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Saturday, December 31, 2005
MLA: The Outtakes
Walking out of our hotel the first full day of the conference, GWB commented, of the people occupying every chair and sofa in the lobby, "You know, if an alien were suddenly to land here, knowing nothing about earth culture. . . he'd still be able to tell that these people are academics."
Our hotel was a couple of Metro stops from the main conference events, so we spent a fair amount of time shuttling back and forth. Every time I caught sight of the legend, "Shady Grove," I'd start rapping, "I'm Grove Shady/Yes I'm the real Shady/And all those other Grove Shadys/are just imitatin'."
[GWB found this pretty hilarious. Everyone else who knows me in real life is now wincing.]
Waiting around in a lobby before one of my interviews I happened to be seated near the hotel's coat check. A not-small number of people in otherwise sharp suits wound up retreiving, say, big turqouise parkas or red barn coats.
At the INRU reception, one faculty member walked in and suddenly announced, "I just realized that this is red country! I don't how I was forgetting it--we're in occupied territory!"
Midway through our train ride back to MEC yesterday--hours after the conference had ended and a full day after we ourselves had left--GWB nudged me and tipped his head in the direction of the couple across the aisle, mouthing, "M-L-A."
"Really?" I said. The wife was young and pretty and holding a squalling child. . . but when I looked again I saw that, yes, the aging male half of the couple was wearing a beat-up houndstouth jacket and a burgundy turtleneck. I turned back around. "Good call!"
"Yeah, well, I've got good prof-dar."
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Well. It's All Over Now.
And on the whole it went well, although I didn't really have the opportunity to enjoy the true pleasures of the conference (and I'll buck the let's-complain-about-the-MLA trend by saying that I actually mostly enjoy the conference and the way that it brings together a huge segment of the profession each year): I didn't attend a single panel, I didn't catch up with everyone I wanted to, and I certainly didn't do NEARLY enough people-watching.
But all my interviews were fine. There was one dud, where I didn't take to the committee and they didn't seem to take to me--but I'd already more than half ruled out that school anyway. A couple went extremely well (by which I mean both that I think I performed well and that I went out of the room more excited by the institution than I was when I went in; it's funny how often those things are mutual!), and the others went reasonably well, but for various reasons were too close to call.
Going into the conference I'd had a provisional first-choice institution--not a school that I was totally sold on, but one that seemed an interesting and challenging place and potentially a good match. However, my interview there was uneven, and I'm not really sure how excited I am about the school itself any longer.
Uneven: I very obviously didn't answer some of their more pointed questions (in one case demonstrating that I had no idea what the theoretical term a committee member used actually meant), and I noted some raised eyebrows on this score. However, they did seem generally interested in my work and my future projects, and I think I did quite well on the teaching questions. Other items on the positive side of the scales are that they were interviewing an unusually short list of candidates to begin with and that I have a potentially important connection to at least one committee member.
So, that's the update on the interviewing front. I've also got a phone interview with another school in a little over a week.
Otherwise I had a good time. GWB was along for the ride (read: the free hotel room) and we had fun catching up with old friends at the open-bar INRU reception. One good acquantaince still at INRU mentioned that one of the readers for my dissertation had described my project to her in extremely glowing terms, which both touched and reassured me because I've had a hard time reading this professor. Although very sweet to people's faces, said professor is sometimes quite catty behind their backs, and he/she also made some odd criticisms in the official reader's report that I really didn't know how to interpret.
And now~~a day and a half to catch up on my sleep, and it's off to the Chateau Fergusberg for their second annual New Year's bash! If someone else has a digital camera and takes non-identifying photographs, all y'all out there in blogland may get a treat. But if not, not.
Monday, December 26, 2005
I'm now back in my apartment for some 18 hours before heading out to the MLA. And damn, I've got a lot to do in that time!
In the midst of the 10 days' worth of mail that I found piled up on my floor were, predictably, some rejection letters for various positions I'd applied for. Unpredictably, at least to me, were the numbers of applications some of those schools claim to have received: one stated that the department had received "more than one hundred and forty," and another "one hundred and eighty-five" applications.
Holy shit! Other rejection letters I've received--both this year and last--have only cited figures around 80-100.
Is this really what the job market is like? Neither of these schools is exactly a Harvard or a Stanford; both are R1s, but their doctoral programs aren't top tier, and neither one is located in a fabulously central or exciting place (the cities/towns in question are definitely pleasant, but not somewhere you'd sit around dreaming about or planning a two-career move to).
I guess, then, that I should feel lucky that I made the cut at the schools I did--especially considering that there are five other INRU candidates in my field on the market this year. (And yes, you read that correctly: there are six of us within a year or two of each other ALL APPLYING FOR THE SAME THIRTY-ODD JOBS. Kill me now.)
Anyway--I doubt that I'll be blogging from the MLA (no free wireless in my hotel), but I promise a report when I emerge. Best wishes to everyone else interviewing, presenting, or otherwise braving the scholarly seas--
Sunday, December 25, 2005
So I was awakened this morning--CHRISTMAS morning!--in the midst of a dream about being hugely late for a final exam. For a class for which I'd somehow never turned in my midterm exam (the bluebooks were in my pocket, and I foisted them off apologetically on the bouncer-type dude guarding the stack of completed exams on a side table).
And as I slunk to my seat, under the disapproving stare of the two professors administering the exam, I discovered (not to my surprise, of course, because this was a dream and everything made perfect sense) that the IDs and essay questions were all about the work, lives and opinions of people I "know" in the blog world.
This, really, is just too messed up for me to comment on further.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
For those of you whom I don't know in real life (or whose mailing addresses I've sadly mislaid), these are the cards I sent out. Just like getting one, isn't it?
Merry Christmas! Perhaps I'll see some of you, like ships passing in the you-know-what, at the MLA.
I've been thinking about this a bit since reading Mon's good news and Academic Coach's comments on Mon's approach to her career--and now after researching and thinking about the six schools with which I have interviews it occurs to me that I really don't know what kind of institution I would most like to be at. I have interviews with big schools, small schools, urban schools, rural schools, public schools and private schools. I have interviews with schools with 2-2 teaching loads and one with a 4-4 teaching load. And I'm honestly attracted to aspects of all six of these schools. The thing is--how does one know what's most important?
As faithful readers of this blog know, I went to the same university for both my undergraduate and graduate schooling: a fancy R1. I'm also teaching at an R1, but one about as different from my alma mater as you can get: it's a public school, it's extremely diverse, and it has a predominantly commuter population. (And then there's the fact that I'm not exactly living the life of an R1 faculty member, as I'm teaching 3-4 and mostly intro classes.)
I don't really have any experience with smaller schools, except what I observed when I visited the liberal arts colleges I applied to when I was 18, what I've gleaned over the years from talking to GWB (who attended a LAC), and what I've gathered from the experiences of my friends who teach in LACs or predominantly teaching institutions.
And the thing is, I often feel that my academic experience would have been totally different--and in many ways better--if I had gone to a smaller school than INRU; I felt it during college, and I feel it now, though at no point have I ever actually regretted my decision. I took great classes and I had great professors, many of whom were very encouraging in inviting undergrads to come to their office hours, to set up lunches, etc.--but I never did, and neither do I know anyone who ever did.
By the time I graduated, I knew two English professors just well enough to say hello to and to ask for recommendation letters. I didn't talk much in most of my classes, always being intimidated by the kids from fancy prep schools who seemed to me much smarter than I. I was surprised when I got general honors at graduation, because I didn't think I was anywhere beyond the 50th percentile, gradewise. I was even more surprised when I got into INRU for grad school.
Some of that comes down to personality--call it modesty or call it insecurity--but I really do feel that I'd have been a much more confident scholar, at a younger age, if I had come up through a more intimate and personalized environment. I suspect that my writing and thinking would have been better, too, for having had someone actually take the time to teach me how to (say) construct an argument rather than just letting me muddle on through as best I could.
Consequently, then, one of the things that I value most about teaching is the opportunity to really work with and develop relationships with my students. I'm not trying to make them my friends, but I like to know where they're from, what classes they're taking, what they hope to do with their lives. I remember very clearly how tough college was, psychologically, and while I have no interest in becoming a counselor or a confidant, I do want my students to believe that I care about them in a more holistic way.
For those reasons, I think I'd really enjoy being at a small school. Even though the teaching load would be heavier, if the classes were reasonably sized and there were enough repeat students, I feel I'd have the chance to really get to know my students and perhaps make more of an impact. I also feel that the departmental culture, in a smaller school, is often much warmer and more supportive. I can't THINK of a more dysfunctional department than INRU's, though the anxiety and snobbery and jockeying for position that I saw there are probably generally typical of higher-powered institutions.
But. Although many aspects of teaching institutions appeal to me, I also really like research and I really like writing. I have several projects that I want to get underway or finish in the near future, and I don't know whether I'm prepared to slow down the pace of my own work when I'm only just now feeling that I'm good at it and that I have worthwhile things to contribute to my field.
There are also the values of the academic community to consider, and these teach us pretty emphatically that working at an R1 (or maybe one of a handful of super-selective liberal arts colleges) is the only thing that counts as success. I don't buy that message, but given its strength and given that R1s are what I know, I worry sometimes that I might be inclined, even against my own best interests, to give priority to that kind of school over one at which I might actually be happier (this is, of course, assuming that I'm lucky enough to be in the position of deciding between them!).
There are also other very important factors, like location. I'd like to be in or near a city, but most importantly I'd like to be near GWB; we've been dating for nearly five years, and all but one of them have been long-distance. Lemme tell you: it gets old.
In the end, I guess that I wish I knew my own mind better. However, I trust my gut instincts about people and situations, and I think that meeting a school's hiring committee and visiting on campus (if it comes to that), will make clear to me everything I need to have made clear.
At least, I hope so.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Goddamn I say godDAMN!
Picked up a copy of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking yesterday and am already more than halfway through it. Damn, that woman's good.
Oh, and I also bought these shoes (discounted by nearly 80%):
It's hard to tell, but the surface is actually covered with silver glitter. I love me some sparkle, I do.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Always Be Closing.
That's the most valuable lesson that I hope to take with me to the MLA. Although I AM thinking about answers to specific questions & I've done reseach on my various schools so that I'm prepared for unique pedagogical situations ("we have an interdisciplinary course requirement. . . what departments would you feel most comfortable working with, and what kinds of courses could you imagine devising and team-teaching?"), I think that the key to my success, ultimately, will come down to self-presentation.
1) I need to project self-confidence. Luckily, I have several kick-ass suits, and I look good and feel comfortable in them. I figure that if I look like a corporate lawyer, I'm conveying the right combination of seriousness and professionalism.
2) I need not to be reactive, but proactive. I don't want to be dreading certain questions or to be thrown for a loop when I get one that I wasn't expecting--I need to turn the questions around and make the interview my show: explaining why my work is totally interesting and important to the field and also immediately relevant to undergraduate teaching.
3) I need to be at ease. I think I'm a pretty funny person (no: actually I think I'm fucking hilarious), and I'd like to be able to communicate some small part of that in my interviews. It's not a comedy hour, obviously, but I'd like to be relaxed enough that I could joke around once or twice with my interviewers and convey some of what I bring to a classroom and what I'd bring to departmental life.
4) Ultimately, I need not to feel like a suppliant. I need to believe that I'm the best possible person for each job (nevermind, for the moment, all the other equally talented and desperate applicants out there), and I need to sell that impression for every one of the 30 or 45 minutes that I'm in each hotel room.
In other words, I need to be a closer.
Obtain a prosperous future
I just received an email entitled, "NEW PHD FOR YOU!"
The text of the message:
UNIVERSITY DIPLOMASShit. It seems like I got the wrong kind of Ph.D.! I need one based on my present knowledge and life experience! Or maybe what I really need is an MBA in English (they are, apparently, "available in [my] field").
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I just checked the online course registration form for my classes next term, and so far I have 108 students signed up for my four classes.
I'm teaching: two sections of the same survey, which are capped at 30; an introductory course on Super Huge Famous Author, also capped at 30; and a seminar on Pretty Darn Famous Author, capped at 25. I knew the surveys would be full--it's a required class for English majors--but SHFA is at an inconvenient time, so I was hoping to have a slightly smaller class (nope--it's full), and PDFA isn't exactly the biggest draw, so I was hoping for 15 (so far I have 18, which is okay, but more might add it to fulfill their seminar requirements).
Maybe I can scare some people off in the early days?
One way or the other, this I can promise you: this blog will feature a LOT of complaining about grading in the coming months.
Monday, December 19, 2005
O come thou wisdom from on high
I've now been here twice in the last two days:
It's Northwest City's cathedral church, the seat of the archdiocese, and absolutely gorgeous, as you can see; the interior was renovated about 10 years ago to place the altar at the center of the church, where the two arms of the cross intersect.
If I love one church more than the one I attend in Major Eastern City, it's this one. Close to downtown, the cathedral is in what is still a fairly poor neighborhood, and it serves an extremely mixed population. Seniors from nearby nursing homes sit next to green-haired baristas, Native Americans alongside Abercrombie-wearing college kids, and prosperous burghers next to people who look as though they might well have slept outside on the steps the previous night. And it's not just the congregants--the lay minsters include women and men of all ages and ethnicities, including one guy with a long thick braid down his back and another with spiky, shockingly peroxided hair. It's a warm and welcoming community that nevertheless has the most beautiful services I've ever attended--full of ritual and drama and plainsong chants.
My mom and I drove into the city to attend mass there yesterday, and then I went in again this evening for the penance and reconciliation service (otherwise known as "confession," to you non-Catholics). I always intend to confess each lent and advent, but in point of fact I make it in about once every year-and-a-half or two years.
At both services, we sang my favorite hymn, the one I spend all year waiting for, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," the second verse of which gives this post its title:
O come, thou wisdom from on high,The chorus, of course, is
Rejoice! Rejoice!Which, when sung unaccompanied and at the proper speed, doesn't sound at all joyful, at least not in the way that we traditionally think of joy; indeed, the music is positively mournful. But there's something there--a hope-against-hope, a sense of a nearly exhausted but still persistent faith--that moves me every time.
And today, caught up in thoughts about the MLA and the job hunt (I just got negged by the one school I was really hoping for. . . but then I got a request for a phone interview for a position at a school literally eighteen blocks north of my apartment), the verse about the ordering powers of wisdom, and seeking the path of knowledge, seems particularly pertinent.
If only I had that wisdom! Those ordering powers!
(But I do have a well-stocked pantry just upstairs. Mmm: cookies.)
Sunday, December 18, 2005
I've just come into, or shortly am to come into, possession of two amazing additions to my wardrobe, both of them vintage and both completely gratis. And them that knows me knows that if there's anything I like more than funky clothing, it's funky clothing on the cheap.
Item the first: a set of 50-plus-year-old doctoral robes. When I was at that fabulous conference in European City I got to talking with one of the other keynote speakers, and somehow the issue of academic regalia came up. I mentioned that I really wasn't looking forward to shelling out some $500 for my robes, even though I think INRU's are especially gorgeous (they happen to be in my favorite color, so I may be prejudiced).
And she said, hey, my Dad got his Ph.D. from INRU, and he passed away several years ago. I'll check with my Mom, but I think she'd really be delighted if someone else could get some use out of them.
I figured that she'd forget or that she wasn't really serious, so I wasn't waiting around expectantly--but in fact I just got an email from her the other day saying that her mom thought it was a great idea, and asking for my mailing address.
How fabulous! I'm sure I'll have to have them altered, and I'll still have to buy the hood (his doctorate was in a different field) and the tam, but I just love the idea of wearing a gown with such history, and embodying, in some way, the continuity of the academic and intellectual life.
Item the second: a 1950s or 1960s-era white mink coat: stroller length, lush wide lapels, and in pristine condition. Great with jeans, great for formal occasions. A woman who shares office space with my mom's company was given the coat by a grateful client (it was his mother's), but it really wasn't her style and she felt it would look out of place in Northwest City. So she offered it to my mom, for me. And I said, hell yeah!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
"Nice lady, but she grades way harsh"*
I spent two hours of my hellish first flight yesterday (well, to be more specific, I spent the one hour we spent parked on the tarmac, and then the first hour of the flight itself) calculating final grades for my afternoon survey class. And . . . they were not so good. I've known all along that it's a weaker class than my morning survey, but nevertheless, as the semester ends, I'm left wondering whether perhaps my grading really IS too hard.
The possibilities, as I see it, are these:
a) the assignments I design and the way I grade them are genuinely too hard or not pitched appropriately for my students' ability levelsI think it's probably a combination of items b, c, and d. I do have students getting As on assignments, and although I only gave course grades in the A range to 4 of my 59 total survey students (3 in my morning survey and 1 in my afternoon survey), 66% of each class got grades between an A and a B-. That span seems quite reasonable to me, and I was fairly generous in calculating those grades, especially when it was just one assignment that destroyed someone's average (I bumped one student up from an F- to a D, two students from Ds to C-minuses, and at least three students from C-pluses to B-minues).
Still, I know there are some individual students in both classes to whom I gave C range grades who have never gotten a C in a class in their major before, and I'm torn between feeling really sympathetic (and bad about being such a meanie!), and feeling really pissed off at them for not sacking up and doing the work.
Since it's obvious to me that not all students--even really good and dedicated ones--can write A papers (and that in a largish survey course, with only two essay assignments, I'm unlikely to be able to help a B- paper writer morph overnight into an A- paper writer), I built in a number of other ways for students to display their abilities. In addition to the midterm and final, 15% of my students' course grade is based on homework/participation, and 15% is based on quiz average.
That's THIRTY PERCENT of a student's grade that should be an easy A or at least B if they're keeping up with the reading and making a couple of comments per class period. But those students who have 50% quiz averages, and who never speak in class? What the hell am I supposed to do with you?
My quizzes, like Bardiac's, are really straightforward: "where does Character X go after doing Action Y?" "what does [literary term I'd written on the board, put on a handout, and discussed in the previous class] mean?" I also typically offer a bonus question, I drop the lowest quiz grade, and I offer two extra-credit assignments that are worth the weight of a quiz apiece. Consequently, I had students in my morning survey with quiz averages ranging from 90%-120%, some of whom were only very indifferent essay writers.
But then there were those others, who bitched about how OBSCURE my questions were, pointing to questions that dealt with, uh, the major actions of a major character in a very short work. Finally I said, look: you do have to study for this class. If your quiz grades aren't what you want them to be, it's probably because you're not allowing yourself enough time to read, and because you aren't taking notes on what you read. You wouldn't take a Chemistry class and think that you could get an A by reading the chapter through once before taking a test. You can't do it in an English class, either.
Manorama and Dr. Crazy have debated the pros and cons of monitoring students through quizzes and the like, and although I'm impressed and inspired by some of the things Mano says about her teaching style, I'm ultimately on Crazy's side (additional exchanges between Mano and Crazy here and here). Like Crazy, I think that part of my job is to teach my students, in a very immediate way, that they have duties and obligations to my class in precisely the same way that they have duties and obligations to their jobs and to their families--it's about helping them to be responsible and successful learners AND responsible and successful adults.
My quizzes are unannounced and can't be made up, which acts as a powerful incentive to attend class regularly (about half of my students are commuters, and at least as many of them work full-time while also attending school full-time). By giving quizzes, I think I'm also showing my students the minimal level of care they have to bring to their reading--which is to say, they have to at least know the main characters and the plot! I'm also ensuring that they're keeping up with the reading, which will be essential to their performance on the midterm and final.
Ultimately, I think that the rather low grades in this class show that I have certain expectations of my students, but I really don't believe that those expectations are too high. What I think I want to do differently next term is to really spell out for my students, on the first day of class, how they should approach this material (which for many of them will be the most challenging and unfamiliar stuff they'll encounter as English majors); why I give quizzes; and what opportunities they have to prove or develop their skills.
Another thing I think I need to change is my general policy of not calling on students who haven't volunteered to speak. In my morning survey, it was rare for 10 seconds to elapse after my asking a question and someone raising a hand. In my afternoon survey, it was quite the other way around, and six students did almost all of the talking. I always dreaded being called on in college, which is why I've been reluctant to do it myself, but the thing is, the questions I ask only gradually build to more complicated and abstract issues. Generally I start with more-or-less factual questions ("let's talk about the place where this story begins--what's it like, and what details do you remember?") or very open-ended ones ("what strikes you as interesting about this passage we just read?"), where I feel the bar is low enough for me to, in the inimitable words of HK, "get Socratic on their asses."
This, I hope, will improve classroom discussion, increase the engagement level of my quieter students, and help out some participation grades along the way. Again, it's about showing my students that I expect something out of them.
I really do believe that most of my students are good and well-intentioned kids, but many of them, if I left them an easy out, would take it. I'm not a Rousseauian. I believe in the improving effects of putting the fear of God into people now and again.
*This is, of course, a quotation from one of my INRU teaching evals.
technorati tag: teaching-carnival
Evaluations: preliminary post
I don't know when I get my evals back from Big Urban, but I've had some funny ones up at RateMyProfessors.com for a while now. Weirdly, although these ratings are, like most professors', highly skewed, mine for some reason are skewed in the direction of easiness. Three of my four raters thought the class was pretty straightforward and/or easy, which I know is not the dominant opinion.*
At the same time, they all described me as funny and/or fun, which pleased me even if what one reviewer chose to highlight was our discussion of "skanky hos in [canonical work]." [For the record, I never used those words, though I plead guilty to talking about key parties, hookup remorse, and various people trying to get into other people's pants.]
The other thing I find funny is those students who say, "Lecturess is really smart and really knows her material!" Uh, yeah. It's my period (or half of it is). I have a Ph.D. Thanks for the validation, kiddo!
*Interestingly, these don't appear to be students who were loving the material or even who were doing all that well--two mention how boring the readings are as a way of highlighting the surprising fact that I can make it fun.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Odds & ends from Pepys
23 September 1660
[I]n Mr. Symon's pewe I sat and heard Mr. Rowe [give a sermon]. Before sermon I laughed at the reader, who in his prayer desired of God that He would imprint his word on the thums of our right hands and on the right great toes of our right feet. In the middst of sermon some plaster fell from the topp of the Abbey, that made me and all the rest in our pew afeared, and I wished myself out.
7 October 1660
[M]y Lord told me that among his father's many old sayings that he had writ in a book of his, this is one: that he that doth get a wench with child and marries her afterwards it is as if a man should shit in his hat and then clap it upon his head.
And yes, I've now finished the first volume! On to 1661--a conveniently slimmer book, just in time for my trip to Northwest City tomorrow.
Two down, one to go
Apologies for the light blogging of late--George Washington Boyfriend has been in town for nearly a week, in the midst of which I've been grading like a fiend and commuting out to Big Urban to administer finals, attend bullshit meetings, and all the rest. But I turned in two of my grade sheets yesterday, finished grading exams from my last class today, and tomorrow on the plane out to Northwest City I'll calculate final grades for that class and then FedEx them to BU. (We have these carbon-copy, bubble-form sheets that can't be faxed, much less entered electronically.)
Then it'll be a week and a half of sleeping in, eating from my folk's amply-stocked pantry, and chilling with my bro. And not thinking about the MLA. Or at least not for more than an hour or two a day. Phew!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Interviews nos. 3, 4, and 5
Whoa, what's up here? Three interview requests today, all from schools totally unlike those first two: one's a teaching-oriented university right next door to Grad School City (confidential to Marielle: yes, and I know); one's a liberal-arts college in the middle of nowhere (confidential to AKB: not too far from your own corner of nowhere); and the third, also a liberal arts college, is quite close to GWB & in a department where I know one very cool person.
So I'm feeling pretty good. Last year I only got two interviews (with, admittedly, only 3 chapters written and a very modest amount of teaching experience). Maybe being done really does make the difference.
They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time
I've been listening to the Talking Heads while trying to dig my way out from beneath this pile of papers and bluebooks, and it occurs to me that one song expresses my current sentiments perfectly:
In a worldIn other words: enough frantic emails, already!
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Ooh, I have that thrilling feeling of transgression: GWB and I just saw two movies for the price of one. We bought tickets for Syriana and watched it in comfort from the middle of the 2/3-full theatre. Then we used the loo, bought some popcorn, and walked into the theatre next over, whose screening of Brokeback Mountain was starting ten minutes later. It's opening weekend for the latter movie and I'm sure that the theatre was officially "sold out"--but since half of the front row was empty, we settled in right up front and center.
I've never done that before, but damned if I wouldn't do it again, especially on a cold winter day when I have five hours to burn. Loews presumably doesn't care (tickets are torn at a single point of entry and the theatre's 10-odd screens are set way back together beyond the concessions), and since some eight seats remained empty up front for the entire showing, I didn't feel that we were displacing any paying customers.
GWB, however, is a more law-abiding individual than I, and I had to talk him into it. As I pointed out, if we were caught, so what? We wouldn't be arrested; we'd just go home.
Both movies were great, although we both felt that Syriana was better overall. I liked Brokeback better than GWB, but we agreed that its weaknesses were mostly in the acting rather than in the writing or directing, which were both very strong. I found the movie enormously affecting, but perhaps more because of the issues and emotions that it pointed towards than because of those it actually inspired, if that distinction makes any sense. I read a lot into the movie's reticence, and that's not a bad thing, but while some of the movie's elisions were deliberate--you're supposed to be filling in the gaps created by Heath Ledger's silences and inarticulateness--some of them were just sloppy. It's a movie I'd have to see again to know how I really felt about it.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Another flagship state school, in another location that I don't know anything about--but it's closer to my friends, closer to GWB (a quick plane flight or a half-day car trip), and with a stronger doctoral program. Aside from the fact that it's not local, this is a university that I'm really excited about.
The suspense! The anxiety! They're corrosive.
Gays in the priesthood, take three
Rebecca Nappi of Journey to Vatican III posted this link to a letter by Seattle Archbishop Brunett, responding to questions about the new instructions for seminary directors. He chooses to interpret the letter as advocating nothing more than careful self-examination by all candidates for the priesthood to make sure that they're ready for celibacy, and he reaffirms the Church's belief in the dignity and worth of gays and lesbians; he also asserts that any connection between homosexuality and the sex scandal in Church is completely unfounded.
I'm proud of my old archdiocese. I remember the Vatican's crackdown on former AB Raymond Hunthausen, in the 1980s. Rome believed that Hunthausen was going too far in supporting ministries aimed at supporting gays and lesbians and responding to the AIDS crisis; they quickly shipped out an "assistant" to keep an eye on him, and I believe said assistant remained until the end of Hunthausen's term.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Wait: is the semester really over?
Yesterday I taught three classes and held FOURTEEN student conferences before, between, and after those classes. I got home at 10 p.m.
Today all I wanted to do was sleep in and spend the day puttering around my apartment. But no rest for the wicked: I got up early, put on a suit, and took the train to INRU for a mock interview.
I've been grumbling about this all week and the stupid time investment involved, but I have to admit that it was useful and even enjoyable. I did a mock interview last year, too, which went okay, but I certainly wouldn't have gotten a campus visit out of that interview if it had been the real thing. This year I felt much stronger. There was one big question that I completely wasn't prepared for, and that I'm really glad I got (since it's a head-slappingly how-could-I-not-have-anticipated-THAT kind of question), but I felt that I handled everything else creditably, even the couple of questions that I did an end-run around so as to avoid the parts I wasn't prepared for and to discuss the related issues that I was prepared for. (As a wise classmate counseled before my orals: "If you can't answer the question they ask you, don't worry! Just answer a question like the one they're asking you.")
My faux committee was also much better this year, really working with me afterwards to think about some of the ways that I might address those questions I'd evaded, and giving small but useful pointers on other subjects. Even more fortuitously: on that committee was a first-year assistant professor who had actually interviewed with Flagship State U at the MLA last year. Thank God for connections.
It was cold but not unbearable out today, and lovely to be back in Grad School City, which I'm missing rather. I've been enrolled as a student at INRU for 10.5 years now, nine of them spent either actually living in town or commuting to campus regularly, and it's crazy to think how well I know that place. (I can tell you where all the bathrooms are! the names of every single building! the wacky traditions of various undergraduate organizations!) It's not that I wish I were still there--it hasn't always been the happiest or healthiest place for me, and I'm glad to be away from the neuroses of its overachieving undergraduates--but I do wonder whether I'll ever know another campus and its student body that well again.
After chit-chatting with various people around the department, I returned my 11 remaining library books and then met up with Marielle and her mother for coffee and a little bit of shopping. A couple of hours later I had dinner with Babe at a recently-opened and amazing family-run Italian restaurant. That's another reason I'm missing Grad School City, I suppose: all the friends who have settled nearby, and who I still see--but just a bit less often.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
First interview request
Yippee! I just got my first request for a job interview at the MLA. It's from a flagship state university in a region of the country that's relatively unfamiliar to me--but I've heard good things about both the university and the town itself (one of my best friends from grad school got his B.A. and M.A. from said university).
Weird thing: their interviewing/hiring committee is HUGE! Five faculty members and one grad student. However, only two of them are actually in my field (and their scholarly interests are dramatically different from mine), so hopefully that nightmare scenario wherein I get grilled about some major scholarly work that I've somehow never read--but that should be crucial to my research--won't actually come to pass.
I also think it says good things about their department that they include grad students in the process.
Monday, December 05, 2005
We had our first snow of the year on Sunday, though it turned quickly to slush and the air had that damp, bone-chilling cold in it that I associate with winter in Northwest City more than with winter out here.
I slogged out to noon mass, then treated myself to brunch at the diner across the street from the church, where I finished grading the last three papers for my survey. Took the train down to Dynamic D's and she and I drank a bottle of champagne and watched How to Marry a Millionaire. Good fluffy fun, though Lauren Bacall's the best thing in that movie and her talents are a bit wasted.
Then back here, where I avoided completing the reading for my survey.
More snow tonight, and probably lots of it.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
How blogging helps the job candidate
Okay. So, I'm on the job market this year. And although I'm pseudonymous (and probably unidentifiable except by someone who knows me really well and who stumbles upon this blog), I've read with some anxiety the Tribble & Sons brouhaha about how blogging is Death! To! Job Candidates!
Many other academic bloggers have answered Tribble convincingly, giving reasons why blogging is academically useful and arguing that most younger academics don't have such a suspicious or misguided notion of what blogging entails. What I want to do here is outline three ways in which I think blogging is useful specifically for candidates on the job market, especially those who are still in or just out of grad school.
Now, I admit this is somewhat premature of me, since a) I wasn't blogging when I went on the job market last year, and b) I have no guarantees that I'll wind up with a t-t job this year, when I am blogging. Nevertheless, my Ph.D. is in the humanities: lack of solid proof has never stopped me from forging ahead on a hunch and a promising idea before--and there's no reason why it should do so now, either.
So, herewith my evidence for the defense:
1. Blogging has helped me to articulate and make sense of my first semester as a full-time teacher. When I started teaching my own classes at INRU, an experienced instructor suggested that I keep a "teaching journal"--just a document on my home computer that I'd freewrite into after each class, recording the things I did in that class period and what went well and not so well. He recommended this not only as a great resource for my future classes, but also for the job market: it would provide a trove of examples and anecdotes to draw upon in discussing my work in the classroom.
My blog is, for obvious reasons, less full of specifics than that teaching journal was, but it serves some of the same purpose. It reminds me of what I've done this semester and some of the larger issues I'm dealing with and will probably continue to deal with as I teach texts that are unfamiliar in many ways to most students. Working through some of these issues on my blog means that I'm better prepared to discuss them or to give detailed, thoughtful answers to certain questions in a job interview (such as the ever-popular, "how will you teach Pretty Darn Famous Author to our students? They're not like INRU students. How can you get them interested in this dead white male most of them have never heard of?").
As I've established, I'm an introvert, and although I'm also a chatty and enthusiastic personality, when I'm put on the spot--particularly when there's an audience, and particularly when the situation feels high-stakes--my brain sometimes freezes up and refuses to process even a fairly easy question if it's one I really haven't anticipated. So I figure that the more thinking I've done about my teaching, my scholarship, and the profession before my interviews, the better.
2. Reading and commenting on other academic blogs has helped me with the nuts and bolts of teaching--I've gotten ideas for lesson plans and syllabi policies, I've encountered other people's teaching philosophies, and I've learned just how many of my struggles and frustrations are widely-shared. I can speak much more intelligently about what it is (or might be like) to teach at different kinds of institutions and how I could adapt the teaching I've done in the past to that new environment.
3. Those other academic blogs have also given me a fuller sense of the profession--what life looks like after getting a tenure-track job. This has given me a better idea of what to expect (and what questions to ask) when it comes to tenure requirements, professional development, service expectations, and/or involvement in undergraduate or graduate life. (And sometimes those blogs even provide insight into the minds of the hiring committee itself.)
Those last two benefits could certainly be gained by a job candidate who doesn't have her own blog but reads others assiduously--but I believe that the three points I've outlined interact with each other in important ways; it's by participating in this community directly, and forming relationships with other bloggers, that I've really come to a full understanding of myself as a member of this profession.
We'll see what the job market says, but I'm convinced that keeping a blog has made me a stronger job candidate--even without the members of the relevant hiring committees knowing as much.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Gays in the priesthood, take two
I'm revising some of my earlier remarks about the new Vatican "instructions" on gays in the priesthood, based partly on the cover letter that is apparently being sent out along with the instructions themselves (NYT article here). Said cover letter says that, while already-ordained gay priests may continue in their ministries, one thing they can't do (or continue to do) is teach seminarians.
Although this recommendation isn't really any different in kind from the instructions themselves, when taken together they make it harder for me to argue that the Vatican isn't beginning a concerted campaign against gay priests. (I'm aware, of course, that the Vatican--if not most American Catholics--has long had an injust and certainly un-Christian attitude toward "active" gays and lesbians; my hope, I suppose, was that as long as the Church recognized the worth and dignity of celibate gays and lesbians, and taught that homosexuality was as much the work of God as heterosexuality, then the logic of that position would inevitably, eventually, lead the institution to recognize that the expression of that sexuality is also natural.)
Andrew Sullivan has been arguing for some while that the Church is now effectively saying that homosexuals have no moral worth. I still think that's an overstatement, based on Sullivan's rather selective reading of both these instructions and other Vatican documents,* but I'm feeling fewer hope-against-hopes that these instructions represent some kind of compromise position between the Church's conservative and liberal factions.
That being said--I still don't know what to make of the fact that the "instructions," much less the cover letter, are widely agreed to be unenforceable. The Times quotes a Jesuit currently at Santa Clara University (shout-out to SCR!) as saying that the instructions are only an interpretation of canon law, and the letter not even that. That makes me wonder: is the Vatican gearing up for a more official, dogmatic statement about gays and lesbians? Or is the unenforceable nature of these recommendations testimony that the Vatican is aware, however dimly, of its own bad faith in promoting this interpretation, which directly contradicts the last several decades of Church teachings?
I guess that last speculation is the extent of the optimism I can muster today for Benedict's papacy.
*In today's posts (scroll down), Sullivan makes some interesting observations about the position that hetero-normative masculinity now seems to be (re)assuming in church discourse. Muscular Christianity, anyone?
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Hot damn! We're almost there. As of today, I have: