that I think really matters to my field; it certainly matters to me. The issues I work on have everything to do with how I understand the world and how I understand human nature, and they can translate into issues that are urgent for many students as well. I saw that the other day in a mini-lecture that I gave in my survey class: the historical background, which was the point of the lecture, went fine, but I spent most of my time expanding on what these events meant, experientially, to the people who lived through them--and why in the world people might have felt and behaved in the ways they did--and my students were fucking rapt. It was fantastic.

I think I'm doing good work, and I think I do have a sense of mission. The question is, though, is it a calling if you're not called? If you kinda fall into something, muddle along, and eventually make the field your own? As I say, if academia doesn't work out for me, I have no doubt that I could make a go of it in some other field and find just as many rewards and eventually see it as just as much of a calling. I just don't think there's such a thing as a single destiny, in careers, in love, or in anything else.

That's one reason I've always preferred the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola to that of Paul: I just don't buy the road to Damascus. I buy the story of a guy who kinda bets himself that he can live a good life. Who doesn't know if he has much faith, but who decides to go through the motions of the holy life, imitating the saints in his outward actions--until eventually his inner self mirrors his outer self.

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even,
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:11 PM | 3 comments

What I need, NOW!

[Post deleted]

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:16 PM | 1 comments

Friday, October 07, 2005


Yes, that's right: I got called "cracker" on the subway platform this morning. Two and a half years I've been living in Historically Black Neighborhood, and although I'm sure there are people who have thought negative things about me before, simply based on the fact that I'm a young white woman, no one's said a word. Generally, if I get any kind of comment, it's along the lines of, "hey there Snowflake--lookin' good!" Even the Nation of Islam dudes just look right through me.

So yeah. I was minding my own business, walking briskly down the subway platform as a train was pulling in, trying to get to the car that would deposit me nearest the appropriate staircase at the train station, and as I walked past this 40ish woman, she spat, "Cracker!" And I did the whole, "huh? me?" thing, turning around as she turned back to face stonily forward, but sneaking a look at me out of the corner of her eye, and. . . I burst out laughing. We wound up in the same subway car, and I was just grinning for most of the ride, which I'm sure completely pissed her off.

Unless I accidentally trod on her foot and somehow didn't notice it, I didn't do anything to this woman (and she didn't seem visibly crazy or Tourrettic)--but, who knows. Maybe her rent has doubled because the neighborhood is gentrifying, or her son married a white woman, or the other white woman on the platform DID step on her foot. It could have been anything.

The point is, I started wondering why the whole thing struck me as so funny, and I think it comes down to that word. It just. . . doesn't mean anything to me. I've never been called a cracker, I've never been worried about being thought a cracker, and therefore it has no force. It's a symptom, I suppose, of white priviledge: you can't call me by a negative stereotype, because I haven't lived in a world where those stereotypes have been thrown in my face, and so I can't possibly take you seriously when you say such a thing. I would have had the same reaction if she had called me a Dago or a Pollack--my family's so removed from the ethnic ghetto, and frankly from ethnic identification, that it's just not a relevant epithet. But if I were black, or hispanic, or Asian, or Muslim, and she had spat out a suitable slur--well, I'm sure I would have felt very differently.

(Indeed, the only epithet that I could come up with that might have bothered me, even briefly, would have been something like "uppity bitch"; gender-based comments can get at me in ways that race and ethnicity can't.)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:29 PM | 5 comments

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Oh, the stupidity of it all

Remember my survey class? The one that had papers due on Monday? I got this email from a student in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday:

Dear Professor Lecturess,

I am writing to you in reguards to the paper that was due on monday. I have not yet handed it in, however I can assure you I will hand it in to you in class on Friday. You see, the reason for it's lateness is, initially, I was under the misimpression that the paper was due on Wednesday, and when I came to class on monday, I was unprepared. So I figiured I would take the one penalty-free excuse.

Due to a broken printer, I resorted to printing in the computer lab. However, when I came on Wednesday to print, the computer said my disk wasn't formatted, even though I know it was. So again I was unprepared. Being only able to go to campus on tues and thurs, I had no other choice but to hand it in on friday. I am greatly aware that these events do not excuse the tardiness, I just hoping that my paper could be graded with the 2-day penalty free extension in mind? It's just too early so get off with such a bad start! Lady Luck I guess. But I am making a personal oath to you and myself that for now on all my papers will be handed in on-time, every time! But thank you for your time Professor Lecturess, and I'm sorry for any inconviences this may be offering you. See you in class on friday.


This is a student who has never once spoken in class (except when I've asked him to read passages aloud, as I do all my students), and who I don't believe has received higher than a 3/10 on any quiz. I don't have a sense of him as a person. However, I DO have a sense of my assignment specifications, and I outlined those specifications on both the syllabus and on the assignment sheet for this paper: students may take one two-day extension on either of their two essays, but they must let me know in advance. After the class period ends on the due date, their papers drop 1/3 of a grade for each 24-hour-period that they're late. Both policies are standard for this survey class--I adopted them off the syllabi of two long-time professors here.

So I wrote him back:
Dear Student,

In order to take your one free extension, the terms of the assignment ask that you request it *in advance*; at the very least, you could have spoken to me after class on Monday to explain your confusion over the due date (although the due date IS listed on both the syllabus and the assignment sheet).

Even so, you STILL had the opportunity, on Wednesday, to speak to me about your printing difficulties. You could also have emailed me on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. You might also have asked me if I would have accepted an emailed copy of your paper, at least as proof that you had completed the assignment on time. As it is, I have no reason to believe that your paper was, in fact, completed on Wednesday. (I'm not saying that I don't believe you; I'm simply saying that you've given me no reason to!)

Please bring your paper with you to class tomorrow. If you ALSO email it to me immediately, tonight, I will penalize your grade by only 2/3, or two days, rather than the four days that the assignment would actually be overdue by classtime tomorrow.

It's nearly midnight now, and I haven't heard from him. I'd like to think that I called his bluff, but he may have called mine--what's the point, really, of lowering a grade by more than 2/3? Especially when it's unlikely to be very good to begin with? I don't particularly want to lower his grade by more than that, but come on! There's a social contract here! You email me Sunday night, tell me your grandfather died, I agree to believe you, and give you the extension. At least you showed some minimal amount of courtesy or at least awareness of class policy.

(But then I think: what if he's telling the truth? What if he IS just that much of a dumbass?)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:25 PM | 3 comments

Grading meme

Okay, I'm taking Stewgad up on her challenge, since I'm so buried under papers that I don't know when or what I'd be able to post otherwise.

Five things I hate more than grading:
  1. Financial insecurity. I just found out that a) one of my student loans is now in repayment (the others are deferred since I'm registered as a student at INRU for this semester), and b) that the paycheque I finally got from Big Urban still hasn't cleared my account, meaning that I'm getting overdraft charges for the cheques I too eagerly wrote against it.
  2. Non-tenure-track employment. I'm lucky to have this job, I like the school, and I'm enjoying the teaching I'm doing. But teaching 3-4 so that the t-t faculty at Big Urban can teach 2-2? Bullshit.
  3. The direction the Vatican is going. Or should I say, has already gone?
  4. Not getting enough sleep. This one goes hand-in-hand with grading, of course, but I'm just exhausted, all the time, and not very good company. Even when I take time out to see my friends, I feel like it's an effort to be fun. Yesterday I calculated the number of hours per week I'm actually working, and I discovered that in an average week I'm working close to 55 hours. These two paper-grading weeks I'll be working nearly 75.
  5. George W. Bush. 'Nuff said.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:46 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Grading, grading

I've worked my way through 11 papers so far--fewer than I'd hoped to have graded by now, but still reasonable progress. I'm clocking in at a pretty consistent 30 minutes a paper, which is a vast improvement over the time my grading has eaten up in the past (of course, in the past I had time to burn!), but I'm hoping to get it down closer to 20.

However, I've encountered what may or may not be my first plagiarizer. Or maybe that's plural: I have two papers from the same class that are strangely similar in a couple of particulars. Their similarities are just plausible--both students are writing on the same topic, and it's not impossible that both might have had a few of the same ideas--but they inspired me to turn to Google and run some search strings. The paper that I initially found more suspicious turned up nothing, but the other one, I suspect, took a number of ideas from a cut-rate Cliff's-notes-style website.

The thing is, I'm only 75-80% certain of this, and the paper isn't actually very good; I gave it a C+. I'm thinking that's punishment enough--ha ha, Mr. Plagiarizer! you stole someone else's ideas and you couldn't even do anything worthwhile with them!--but I'm uncertain about this. Is it worth pursuing? I'd hate to make a federal case out of something so insubstantial, and espeically when the victory for the (potential) plagiarizer is so small.

The other oddity is that both of these students misunderstood the topic in exactly the same way (as did a number of other students). I can't explain further without giving away what work they were writing on, but the way in which they misunderstood the topic makes it much closer to about a jillion discussions that have been had, statements that have been made, and essays that have been written on the subject in the past. I'm left wondering how deliberate this misunderstanding may have been, and how/whether to penalize this mistake--since it may be partly my fault for not wording the topic differently, and since in theory it's a workable essay topic, just not the one I listed as an option.

Sigh. I do have a real post that's been percolating for several days now, but I just haven't had the time to get back to it. Soon, soon.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:50 PM | 2 comments

Monday, October 03, 2005

My own fan club?

Today before class one of my survey students asked if I'd be teaching this survey again next semester as well. Puzzled, I said that yes, I was.

Both sections? He asked.

I said, well, actually, I think there are going to be three sections offered--but yes, I'm teaching two of them. Then I laughed. Why? Are you planning on taking this class all over again?

No, he said--but I've got this friend who's taking it, and I was telling him that he had to take it with you.

Cool, huh? But it gets better: he asked what else I'd be teaching, and when I mentioned that I was teaching one of the classes on Super Huge Famous Author, he said, "Really? Which one? I've been wanting to take that class!" When he sat down, I heard him turn to the girl behind him and say, "Did you hear that? She's teaching SHFA next semester!"

Clearly, I rock. Although whether either one of them will be so excited about taking classes from me once they get their papers back is another question.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:20 PM | 5 comments

Numbers meme

As created by Jo(e) and adapted in various ways by various persons.

Square footage of my bathroom: 100
Square footage of my entire apartment: 500
Television sets I own: 0
Approx. hours I listen to NPR, daily: 5
Pets I own: 0
Pets I would like to own: 1
Jobs I've held: 5
Cars I've owned: 0
Miles I commute to work, each way: 75
Metropolitan subway or commuter rail systems I can navigate with ease: 9
Proximity to my immediate family, in miles: 2,393
Proximity to any family, in miles: 642
Approx. number of round-trip plane trips I take a year: 8
Trips I've taken to Europe: 4
Trips I've taken to Asia: 2
States I've visited: 26
States I've lived in: 3
Purses or handbags I currently own: 18
Musical instruments I can play: 1
Books on my shelf by Evelyn Waugh: 15
Individual pieces of stemware I own: 25
Dinner forks I own: 4
Approx. minutes/day I spend fussing about how I look: 120
Approx. minutes/day I spend fussing about my weight/figure: 0
Institutions of higher learning I've attended: 1
Years in grad school: 6
Students I'm currently teaching: 76
Approx. number of students I'm teaching next semester: 110
Max. number of students previously taught in one semester: 18
Papers I currently have to grade: 61
Gin-based drinks this grading will likely require: 10

Tostitos "Hint of Lime" tortilla chips consumed while writing this post: 53

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:40 PM | 2 comments

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Low culture, high culture, and plenty of shopping in between

Damn, I love this city.

I wish I could stay here for the rest of my life, or at least until I actually got sick of the place--something unlikely to happen within the next 9 months. So far there aren't any good tenure-track jobs locally, and next summer, if I'm not moving for a t-t job, I'll most likely be moving to be closer to Big Urban.

With fall finally beginning to descend around these parts, I'm remembering all the great things about this city--things that it's easy to forget during the summer, and particularly after going almost four months without a paycheque. Earlier this week my long-lost friend Bert came up to Historically Black Neighborhood and we went out to a local joint for soul food--I ordered The Rev. Al Sharpton, otherwise known as smothered chicken and waffles, and he had chicken and dumplings (d/b/a The Atty. Marvin Pettus) and red velvet cake. Then we sat out on my stoop in the dark for a while, sharing a cigarette and catching up.

Last night I had a cultural experience of a rather different sort, joining D and Mr. D at the opera--Renee Fleming and an unknown-to-me tenor (who D and I agreed was actually more impressive than Fleming) were in the lead roles. I used to attend the opera pretty regularly, but it's been a good two years since I last went; last night I was reminded all over again of why I love the opera: it's the ultimate example of high art meets low art. Gorgeous music, immensely talented artists--but all in the service of the trashiest, most tabloid-ready stories imaginable. Gotta love it. Plus, the people-watching is first-rate: nearly everyone dresses nicely, but the individual interpretation of "nicely" varies widely: men in full-on black tie and women in evening gowns bump up against men and women in suits, girls in lacey skirts and combat boots, unshaven guys in t-shirts and rumpled seersucker jackets, women in saris, and people who utterly defy description, like the small white woman in a pointy, Mongolian-style embroidered cap and bolero jacket.

Unfortunately, this particular opera was really quite long, and by the second intermission I could tell that I was fading--I should know by now not to make big plans for Friday night, after a couple of classes, four hours commuting time, and a week's worth of sleep deficit--so I skipped out on the ending. Does this make me a bad member of the culturati? Possibly. But I already knew the chick died at the end.

Today I got up late, lounged around listening to NPR for several hours, and then went downtown to meet D at my favey-fave discount department store where I stocked up on numerous pairs of plain and exotically patterned tights. I also found a lovely Old Hollywood-style silken nightgown for those evenings I feel like dialing the glamour up a notch from my usual PJs (Brooks Brothers men's pyjamas).

Afterwards we repaired to D's rooftop, where we ate pizza and Doritos and guzzled wine.

I'll say it again: damn! I love this city.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:20 AM | 3 comments

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