The beginning of June, I went to Florence, Italy, to present a paper at the Wharton in Florence conference. It was amazing! First of all, the dorm housing they offered to graduate students was surprisingly nice--my own room, with my OWN BATHROOM, minifridge, and a view of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It was a week of talks about Wharton, tours of churches, museums, lots and lots of walking...I discovered I loved the work of Botticelli. I managed to fly to Florence via France all by myself, speak to people in French and Italian and be understood, and find my way through the Charles de Gaulle airport. I also discovered that with melatonin and an eye mask, I can sleep anywhere. And my paper was quite well-received--I've even received an email from a professor since asking if I'd like to put together a panel together for a conference. Yay, networking!
Upon my return, my husband and I then drove from Baton Rouge to Albuquerque for his sister's wedding. I was rather worn out, but enjoyed seeing them and my in-laws. Probably the most enjoyable part was getting to hike in the Petroglyph National Park--hiking felt so good!
After that, I went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to teach Shakespeare for the Duke/TIP Program at Davidson. It was an incredible experience! From 9-4 Monday through Friday, and 9-12 on Saturdays, my TA and I had class with eighteen gifted seventh and eighth graders. They totally ruined me for LSU students. First, they're all very motivated, very smart kids--anyone who's going to give up three weeks of summer vacation to study Shakespeare when they're 12 is going to be fun to teach. Plus, I have so much more in common culturally with these students than I do with LSU students--my class worshiped David Tennant, love Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Dr. Who. One of my kids had gone to Shakespeare camp the beginning of the summer, and another was putting together a video audition for the next Hunger Games movie.
It certainly was challenging living in a dorm for three weeks with the students and staff--academic staff was all on one floor, away from the kids, and we had our own rooms, but I do tire of sharing a bathroom and only have showers (and not baths). And there certainly were soap opera elements to some of the staff dynamics. However, at one point I realized that it was wonderful being part of a staff who were all dedicated to teaching, and to whom teaching was important. I realized (once again) how often teaching is denigrated in academia--teaching is a pain, it takes away from important time on "real work," grading is a pain, students are such a drag, no one pays attention....Here, every one was interested in inspiring their students and enjoyed being in the classroom. Plus, when there wasn't soap opera narrative happening, the people on the ac staff were a lot of fun. The first week, a group of us spent an average of two hours a night learning boy band choreography for the lip sync contest the first week. Talk about a way to form community!
Also, in the TIP program, cell phones are not allowed in the classroom--we are to take them up if we see them. Students are only allowed access to cell phones a couple of hours during free time a day. Having students who really were paying attention--I mean, I would ask a question and have every hand shoot up in the air--was invigorating. Being in the classroom seven hours a day was exhausting, but it meant that we formed a real community pretty quickly, and it allowed me to try out different kinds of activities and experiment. I discovered that some things I thought would be very cool kind of flopped, whereas things I made up on the fly (like having groups of students write "Thirteenth Night," in which they write follow-ups to the end of "Twelfth Night") worked really well.
By the end of the three weeks, I was starting to succumb to the kid germs that had been passed around the camp. By the last day, when I had a full day of parent conferences, I was developing sniffles a cough. Though I was dreading parent conferences, it turned out to be an enjoyable experience. Across the board, parents were pleased the program and primarily concerned with their kids social experiences--did their kids ever get their noses out of books? There was only one parent who wanted advice about what her (seventh grade) kid should plan to major in in college, and what she should be doing now to make that happen. I think that I was able to talk up the importance of studying the humanities to any college experience to calm her down a bit.
When I got home, I collapsed with the kid germs. For a couple of days, I couldn't even keep saltines down. I only had a week to be sick, though, as the next Sunday we left for Jackson, Mississippi, where I spent a week doing research in the Eudora Welty archives there. Jackson was so nice--it has a much artier vibe than Baton Rouge does. Our hotel room was upgraded for free to a suite, which was lovely. Everyone there was so very nice--it was kind of weird how nice and what a big deal it was. I was interviewed for the Welty Foundation newsletter, photos were taken, and I was asked to give a talk on my work.
The talk was Thursday afternoon, and I was quite anxious about it. The day before, they said that they'd move it to the board room, because they weren't sure how many people were coming--it could be as few as five. The parameters were quite vague--they'd said I should talk for "five to twenty minutes.' I felt kind of silly--there were flyers which advertised "A Conversation with Monica Miller." When I went to tour the Welty House, when they discovered that I was the "Welty Fellow," the tour guide insisted I meet everyone there, and the new director of the house invited me back to her office to talk about my work. Again, they were all very nice, but I'm not used to such things.
The talk? About twenty five people came! Including Suzanne Marrs, Welty's authorized biographer, Peggy Prenshaw, author of several books on Welty and southern women writers, the president of the Welty Foundation (who was friends with Welty herself), and Welty's niece. It was quite intimidating. But, I'd prepared notes, and spoke for twenty minutes, and then there were questions and suggestions and many people after noted how well it went. That was a relief.
My final day in the archives, I was tired. I did manage to read "The Alterations," an unpublished story in fragments that several people suggested. It's a terribly twisted story about a seamstress woman whose alcoholic husband is quite abusive to her; one day when he's passed out, she takes her scissors, needle, and thread to him and cuts him apart and sews him back together in a more pleasing form, killing him and confusing the heck out of the police. Twisted stuff! Friday afternoon, we went by the cemetery and saw Welty's grave, and then came home. All the way home, I kept declaring how tired I was; I dozed off at one point. I slept really late today, and then went to my book group's meeting on the third Fifty Shades of Grey book.
I continue to be tired, though I keep reading. School starts a week from Monday, but this Monday I get my exam questions for my general exam. As my bellatricksy blog attests, I've been reading diligently towards this exam for some time--pretty much, the past year. I'm definitely way past the sixty percent average that many people have said is how much people get done reading from their lists before starting. Still, I'd like to get one or two more done this weekend, which I think is doable.
Starting my exams feels like getting on a roller coaster. I have six weeks to write, and then my committee has two weeks to read them, and then on October 13, I'll have my oral defense of my exams. It's daunting. I am glad now that I'm teaching English 1001--not incredibly exciting teaching, but it won't require a bunch of prep for teaching a new class. I'm also the research assistant for the new DGS, who's one of my mentors, and I'm the professionalization chair for EGSA (which I think will overlap with my RA position nicely) and the president of the WGSGO. And I'm presenting at two conferences this fall--one on ugly women in Gone with the Wind, and one comparing ugly women in O'Connor and Welty. So it's all working towards my larger project.
Though school isn't officially for a week, I've got things at school most days this week. Meetings, and getting my questions, and welcome back meetings and stuff. I sort of feel daunted, but I also feel okay about it after having got through this summer. I found this summer that with enough exercise and sleep, I can do a lot work. So, we'll see how these lessons pan out this fall!