La Lecturess

(But our beginnings never know our ends!)

Email: lecturess[AT]gmail[DOT]com

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

Late Spring To-Do List

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

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Friday, April 28, 2006

(Sort of) Friday poetry blogging

Yesterday was my last day of classes, and, unsurprisingly, nearly ten students decided that THAT WAS THE DAY to perform their extra-credit poem memorization--an opportunity that has been open to them for two months. It was actually rather nice, though: I had the chance to chat with some students whom I'd never really gotten to know outside their contributions to class discussion.

Here are some of the more unusual conversations I had:

Student #1 recited Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 and did a very good job. I chatted with him about it for a few minutes afterwards, and when I asked him why he'd chosen that one, he said that, well, he was basically an optimist, and although he really liked all of the sonnets we'd read, many of them had a bleaker outlook about the passage of time and so on. He hastened to explain that he recognized the darker side of life, and could appreciate literature that dealt with it, but he wanted to focus on something more positive. "What I really like, in poetry, is work that focuses on the individual, and the dignity of the human person."

Great, I said. I can appreciate that. Are there any poets that you're thinking of. . . ?

"Well, see, actually who I really like--and most people don't know this about him, but--did you know that John Paul II was a poet?"


"Yeah! He's got this great poem about a quarry worker--he worked in a quarry when he was a young man--and it's all about the nobility and dignity of the laborer. Also, like Blake? His poem about the chimney sweep? I really like that."

All I could think to do was to suggest that he go read Whitman.

Student #2 recited her poem, and after we'd chatted about it she shyly mentioned that she was taking a creative writing class over the summer, and did I think that that was a good idea?

She's pretty smart and her papers have been solid Bs, but they haven't exactly afforded me the opportunity to see her fiction-writing skills on display. Sure! I said. I mean, I don't know what your creative work looks like, but go for it.

"Well, I really liked that Spenserian assignment you gave us, and I was wondering what you thought about mine." Whereupon she produced from her bag the 9-line stanza she'd written four or six weeks ago, and which I'd given a check-plus to (a rare grade from me for a homework assignment).

I reviewed it and said, yes, this is very good. I mean, it's not fiction, but you seem to have a good ear--and if writing is something you want to do, and you're a good and careful reader, the craft will come.

She went away happy, and I was pleased, but also a little puzzled and a little sad that I--the instructor for her lit survey, who didn't at all know her or her work (we'd only ever had one previous conversation, as she was working on her last paper) was apparently the only person she had to ask for advice about her potential as a writer.

Student #3 didn't have her poem (also a Shakespeare sonnet) fully memorized when she showed up at my office--at FIVE-THIRTY P.M., mind you, shortly before I was planning on leaving--so I told her to go out into the exterior portion of the module, take 10 minutes, and then come back.

I was working away at email when she popped her head back in. "See, it's just these two lines I can't remember! And I can't remember them because I can't understand them. What do they mean?" She passed the book over to me.

Well, uh--he's asking Time to not mark his lover's face . . . what part, exactly, don't you get?

"This 'him'! Who's 'him'?"

Uh, the lover. From the previous line.

"His lover is a MAN?! Wait--was Shakespeare GAY?!!"

Well, we know that most of these poems were written to a man. . .

"Oh wait. Oh, yeah. You said that in class." Pause. "Wow. That's just so funny! So but, some are to a woman. So he was bisexual?"

Finally I got her to refocus on the poem, gave her another five minutes to practice, and then called her in: now or never; I have a train to catch.

And of course, she couldn't get past line three, even with prompts.

And of course, I gave her a break and said that she could try again the day of the final. Sucker.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:18 PM | 5 comments

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ABC meme

Okay, okay! Jumping on the bandwagon, here, albeit belatedly.

Accent: I don't really have one, although the regionalisms I've picked up in the last 13 years and the fact that I speak very fast would probably peg me as an East Coaster. (I've also been told, on a couple of occasions, that I have unusual enunciation and delivery patterns--but I have no idea what these people are talking about.)

Booze: My favorite cocktail is the Sidecar, followed closely by the Gimlet and the Martini. My preferred liquors are gin (Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray) or Scotch or Irish whiskey (Dewar's or Jameson's).

Chore I Hate: Cleaning the shower/bathtub.

Dog or Cat: Cats, although I don't have one and I'm allergic.

Essential Electronics: Laptop and cell phone.

Favorite Cologne(s): Chanel, Coco or Allure.

Gold or Silver: I usually wear silver, but I think gold actually looks better on me.

Hometown: Northwest City.

Insomnia: Generally I go to bed late enough (and during the academic term I'm sleep-deprived enough) that I fall asleep immediately.

Job Title: Currently a lecturer, soon to be assistant professor.

Kids: I can barely take care of myself.

Living arrangements: Studio apartment.

Most admirable trait: I think I'm very good at seeing things from other people's perspectives and devining motives and intent. In general, I'm a good reader of character.

Number of sexual partners: Enough.

Overnight hospital stays: Not since I was born.

Phobias: When I get home, I tend to check all the closets and large cupboards for axe-murderers.

Quote: "Not a shred of evidence exists that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. And saying that, I am prepared to add what follows from it: that since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time." Brendan Gill, Here at The New Yorker.

Religion: Practicing (albeit liberal/progressive) Catholic.

Siblings: One younger brother.

Time I wake up: I consider anything before 7 a.m. to be the absolute middle of the night (even though this year I've been getting up at 5 or 6 on the days I teach). On the days I'm not teaching, I usually get up between 9.30 and 11.

Unusual talent or skill: I can write backwards rapidly (or upside-down, slightly less rapidly).

Vegetable I refuse to eat: I don't like asparagus, but I'll eat it.

Worst habit: I get cross easily and I'm impatient. And no, I don't think this cancels out item "M," above. You got a problem with that?

X-rays: Foot/ankle. And teeth, of course.

Yummy foods I make: I don't cook much, but I make some mean devilled eggs.

Zodiac sign: I'm precisely on the cusp between Aquarius and Pisces, but I self-identify as an Aquarius.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:17 PM | 10 comments

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's never going to end. But it will end.

I’m poking my head out of Grading Jail* just long enough to make these observations:

1. Contrary to my expectations, I’m pretty sure that I’m grading much more slowly this semester—and that I’ve been grading even more slowly with each new set of papers—even though I now have more students than I’ve ever had.

Last term, I had 76 students (which was 58 more students than I’d ever before had in a single semester), and my paper grading efficiency rose to about 25-30 minutes per 5-6 page paper. This term I started out with 112 students, which I’ve since whittled down to 99, and I was convinced that I’d soon hit the magic rate of 20 min/paper—but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’m d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g myself through each one.

I’m also having an unexpected crisis of faith about my abilities, not so much as a grader (it’s pretty easy to distinguish an A- from a B+, a B+ from a B, and all the way down on just a quick read-through), but as a commenter. I’m just not sure, any more, that my feedback is actually helpful. When I’m confronted with a paragraph, I often find myself paralyzed: okay, so the sentences are inelegant and have usage and word choice errors. The paragraph as a whole is disorganized, with an idea down here that really belongs up there, and the same idea expressed three times in three different ways. Oh, and the argumentation is flawed—the author has ignored a really obvious counterargument here and is making a bogus claim there. So, where to begin? I know that I can’t and shouldn’t deal with all of it, and that my students need to have the Big Things highlighted and not a lot of minutiae—but what does that actually mean, on a given paper? I used to think I knew, but now I appear to have lost that knowledge.

2. Pursuant to item #1, I’m going to rethink how I deal with writing in my literature classes for next year. First of all, I clearly need to set aside more class time to deal with it, even if it’s only ten minutes here and ten minutes there. Second, in my survey-level classes (where I only assign two papers, since the class also has a midterm and a final), I may require that students come to my office hours at least once, either to go over my comments right after I’ve returned their first set of papers or to review those comments as they work on their second papers.

Even though I use a grading rubric that breaks down my comments and their grade into five separate categories—thesis, argumentation/structure, textual support, introduction and conclusion, writing/mechanics--I’m just not convinced that my students are deriving (or even know how to derive) general principles from the feedback that they get on an individual paper; I sure didn’t make that leap when I was an undergraduate. It might be good for me actually to show them how to do this.

3. On a more positive note: I’ve become an expert subway paper-grader, and I actually really like grading on the subway; grading a couple of papers in transit allows me to rationalize an afternoon or evening out, and I’m always more productive in a time- and spatially limited environment. As long as I can get a seat, I’m golden: I’ve got my legal pad to use as a desk and I’ve perfected a grip and penmanship style that allows me to weather sudden stops and jolts. The only negative is that the people around me always seem fascinated: looking over my shoulder or continually casting sidelong glances my way. I sometimes wonder what the content of those looks is. Is it admiring?--“Damn! What a way to be productive!” Or is it critical?--“Shit, I hope my teachers treated my work with a little more attention and respect!”

4. And on the most positive note of all: 12 more papers to grade from my survey sections, then 21 research papers from my seminar (which I haven’t received yet)~~and then I’m free!

*I believe Lisa holds the trademark to this term. But boy, do I love it!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:48 PM | 11 comments

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Learning from my students

Whenever I read student papers I learn new things about some very familiar texts; that's a given. However, what I learn is usually something small: the significance of a single image here or of a particular word choice there--and these insights can be buried in the midst of papers that are otherwise entirely uninspired. When I'm having a particularly bad run of papers, I may encounter a new idea only once every ten papers. I'm not criticizing my students for this, necessarily--part of writing a paper is learning how to write a paper, and even summarizing and paraphrasing can be a step toward that--but grading a lot of bad papers in a row sometimes makes me feel that I'm losing brain cells along the way.

But just now? I read a student essay that made me SMARTER. It was the fourth close-reading I'd read in a row, all on the same Shakespearean sonnet, and it was amazing; it's the best paper I've read all year (the student in question is very sharp, but her elegant first essay was pretty empty at its core); indeed, it's among the best I've read ever.

Thank God for papers like this. Even if they only come once a year, they're worth it.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 6:44 PM | 7 comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just sayin'

Today in my survey classes I began by having my students work through the single sexiest poem of the entire period we're covering. I'd never actually taught this poem before, as it's just a bit long for a day when we're trying to cover a lot of ground, but today it seemed irresistible: it's rather lewd, tremendously funny, but also quite beautiful.

My morning class? Loved it. They succeeded in making the poem even dirtier than I'd originally believed it to be (in two cases they were actually misreading it, but in the third they were absolutely right: I'd missed a very salacious double-entendre), worked through some tough passages like champs, and I think learned a lot. We concluded our discussion, God help us, by considering what the poet himself might have looked like naked. Much merriment, much jollity.

My afternoon class? Eh. They got it--they just weren't particularly interested in it.

People, it's SEX! Naked people! And in an era where, apparently, you all believe that premarital sex was "absolutely forbidden" and that "just writing about it might have gotten him put in prison" (sadly, those are direct quotations from a paper I recently received).

I mean really. If sex doesn't sell, what's this world coming to?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:22 PM | 5 comments


As I'm looking ahead to my move to Medium-Sized City this summer, I'm starting to wonder/worry about how I'm going to make friends and establish a sense of community there. The city itself seems like it has the potential to be cool--it's bigger than Grad School City (where I was very happy living), and has even more in the way of dining, arts, and entertainment options. I'm also looking forward to living in a large, beautiful apartment for not much more than I paid for my tiny grad school studio (and certainly less than I'm paying now!). But this will be the first move I've made since coming East for college where I haven't had pre-existing friends either in the exact location that I'm moving to or no more than an hour or two away. This time, my closest friend will be a five or six hour drive away.

And. . . how does one make new friends, anyway? There are one's colleagues, of course, and I'm excited that there are so many young ones at DRU--but although all the recent hires seem like a lot of fun, most a) don't live in Medium-Sized City itself, and b) don't necessarily seem like people I'd be close to outside of work, even if they were excellent work friends. I got a good vibe from one of them, whom I'm hopeful about, and I know that there will be all the other new-new hires starting in the fall--but one doesn't want to be purely dependant on one's colleagues for one's social life.

However, apart from them, I'm going to know exactly one person in MSC: a fellow INRU grad student, from a different department, just got a job at the local research university. I think we've only actually spoken once, but we know each other by sight and we know a few people in common, so I went ahead and emailed her to say, "Hey! We barely know each other! But I bet you don't know anyone else in MSC, either--let's trade contact information and totally be BFF!" (Fortunately, she wasn't freaked out by this.)

I'm also a little anxious about the scholarly community. The department at DRU seems great, but there's only one other person in my field. Maybe there's a regional, subfield-specific reading group? I know that many of the DRU faculty in different fields belong to reading and support groups that draw from a variety of local universities. If there isn't one, I guess I could try to start one. (You know, with all those connections I have in the area.)

But as worry-making as some of this is, and as torn as I am about leaving my friends, this city, and my life here (my favorite bar! my fabulous hairdresser!), some of it is exciting, too. I already know the frequency of the NPR affiliates, the admission prices and membership rates at the museums and the art-house cinema, and I've been trying to figure out the metropolitan bus routes. The region is also heavily Catholic, so I'm hopeful that, in a city with several colleges and universities, I'll also be able to find the perfect convergence of the liberal, the religious, and the intellectual.

So, you tell me: am I freaked out about moving? Excited? Really, I can't tell.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:27 PM | 11 comments

Sunday, April 16, 2006

End-of-semester countdown

Although it hardly feels like it, the semester is indeed nearly over. As of today, I have:
  • 2 more weeks of classes
  • 4 more days of teaching
  • 22 hours of teaching
  • 12 hours participating in/supervising a "fun" extra-credit project--on a Saturday (what was I thinking?)
  • 44 papers left to grade from my survey classes
  • 21 research papers to grade from my seminar on Author #1
  • 3 final exams to devise
  • 2 days of exams to sit through
  • 77 final exams to grade
  • 98 course grades to compute
But by May 12, it will all be over!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:35 PM | 3 comments

The fabulous and the flabbergasting

The fabulous
I went to the noon mass today, took a leisurely hour or two to grab some coffee, read the paper, and window-shop, and then I headed home. I walked the last few blocks slowly, enjoying the 80-degree weather and all the Easter finery on display. There's always a fair amount of dressing up for church here in Historically Black Neighborhood, but of course nothing compares to Easter: oversized hats on the women, panamas and fedoras on the men, suits on churchgoers of both sexes, girls in frilly dresses, and whole families strolling up and down and greeting their neighbors.

Amidst all this display some people still manage to stand out--the woman in the stunning fushia skirt suit; the man in pinstripes carrying a polished walking stick--but one sight almost stopped me dead. Accompanied by their more conventionally dressed family members were two teenaged boys: one in a fire-engine-red four-button suit and matching fedora, the other in a shiny gold checkerboard-pattern suit and two-tone shoes.

Big Easter pimpin'!

The flabbergasting
Ever since I moved here three years ago, a freshly renovated building on my corner has appeared just on the verge of opening. It's an unusually-shaped building, and I've long wondered who had bought it and what it was going to become. But although workmen occasionally came and went and a few of the upstairs windows indicated the presence of a handful of apartments and new residents, no one seemed in a real hurry to install a retail tenant in the handsome street-level space. In the last two months, though, there's been more activity--lighting fixtures going up, a deli case being carted in--and today I finally saw a sign out front. Aha! I thought. At last! So I walked over to take a look.

And whaddaya think it is? Why, a caviar and champagne bar and catering service! Yes, in the heart of HBN. I mean, I get ghetto-fabulous, people, and I like my champagne as much as the next lush--but there are only a few real restaurants and one decent grocery store for blocks. Maybe you could go for something that's both upscale AND a little more useful?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:38 PM | 3 comments

Friday, April 14, 2006

Used books, used bookstores

The other day I took down from one of my bookcases a volume of Ezra Pound's poems, looking for his translations from the Anglo-Saxon. I only found one (I'd thought there were more), but as I was flipping through the book a sales slip fell out from against the back binding. Even without seeing the receipt I remembered perfectly well where and when I'd bought the volume, a first edition of the 1926 complete-poems Personae: it was in my first year of grad school, shortly after taking a a course on high modern poetry, that I'd come across the book in my favorite used bookstore. But opening up the handwritten sales slip and looking at the store name stamped across the top, I started thinking about how much I loved that store, and how much I regret its closing.

It's not just this one store, of course--an amazing used bookstore in Quaint Smallish City closed less than a year after George Washington Boyfriend started working there; a dusty hole-in-the-wall near my current apartment has moved most of its scholarly stock into an off-site warehouse so that it can fill its shelves with more "popular" volumes--but this particular used bookstore was one of my first and best experiences with the genre. I discovered it just after my sophomore year of college, when I was hanging around town for a summer internship and subletting an apartment that just happened to be right around the corner from the bookstore. It wasn't near my dorm or any university buildings that I visited regularly, but after that first summer I made it a habit to trek out there every few months. After I graduated, I returned nearly every time I was in town--and when I moved back for grad school I resumed my semi-regular visits.

The entire last year and a half that I was living in Grad School City, the store had a massive sale going on (I think 30-35%), and every time I stopped in I asked the owner, anxiously, if this meant that he was closing. "No, no," he said: he was just weeding out the stock. But it wasn't true; by March 2003 the store had closed.

Thinking about the bookstore got me perusing my shelves and wondering what, if anything, the particular books I bought there say about me, my evolving interests, or about the store's particular strengths. Here, then, is an annotated list, in approximately chronological order by purchase date:
  • Oscar Wilde, De Profundis. I was very into Wilde the summer I lived near the bookstore.
  • Evelyn Waugh, Diaries of Evelyn Waugh and The End of Battle (first edition). Ditto Waugh, though this interest has lasted longer and goes much deeper than my interest in Wilde.
  • A 1965 edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. I also bought this that first summer, and although it's turned out to be useful, I don't think I used it much until grad school. The one time I remember using it in college was when HK and I were having a phone conversation in which we were trying to understand the difference between metonymy and synecdoche. After we'd gotten off the phone I went off to dinner, and when I came back there was a message from her on my machine saying, in her trademarked faux-naive voice, "So, LL, if I just heard a girl say that she gave her boyfriend head last night--is "giving head" an example of metonymy, or synecdoche?" I called back and we argued about it for 30 minutes. (You wanna know what I was like in college? That's what I was like in college.)
  • A flimsy paperback copy of E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational. I bought this because a T.A. of mine kept mentioning it. I believe that I read it. I remember nothing about it.
  • A 1966 edition of Sylvia Plath, Ariel. Does this item need annotating? I was a 22-year old woman. Of course I bought this book.
  • A monumental, Heritage Society 3-volume edition of Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have not read this. But I had good intentions when I shelled out the $65 for it early in grad school.
  • Ezra Pound, Personae.
  • Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope (first edition) and Not so Deep as a Well. My copy of Enough Rope, which is Parker's first volume of poems, has this inscription: "To Helene--with good intentions. From 'Shup.'" What does that mean? What does it MEAN? I puzzle over this every time I open the volume.
  • A Compact Oxford English Dictionary from the 1970s, complete with case and magnifying glass. This was one of my greatest coups, purchased for about $75 during that prolonged period where the bookstore was running its sale. I found the volume on a grey afternoon shortly after GWB and I had started dating. We'd had a nice lunch at a clubby little. . . well, club near campus and then had gone our separate ways. I was still wearing a skirt and heels, and I lugged the set, wrapped in plastic against the drizzle, back the 20-minute crosstown walk by myself.
  • A pristine set of the 10-volume Complete [Genre] Works of [Major Author]. This is really my prized purchase. The set is the standard critical edition of works that I expect to be studying for the rest of my career, but it's long out of print and impossible to find even through the used book network (two or three of the less-popular volumes show up occasionally, but not the ones that I really need). I'd been trying to get my hands on at least the most relevant volumes for years, checking ABE nearly every week, when this essentially untouched set showed up at the bookstore just a day or two before one of my periodic visits. The owner ran a quick internet search and then quoted me a price of $300. I took a deep breath and whipped out my plastic. I'm quite sure he could have gotten $1,000 from an internet buyer within weeks, but perhaps he was just trying to move stock. Apparently, it was only a month later that he closed up shop.
I admit that these days I buy most of my used books from ABE, where I can be reasonably sure of getting what I need and where I can comparison shop for prices. But I miss the serendipity of the used bookstore, and I particularly miss THIS bookstore. I'm pleased, though, to learn that there are some reputedly good used bookstores in the city and the region that I'll be moving to this summer.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:26 PM | 11 comments

Good Friday poetry blogging: John Donne

This is an entirely predictable choice, but I do love this poem.

Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward

Let man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motions, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirled by it.
Hence is't that I am carried towards the West
This day, when my soul's form bends towards the East.
There I should see a Sun, by rising, set,
And by that setting endless day beget:
But that Christ on this cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees God's face, that is self life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made his owne lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands which span the poles,
And tune all spheres at once, peirced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height which is
Zenith to us, and t'our antipodes,
Humbled below us? Or that blood which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of his,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God, for his apparel, ragg'd and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnished thus
Half of that sacrifice, which ransomed us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them, and thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O think me worth thine anger, punish me;
Burn off my rusts and my deformity;
Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know me, and I'll turn my face.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:28 AM | 4 comments

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Teaching mystery #724

Why is it that today, when I had a terrible head cold, had bumbled my way through my first three classes, and was fully prepared to let my fourth class go early--why did THAT class, typically the weakest of my four, the one with apathetic non-majors, at a terrible time of day, on a subject and genre in which I'm not an expert--go just truly and amazingly well? So well that I left the room energized (which I never am at 5.30 p.m. after being up for twelve hours, teaching for six, and facing a long train ride home)?

[The ride home was still excruciating, but at least the day didn't feel like a total waste.]

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:51 PM | 5 comments

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A letter to my student who can't be bothered

Dear [Student],

I'm not sure whether it has come to your attention that you are failing my class. This is something that you might have realized if you had ever bothered to collect your midterm (on which you got a 39%--with the curve); if you had taken a moment to calculate your quiz average (which is about a 4 out of 10); or if it had occured to you that, in reading your latest paper, I might notice that you had obviously never read the text that you purported to analyze--and that, moreover, your entire essay appeared to have been written in 20 minutes.

I'm wondering whether you remember that ass-whipping I gave you in February, when you turned in your first paper six days late and casually announced that you were taking your free extension for that paper. Do you remember that you got a 54 on that essay, that you learned to address me as "Doctor" or "Professor" rather than by my first name, and that you pledged you would "turn things around" for the rest of the semester?

Maybe you do, because you DO now speak in class, and quite a lot--but only when you're IN class, which is approximately every third class meeting. And it's also true that, after that first paper, you have turned all your assignments in on time. However, had you been in class today, you would have discovered that your on-time essay still merited an F.

Maybe you're taking this class credit/fail, or maybe you're figuring that no one ever gets a grade lower than a C in an English class. I assure you, however, that I have given students far more conscientious than you a D as a course grade. I will not regret failing you for the semester.

This is what I WILL regret: that I won't be at Big Urban long enough to develop a reputation sufficient to keep assholes like you out of my classes.


link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:34 PM | 13 comments

Monday, April 10, 2006

So beautiful and yet so stupid

It's always tragic to have a student who's as dumb as a stone, but somehow it seems particularly tragic when he or she is also gorgeous (. . . and sweet-tempered; it probably wouldn't be so tragic if the gorgeous student in question went around kicking puppies or pushing small children into traffic).

The student I'm thinking of is in my class on Author #1, and he's model-beautiful. And not generic, J. Crew-model-beautiful, either, but arrestingly, unexpectedly striking: fine features, very fair skin, dark wavy hair about chin length, and blue eyes. Not especially tall or especially buff, but very fit. He totally belongs in a period drama as the poetic nobleman.

The only problem is, if he were cast in such a drama, he'd never remember his lines. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the thicker human beings I've yet encountered. I've been gradually coming to this conclusion based on his first paper and the infrequent, head-scratching contributions that he makes to our class discussions, but I just finished his second paper and it's head-against-the-desk-bangingly bad.

Ah, well. Dame Fortune has only so many gifts for each of us.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:38 PM | 10 comments

Administrative matters

It has come to my attention that there are great, gaping holes in my blogroll. I recently discovered that ABD Mom, whom I've been reading and loving for months, was not up there, and now I note that the fabulous Oso Raro isn't, either, which is a criminal oversight. No slights are intended, I assure you--since I read my subscriptions through Bloglines, the public blogroll has fallen into neglect and disrepair.

So, taking a page from Dr. Crazy: please drop me a note if you want to be added to the blogroll. Chances are that I'm already reading your blog, but if not, I'd be delighted to know about it.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:14 PM | 4 comments

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Well, this didn't get very far. I asked the dean for an additional $4K in salary, on the grounds that a) I've never owned a car, so purchasing one would represent a significant start-up expense, and b) since my partner lives in X location, I'd be spending Y amount each month on airfare to see him (many thanks to Hieronimo for suggesting this line of argument). I also pointed out that my salary next year at Big Urban would only be $6K less than the salary DRU was offering me, and that there I wouldn't need a car and would be closer to George Washington Boyfriend, so it was really a wash (if you ignore the lack of job security, the higher cost of living, heavier teaching load, etc., which I was willing to do for the sake of the argument).

But no dice: the English department is making several hires this year, of which I'm the last, and they apparently want everyone to start at the same salary. As for the other stuff: I asked for $5,500 in start-up funds and got $4,000; I'm getting up to $3,000 in moving expenses; and I confirmed that my computer and printer will be new and of my own choosing. Course reductions and pre-tenure leave weren't on the table.

I'm a little vexed that I couldn't maneouver my salary up by even $1,000, but on the whole I'm quite pleased with the package. The cost of living in the area is pretty low, so what money I make will probably go further than I expect after having spent most of my adult life in big, expensive cities.

I've been in Quaint Smallish City with GWB for the last few days and will be here until early Tuesday. We've been having a fine old time watching the final season of Six Feet Under, drinking the better part of a bottle of Jameson's, going out for a celebratory sushi dinner, grading papers. . . . Well, okay, so it would have been much more of a party without that last item, but it wouldn't be April without a sudden crush of work.

If I get through my quota today, though, we'll be going out for drinks with Dr. Fun, who just got tenure at Atypical College. So much to celebrate!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 3:53 PM | 10 comments

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bizarro world

I think I've fallen into some kind of parallel universe.

On Thursday, after getting the offer from the dean of Decent Regional U., I emailed my advisor with the news. She wrote back almost immediately with a message that I can only describe as bubbly, telling me how marvelous this was, asking me a million questions about the institution, and concluding by telling me that she had no advice (I'd told her I welcomed it), other than to be happy and to do whatever made me happy.

This, you might say, is to be expected from an advisor--but it isn't at all what *I* expected. When I'd mentioned the phone interview to her during our meeting two weeks ago, she'd been pleased, but had said things that led me to believe that getting an offer from DRU would be good mainly because it might give me leverage with Big Urban (which is very short-handed in my field and which we'd speculated must be hiring for a ladder position soon). I've long felt that Advisor expected me to get an R1 job--partly, I'm sure, because she believes in my work, but at least partly because she seems firmly to believe that a research position is the only kind of success that matters, and because she likes to be associated with success. Frankly, I was worried that she wouldn't be very impressed with my getting a job at a school she'd never heard of.

But the craziest and the sweetest part of Advisor's email was when she mentioned a previous, pretty hapless advisee now teaching at a vocational college, the Ivy-ensconced Elder Sister (remember her?), and me, all in the same breath, as people who were doing really well and making her so proud and restoring a bit of her faith in the profession. This suggestion that our successes were on the same order is probably the most generous thing I've ever heard her say, and it reminds me that, despite all of the traumatizing things that Advisor did and said in the early years of our working together (and okay, despite the rather traumatizing thing she said to me just two weeks ago), it's true that she's also capable of extraordinary generosity and that she can be strongly--if weirdly and disconcertingly--maternal at unexpected moments.

So I think that now it's time for me to officially Get Over my advisor complex. I've got the degree, I've got the job, and she's professed herself very excited to talk about and look over a new article-length project I'm considering (as well as to remain in dialogue about the dissertation/book manuscript as I revise it)--so it's time for me to see that our relationship has definitively changed and that she truly has faith in me; it's time for me to stop dwelling on the things that she did in the past and looking for signs that she's going to do them again.

So, bloggy peeps, hold me to my word on that one.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:38 PM | 11 comments

Really dead women writers

Bardiac started assembling this list of really dead women writers as a way of expanding the boundaries of the women-writers meme that Mon began--and since then a few other bloggers have pitched in.

As many of you know, I do not work on women writers. Nor do I work on anything that could remotely be considered to touch on issues of sex or gender. Nevertheless, and partly because I've been trying hard to teach a version of my period survey class that isn't ONLY full of the usual suspects, I've recently been thinking more about older female writers and I'm delighted that Bardiac got the ball rolling on this one.

As it stands when last I saw it, here's the list as assembled by Bardiac, Dr. Virago, and Amanda. Bolded are the ones I've read myself (in whole or in part); my additions follow.


Aphra Behn - Oroonoko
Anne Bradstreet - Collected Poems
Anonymous - The Floure and the Leafe (Dr. V explains her reasoning on her blog)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Fama y obras póstumas
Christine de Pisan (aka Pizan) - The Book of the City of Ladies
Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love
Margery Kempe - The Book of Margery Kempe
Lanyer, Aemilia - Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
Anne Locke (aka Ane Lok, etc) - A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner
Marie de France - The Lais of Marie de France
The Paston Women - The Paston Letters
Lady Mary Wroth - Poems

My contributions:

Anne Askew - The Examinations of Anne Askew
Mary Sidney - Psalms
Anne Finch - Poems
Katherine Phillips - Poems
Teresa of Avila - Life

If you've got more to add, drop Bardiac a line when you do so, so she can keep track of the list.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:43 PM | 6 comments

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Offer! Offer!

That's right, dudes and dudettes, I just heard from the dean at Decent Regional U, making me a job offer. On the tenure track. At a place where I think I'd be pretty happy. What the hell?

But now I need your help, dear readers. I need to do this whole "negotiating" thing for my salary and start-up funds, and I'm not sure how to go about it. I've been emailed a copy of the terms that the dean outlined over the phone, but in our conversation he did not indicate that anything was negotiable except the amount of my start-up money (which would be determined based upon the specific needs I outline when I get back to him).

So. . . does that mean that salary ISN'T negotiable, or just that one has to ask? (At Small College, by contrast, the President said straight-out that there could be some wiggle room on salary if I were made an offer.) My instinct is to go ahead and ask for $4-5K more than the figure the dean gave me, but I want to make sure that I'm not committing a horrible faux pas by doing so. And does it matter whether these negotiations are conducted over the phone or via email?

Finally, what the hell is a reasonable amount for start-up funds in the humanities? My job placement officer at INRU helpfully outlined a normal range for new hires at INRU. . . but what's normal there is, uh, in the five figures. I'm kinda thinking that a public comprehensive school is not working in that range. On the other hand, I do genuinely need to spend some time in the UK for at least the next two summers, and that gets expensive fast.

Any thoughts welcome--especially from those of you who I know have just gone through this process!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:50 PM | 40 comments

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


The weirdest search string, so far, that has brought someone to this blog:
please teach me how to draft and cut skirts
Aside from the fact that I absolutely cannot assist this person--and that this fact should have been clear from the blog excerpt that Google provided, without her actually having to click through--who puts "please" in a search string? Whom does this hapless, ill-skirted person think she's addressing?

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:33 PM | 3 comments


My doctoral robes just arrived this afternoon, and they're the most beauteous things you've ever seen, in one of my favorite shades of my favorite color. (Smart work on my part, attending a school whose colors are in such harmony with my own tastes.)

Most of my readers know what a complicated relationship I have with INRU, but I have to say that, laying out these robes, I got such a rush of affection for the institution that I almost teared up. Now, I'm not going to go crazy and start donating large sums of money, or even any money, any time soon--my alumni fund officer is a friend of mine, and each year I have to patiently remind her why I stopped giving to INRU--but it's funny what power the good memories have to overwhelm the bad ones, and how the viewbook version of the campus comes to seem like the one I actually inhabited, while the real one (the one in which we had mice in our freshman dorm, where the grass never grew over a large portion of the quad, and the radiators in some classrooms clanked so loudly that it was hard to hear the lecturers) recedes from view.

On my campus visit last week, one of the recent hires asked me, over dinner, whether I wanted to go back to INRU eventually--which is something I get asked all the damn time, presumably because I got all my degrees from the same place, and why would one do that if she didn't just love it?--and I said, well, certainly not any time in the next 15 years; junior faculty there don't have a very good life. And the fact is that I don't think I'd want to be a senior faculty member, either, at a place where the junior faculty were seen as so temporary that it really wasn't considered worthwhile to get to know them.

Sometimes I truly believe, with the partisanship of the alumna, that there's no better university on the planet. Other times I think that the place has permanently damaged me and warped my understanding of the profession.

Most often, I believe both to be true.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 4:18 PM | 6 comments

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sometimes I love my students

Item the first: in my survey class, I give my students extra credit if they memorize a lyric poem of at least 14 lines by an author we've read. The deal is that they make an appointment with me and come to my office to recite it--with feeling! I've had good results in the past, but today two of my best students, who are close friends, proposed a slightly altered version: they'd both memorize two consecutive sonnets from a series, but recite them by delivering alternate lines: "You know," said one, "like a rap. We're thinking Beastie Boys, here."

I told them that was the awesomest thing I'd heard all day.

Item the second: I just Googled myself, and I found myself mentioned on a blog belonging to a student whom I taught last semester. He was laying out his projected course schedule for the fall, among which was listed Author Survey, with my name next to it and the comment "I love her!"


link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:36 PM | 5 comments

Monday, April 03, 2006

...but I know this makes me a bad person

I missed mass yesterday--and I try never to miss mass during Lent--because I was out drinking. In the afternoon.

I'd gotten up early enough to make the noon mass, even with that damn daylight-savings nonsense, but then I frittered away the time until I was just barely able to meet Lulu for our planned 1.30 brunch. No problem, I thought: I'd make the 5.30 service. What are the chances that we'll be together for more than four hours?

Very high, as it turns out, on a gorgeous day close to 80 degrees, with everything in bloom and everybody out on the streets throwing off their coats and blinking in astonishment at the sunlight. We had a fabulous meal with terrible service, in the course of which we ran into a couple who looked strangely familiar--and who we finally concluded were the crazy roommate we had in our summer sublet in the city six years ago (the summer after my first year in grad school and Lulu's second year in law school) and said roommate's then-boyfriend, now-husband. We spent the whole meal staring at them in the mirror behind our table, trying to get a positive ID, and laughing about what a toilet-paper-hoarding control freak she was.

From thence we wandered over to the flea market on the next block, which was a mob scene but as wacky and compelling as usual. I got a call from Bert, who was rambling bored around his neighborhood and looking for something to do. I told him to come uptown and join us, and he did. Lulu and Bert have long been my closest friends in the city, and the three of us used to hang out all the time--but what with Bert's several-year withdrawal into his own little world, I don't think he and Lulu had seen each other in four or five years, and it seemed high time to effect a reunion.

Then, after some time prowling through the stalls, playing with sock puppets, and chatting up the guy who rewires vintage toasters, we decided that we needed a drink. It was after four, but I still figured that I could make mass--my church was only a 16-block walk away--but of course by then it was a losing cause. We found a dive bar with $2.50 beers, plunked ourselves down on a few bar stools, and had two or three beers apiece. Oh, and two rounds of shots. As Lulu said, with enthusiasm, "I'd forgotten about afternoon drinking! How could I forget?"

So, actually, I refuse to feel too bad about this. Sometimes reaffirming friendships with people I now see too infrequently, and whom I'll be moving away from soon, seems like the best possible use of my time.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:07 AM | 8 comments

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Does this make me a bad person?

I know someone from grad school who has a blog. She's a luminous, shiny superstar of a scholar (not in my field, thank God!), who I doubt actually knows my name and who I'm quite sure does not read my blog. I don't usually read hers, either, as her blog voice irritates me--but every couple of months I run into her in the comments sections of other people's blogs, usually in long, well-intentioned remarks where she's nevertheless totally misread the problem or opinion expressed by the blogger and jumped in with advice inappropriate to the blogger's actual circumstances.

But here's the thing: she hasn't protected her Sitemeter. So whenever I venture over there I can't help but check out her hits--how many, where they come from, etc. (Her blog, which is very focused in its subject matter, is pretty well-known in the circles relevant to it; although she has few commenters, she's got approximately 60% more hits per day than I do.)

I'm not sure why I find snooping around in her blog so compelling, though it's true that I AM a zealous amateur detective--I just like to know things! I like to have information! Maybe I shouldn't tell my blog audience this, but I've figured out, sometimes with considerable effort, the identities of many of the bloggers I read, simply because I can't not know who some of my favorites are. I don't actually do anything with this information, rest assured--I just like to be able to put names and locations to the personalities I encounter. (And should anyone care to do the same with me, they certainly could, as I'm too lazy or too indifferent to protect my pseudonymity with any real diligence.)

What's odd about this is that I'm not the kind of person who snoops around in my host's medicine cabinets or dresser drawers when I visit, and I'm not even that much of a gossip. . . but I guess that I AM a researcher and a puzzle-solver by temperament. Partial information is just too tempting for me to pass by. I want all the details--preferrably, a full file drawer's worth of them!

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:17 AM | 17 comments

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Interview recap

Short version: the whole shebang seemed to go off pretty well, and I came away impressed by the university and the surrounding area.

  • The faculty laughed, a lot, during my job talk (which was of the reading-off-notes variety, not the formal, reading-a-40-minute-paper variety), and I was told by several members that it was one of the best/most interesting job talks they'd heard.
  • The English department is in a gorgeous building with great facilities, and all the offices have windows.
  • The department is very young (after a wave of retirements, they've been doing A LOT of hiring) and mostly populated with faculty members from very good Ph.D. programs doing interesting work.
  • Although the university is largely a teaching school (3/3 load), there's lots of support for research, and all the tenured faculty have a couple of books to their names.
  • English is one of the largest majors, and the majors I met were fun and engaged.
  • Real estate is dirt cheap.
  • The location is in/near a medium-sized city with a good airport and a good arts scene.
  • Start-up funds!
So, we'll see if they liked me as well as I liked them. It must be said that the location isn't entirely ideal (it's the better part of a day's drive to anyone I care about; I'd need a car to get around; the area is famous for a particular kind of weather that I could do without), but it's certainly not unappealing. It might not be someplace I'd stay forever, but it seems as though it would be a warm and nurturing place to start out. And dammit, I deserve some nurturing for a change!*

*A couple of the recent hires know my advisor, and so over drinks I had to bust out my stories of early trauma at her hands. They were gratifyingly appalled.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 4:28 PM | 15 comments

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