Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CFP: A New Sense of Place: Travel and Alterity in Southern Literature

CFP: A New Sense of Place: Travel and Alterity in Southern Literature

In her 2011 Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature, scholar Thadious Davis revivifies the idea of place in southern literature.  It is such reconsiderations of southern places as dynamic spaces that this panel will explore.  The 2013 Mardi Gras Conference theme is “In Momentum: Literature, Travel, and Alterity.” (See http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/47987 for the conference-wide CFP.) This timely theme asks for a discussion of notions of place and space, for considerations of how travel and movement, boundedness and freedom, can be considered in terms of literature, art, science, thought. Under that larger umbrella of movement and travel, this panel will explore the broad themes of travel, the related discourses of globalization, migration, space, and place, and connected issues regarding alterity in the literature of the American South.  Suggested topics include (but are certainly not limited to) the traumatic histories of travel in the South, including African slavery and Native American removal; migrant work; southern expatriate writing; the post-Katrina New Orleans diaspora; the Appalachian diaspora; and the effect of tourism on southern identity.  Submit abstract for a 15-20 minute paper to mmil132@lsu.edu by Saturday, December 1, 2012.

On Productivity and Inspiration

It's 2:45pm and I'm still wearing my pajamas and dressing gown.  I slept until 11 this morning, and have been working on and off since then; I'll continue until about 3:45, when I'll leave for the library and jazzercise.  It's a very nice break, after a couple of weeks of being full-press on, with a gazillion meetings and a weekend-long exhausting (although quite enjoyable and productive) conference. 

I've read a couple of things recently on productivity and the pressure to be productive.  I definitely take Planned Obsolescence's point that busy-ness and stress are points of pride among many, as well as No Matter. Fail Better's and The Thesis Whisperer's discussions of the usefulness of the #acwrimo month  Like them, I've been less interested in the competitive word count aspect of #acwrimo than in the commitment to writing--as well as the feeling of community that comes with such campaigns.  Such commitment and community are what I most enjoyed from being part of the 14 Day Writing Challenge earlier this month; I'm hoping to continue this with the new writing group I've joined.  Our first meeting was yesterday, and I have high hopes.

What I've gained most from these visible academic writing campaigns was the beginnings of the discipline of daily writing--I've started getting up at 9 during the week and spending the first two hours of the day working.  And although part of this work is answering emails and scheduling things and other non-writing work, the quiet of the morning has also got me writing every day.  While I realize that 9 is not early morning for most people, given that I don't teach until 2:30 in the afternoon this semester, it's grown quite easy for me to adapt to later and later days, not going to sleep until 2 or 3am.  And though I used to think of the work I did at night as productive, I've been a bit surprised to realize that when I get up and work in the morning, I'm much quicker and more efficient in the morning.  I get much more bang for my working buck in the morning, much to my inner 20 year old's chagrin.

So many people I know--my students especially--are so worn out and burnt out right now.  In academia, it's really November that's the cruelest month.  With exams behind me, I'm feeling a bit less stressed than those around me, and I'm trying to use this energy to propel my writing.  To check in for #acwrimo--I finished and presented a conference paper, and I wrote and submitted the first draft of my prospectus.  Next up is an article which I would like to make a 12/1 deadline with, and I've had a conference proposal accepted for the Appalachian Studies conference in March, which I've started making notes for as ideas occur to me.  Word count?  Who knows.  My biggest accomplishment is starting the discipline of writing every day and starting to figure out how I work best--so that when I start dissertating in earnest, I'll already have some traction.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Brief writing update

I sent my conference paper to my writing buddy, who gave me some fantastic feedback.  I'm so fortunate to have some really insightful, smart colleagues to work with.  I've revised based on the questions she asked and the suggestions she made--I still want to tighten up my thesis statement, but it's close to done.  Now to start thinking really hard about my prospectus.  These accountability groups I'm in are really, really helping me stay on task!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Writing Update

I took the afternoon off (as all of the football nonsense in my neighborhood was making it difficult to concentrate anyway) and went to see Cloud Atlas--what a wonderful movie!  Yay for intelligent film-making!

I spent the rest of the evening revising my conference paper in a leisurely fashion.  I started off with 12 pages, and have now got about 9-2/3, which is a good length, I think.  I've sent it off to my writing group buddy, who's offered to read through it for me.  The hard part for me in this paper was (1) trying to say something I haven't really said before, and (2) saying it in the limited space of a conference paper.  It took a lot of organization work--what happens if I put these ideas together like this?  Or maybe this has more in common with this other thing?  I think I finally found an organization that makes sense now, and makes sense in less than ten pages.

I am having so much trouble reading.  It's as though my brain decided that once exams were over, it's not reading anything more challenging than rock star memoir. (I will say that John Taylor's memoir is not disappointing--so good!)  I really would like to regain some reading concentration, though, as I really do need to get through some reading in order to write my prospectus the way I think I should write it.  I read through a friend's prospectus this week--which was fantastic--and I feel like I've got a better idea of what it should look like now.  But I know what I need to read, and what I need to figure out, and my brain is being less than cooperative.

I will say that this 14-day writing challenge website has continued to be helpful.  I'm having to admit that dedicated, concentrated writing time during the day really does get me to accomplish in much less time what it would take me much longer at the end of the day, when I'm used to writing. I sometimes don't realize that I'm actually tired at the end of the day.  Maybe I should try dedicated reading time, too.  Urgh, do I have to admit that the books are right, that scheduling writing and reading time actually works for me?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

#AcWriMo Update

I've been participating in the 14 Day Challenge since Monday, and am a bit surprised at how much of a difference it's making.  Committing to writing at least 30 minutes straight has made me aware of just how easily I back off of my writing--I get to a hard place, and will go play a round of Bejeweled Blitz to try to process the block.  Sometimes this works, and after a game I'll have figured whatever it is out.  However, this week during my blocked off writing time I don't back off, and instead push through the block--or if I really don't know, put something in brackets and keep going.  I can feel physically when I'm moving through an uncomfortable part of writing, through a part I'm less sure about, but several times this pushing through has led me to make the connections perhaps sooner than I would have had I gone and had some time sucked online.

I'm still writing in my usual, casual way at night, and that's still a good way for me to get things like revisions done, because they're often boring and pushing through would just be mean.  I am begrudgingly admitting, though, that this scheduled writing is really useful.  I've got seven pages of my prospectus done, and my conference paper is now a full draft--12 pages, which means I've got some cutting to do, but I feel like I'm in  good place to meet my original goals of having both of these things done by next week.  After that, my next #acwrimo goal is to craft an abstract for PCA.  That's a whole new topic that I haven't done before, so that will probably be slower going.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I have friends who do NaNoWriMo every year, this crazy challenge to write a novel-length manuscript during the month of November.  They have group write-ins, stay up all night, and check in with other crazy writers in order to get encouragement and keep track of their progress.

There are a couple of programs going on right now which are piggy-backing NaNoWriMo in order to stir up similar enthusiasm and encouragement for academic writers.  Because I have a couple of deadlines looming, I've decided to sign up for them.  First up with the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity's 14 Day Writing Challenge which starts tomorrow.  There, you pledge to write 30-60 minutes a day for the next two weeks.  They have a website set up where you check in every day, report your progress, and encourage your fellow writers.

The second is AcWriMo , which takes a similar all out approach to writing that NaNo does, and encourages accountability and support through their facebook page and twitter hashtag #acwrimo .  I'm not going to set myself a word count for that (at least not yet), but instead am focusing on the daily writing and accomplishment of my two primary goals.

My goals?  11/10 I'm giving a conference paper which is in the beginning tatters stage right now; 11/15 I said I'd have a draft of my dissertation prospectus done.  They're both rather non-negotiable (well, the prospectus date is probably negotiable, but as I set it, I intend to keep it).  I think these are doable goals: one 9 page paper, one 15 page paper--that's something like 6,000 words, which certainly isn't NaNo length, but is a doable challenge.  I also need to write a paper proposal that's due the end of the month.  So, doable goals, but I'm curious to see how the accountability/encouragement process helps.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


It's midterm week: I spent the weekend grading paper #2 of my first year composition class (a causal analysis--more on that in a bit) and uploading midterm grades.  I was quite disappointed in the papers--out of a class of 22, there were two As and six Bs, which makes me think that some people got it.

However, I had three Fs and four Ds, which is more than I'm used to.  Those poor grades were primarily people who missed the point of the assignment, which was to explain a cause-and-effect relationship about an issue (using my usual research paper parameters, they could choose a campus issue, an issue in their major, or an advertising issue (as the first paper is an ad analysis, some students get really into it and want to research more))--instead, I had papers explaining the pros and cons of something, or arguing a position about an issue.  Most of these also lost points for failing to turn in a topic proposal and/or rough draft--had they done so, I would have been able to point out that they were not writing to the assignment at that point.

They have the opportunity to revise and resubmit by Friday (I'll average the two grades for the final paper grade) as they did with the first paper, and I'm curious as to how many will take me up on the offer.   When I returned papers by email, I actually had one student who failed both the first and second papers, and I included a note suggesting that he look at his grades on Moodle and consider whether he thinks he can make a satisfactory grade at the this point (we're not allowed to suggest that students drop the class, as they could sue), he responded that he's been really busy studying for midterms, so he's slacked on this class.  I think there's a lot of that happening right now, as these first year students are learning to manage their time.

After returning papers via email Sunday, class was very quiet (which I interpreted as sullen) on Monday, as I went over common paper issues and introduced the new unit.  I started class by handing out index cards and doing an informal midterm eval, asking students to anonymously write down (1) what in class is working/do they want more of; (2) what is not working/what do they want less of; and (3) other suggestions/comments.  To be honest, I was really dreading reading them, and didn't look at them until last night when I sat down to do today's lesson plan.  (The fact that I was doing the lesson plan the night before shows how less-than-excited I am about the class myself.)

To my great surprise, they were across the board positive. With a few exceptions, most said that they find the class set-up helpful, that they're learning a lot, that they find writing in class and collaboration helpful--I'm not sure what to make of it.  I mean, they didn't write their names on the cards, so I want to think there's some sort of honesty happening.  Would they actually write negative comments?   But generally, this class is quiet and hard to get to talk and has a lot of people struggling to move past the five-paragraph-essay way of thinking about writing.  And though I generally have good attendance (usually 18-20 each class period, which is above average here) (which means that I got 20 responses in this informal eval), I really had a different sense of the class.  One card said that the student was really happy that zie has been able to keep a grade around a C or B, because zie didn't think it was possible.

I've written before about how hard it's been for me to get myself in the game this semester, between my crazy summer and my anxiety over exams and stuff (which, by the way, I passed, and now get to call myself ABD!  yay!).  So, should I be re-examining my expectations for this class?  I'm going to try to really pay extra attention to this class, and re-examine my sense of the class. It just feels weird to have such a different sense of things than the students are reporting.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grad school's not baseball--there's plenty of crying

Several times over the past few days, I have owned up to just how much crying I've done while in grad school about grad school.  It's strange, isn't it, how much crying we do here?  Or is it more that there's plenty of crying in "real life," but graduate school can be so all-consuming that most things that I would cry about end up somehow related to school now. 

I think part of it--a part that I'd like to figure out a way around--is the sense of pressure, the sense of a clock ticking and you have to be teaching and grading and doing coursework/studying for exams/writing the diss while still keeping current on scholarship/writing conference papers/publishing articles/working on the job docs/networking.  With the clock ticking.  And people not in graduate school thinking that you just spend your days writing on blackboards and reading in your pajamas.

I guess the thing is, I've cried because of the stress and strain of other jobs.  I'm trying to figure out why grad school seems different.   Perhaps it's partly because in other jobs, people bitch about all of the parts of their lives; in graduate school, we bitch about graduate school.  Teaching, teaching assignments, conspiracy theories about teaching assignments, job docs, student emails, conspiracy theories about the job market, what a prospectus is supposed to be, conspiracy theories about committees...While on the one hand, I've thought that the answer to a lot of this stress is more of a sense of academic community and department engagement, I'm wondering if there's a risk of too much conspiratorial energy accumulating with too much community, or if the lack of community leads to such thinking. 

What I'd like to do is to feel okay with the clock ticking, realize that it's going to tick whether I'm in grad school or not, whether I go to jazzercise or read a journal article.  Whether I do another revision or not.  And at any moment, I can go and get a job as a secretary, an adjunct teacher, even a women's center director.  And readers' reviews are that way because it's the convention, not because I'm actually stupid.

So, what's a healthy attitude toward graduate school?  Or is there one?  Is it simply an unhealthy situation?

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I have 28 days left before my exams are due.  The weekend before they're due, I'm giving a conference paper at the last Berry Southern Women Writers conference--not awesome timing, but I've been twice and loved it so much that I couldn't not go to this, what they're claiming will be their last.  My paper is on Scarlett O'Hara, which I'm writing about in one of my exam essays, so there will be some nice overlap.  I won't have to completely stop exam writing to churn the conference paper out, which is nice.

I have three completed shitty first drafts, which I'm quite happy to have.  My southern paper is the best going so far--although I'm having trouble not just writing the whole thing about Ellen Foster, because I love it so much as a novel, and there's so much to say about it.  My gender paper I keep bugging my professor about, because I want to make sure that the texts I use fit within the parameters he laid out for the paper.  I spent about 12 hours yesterday wrestling with my American paper--the one I feel the least in control about--but after finally letting go and freewriting for a while (you know, what I tell my students to do), I finally stumbled upon something resembling a thesis-like-thing for it (as I reported about another rough draft on fb: It's thesis-y.  Demented and sad, but thesis-y).  I didn't put the computer away until midnight last night--and then I read some more Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick.

So felt pretty okay about my progress when I went to bed last night.  Today, however, the news and fb are all full of hurricane stories, and Isaac looks like it might come close to New Orleans (on the anniversary of Katrina!  Joy!).  I feel a lot of anxiety about this, as seven years ago was quite a difficult time for me.  Even though realistically speaking, in Baton Rouge what we would most likely have to deal with is power outages and refugees, the ramping up anxiety around here is very easy to catch.

I went to jazzercise to try to work out some of the anxiety, and while I did get a good workout, it was the kind of teacher that makes me wish I could wear earplugs so I didn't have to listen to the inane comments they make.  I don't give a good goddamn what celebrity is dating whom, and the only other thing she talked about was the hurricane and how long the gas lines were.  I went there to not think about anxiety!

Although, I do sometimes daydream about how incredibly bored people would be if I were in charge of the inane chatter.  I could talk about Downton Abbey, and Inspector Lewis, and how surprisingly boring Amanda Palmer's collaboration with the Flaming Lips was...omg!  What ever is going to happen with Bates and Anna?  Will Matthew and Mary actually go through with the wedding?

I've got my lesson plans for the week done, too, though I'm feeling so less than excited about teaching right now.  The combination of awesome teaching this summer, my current anxiety levels, and the fact that it's first year comp makes it hard to get that excited.  However, I'm kind of okay with not being jazzed about it.  Ebb and flow are to be expected, I think.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Here I am, in the briefest of storm eyes, in the weekend between my crazy busy summer and my differently busy fall, sleeping in as late as I want and trying to rest.  I made it through the summer!  At the beginning of the summer, I had my doubts--so many incredible opportunities presented themselves, opportunities which I just couldn't pass up.  So, I dove in.

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!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Winter's Tale Thoughts

[warning--lots of spoilers ahead]

Between the series end of House and the season's end of Sherlock, I'm reminded of why I cry at the end of Winter's Tale.  These tv shows are so playing to the fantasy of shirking death--as Watson stood at Sherlock's grave last night, begging at his headstone for him not to be dead anymore, and then the camera panned to Sherlock watching--well, there's the fantasy.  I still occasionally have the thought (which Joan Didion so aptly identified as "magical thinking") that well, surely Aunt Julie will have been dead long enough, and will get to come back soon. 

No real conclusions to draw here, just an observation from two nights of poignant tv.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More end of semester thoughts

I finished grading papers at 1am this morning, and posted grades to Moodle and submitted final grades.  By 2:30am, I had my first email which begged, "But I tried really hard!"  The past two or three days I've had a number of frantic emails from students--one even used the word frantic--wanting to know when grades would be posted, can they revise, is there any extra credit they can do....Several of them began by explaining that they had just looked at their grade on Moodle and realized that they didn't have an A, which prompted the frantic emails.  And since posting grades this morning, the emails have continued.

It's weird--I used to get these emails, before I started using an online gradebook.  Once I started keeping grades online, these emails for the most part went away, as students are able to check on their average at any given moment.  I even had one student write his position paper this semester arguing that all teachers should be required to use the Moodle gradebook, as it greatly alleviates student anxiety.  So, this rash of frantic emails is rather unusual.

I admit to feeling quite frustrated and annoyed by these emails, as most of them are using emotional language and all seem to be throwing themselves on my mercy.  They beg for extra credit and even offer to write a new paper.  My annoyance stems from the fact that it's not as though these students' grades suddenly took a nosedive, or that there were lots of failing grades.  In fact, one of the most desperate sounding emails is from a student who got a B. I checked final grades against midterm grades, and individual final paper grades against earlier paper grades.  Generally, there's a slight progression from midterm to final, and most individuals show improvement from earlier papers to later (which is why the final paper is weighted heavier than the first paper--I genuinely work to structure the class so that improvement is rewarded).  I had some really great student papers--one paper, in which a student explained Jindal's position on school vouchers, and then explained how his explanation is oversimplifying a complicated issue, got me to clap at my computer while I was reading it.

Today, however, between my frantic student emails which all seem to be hurling themselves at my mercy (as I noted on facebook, my mercy is tired of having things thrown at it today) and the conversations I've had the last two days about teaching--specifically, my program's stated expectations of its teachers, what kind of teaching seems to be rewarded by my program, the program's unclear expectations of us as graduate students, and what our students seem to expect from us--I'm throwing my hands up today. The person who won the teaching award did so because he received straight 5s on his teaching evaluations--which seems suspect to me.  "5" doesn't mean anything to me.  When I hand out evals, I give the school's scantron forms, but I also hand out my own, short answer forms (based on those used by my former program), which actually give me useful information.  Further, there is very little classroom observation that goes on--both times that I've been observed here, I've had to ask to be evaluated.  I don't think that very much is known about what goes on inside the classroom here.

Because of this (I conclude), my colleagues and I are getting students who have been here for two and three and four years who claim to have never done academic research in a classroom.  There are graduate students in my graduate classes who claim to have never written a paper longer than ten pages, and don't know how to write something 20 pages long. 

I feel like I keep encountering issues which seem like they're connected, and seem like they are systemic in some way.  I would like to be able to do something about it, but I also want to maintain my sanity and use my finite amounts of energy and time in ways which reflect my priorities.  My purpose in writing this is to vent, with the intention of blowing off steam to maintain my sanity.  Next year, I will have some leadership opportunities in my department to at least offer support for graduate students who feel as though they're floundering when writing, and I intend to once again re-formulate a first year composition class.  Now that grades are submitted, I think the next thing for me to do is rest and recuperate.  I tend to have less patience when I'm fatigued, which is definitely contributing to today's frustration and annoyance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

End of semester thoughts

Seeing so many facebook statuses about scrambling to finish end of semester papers, I'm feeling incredibly grateful to only be auditing a course this semester.  Not having papers to finish is quite a relief, though one slightly offset by having two sections of papers to grade.  I just finished reading rough drafts, and it was a bit exhausting.  My student papers really are all over the place--I have some really polished, well-argued, well-researched papers, some that show promise, and some that are half the required length which don't seem to be arguing anything.  I'm trying to keep my focus on the fact that I do see an overall trend of improvement in most of my students.

I'm also proud of the fact that at least a couple of my students went into their research with opinions which changed over the course of their research.  In all of my teaching, my greatest feelings of pride are in those students who have changed their mind doing research.  In fact, while I was at the Unite Women rally yesterday, I reflected on the fact that I really feel that the most useful activism I am engaged in is teaching.  If I can teach students to identity argument fallacies and to keep an open mind while researching an issue, I think that's much more effective than waving a sign around.

Still, I went to the rally yesterday and held a sign and worked the Clothesline Project table.  (And no, I did not "woman" it.  I have such a negative response to the word "woman" as a verb.)  My cynicism continued, though I do feel a bit hopeful about the idea of starting a serious campaign to revitalize the ERA.  (Once again, I feel like teaching is the most effective means of activism for me--on my Intro WGS exam, students had to identify the text of the ERA--and once students learned the actual text of the ERA--it doesn't say anything about bathrooms!--they were generally in support of it.)  And working the table a couple of times now, I do think that it does raise awareness of domestic violence--but I would still like to have a conversation about clarifying how it works, because it also at times flirts with flippancy, or has the potential to make participants uncomfortable if asked to talk about their participation. 

In terms of feminist activism, I'd prefer to get away from the kinds of activism which seem to be reinforcing binary gender stereotypes, and instead has the potential for more measurable efficacy.  Voter registration, for example.  I do realize, though, that these more confessional, interactive events are in fact meaningful for many--as is probably apparent, I'm feeling rather conflicted about it.  I want to say that I hope others will continue to work on these projects as long as people find meaning in them, and that I wish to focus my energies on projects which I find meaningful. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Possible WCML Headers

Here are some screenshots of possible header photos for the website.  Comments?




Slanted Pens

Type Bars

Typewriter Keys

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I read this post about lecturing at Inside Higher Ed.  It occurred to me that, while I've taken a pedagogy class and read a lot about teaching, I've never actually learned to lecture.  I've learned why lecturing is bad, and alternative teaching methods, but never how to actually lecture.

I've written and given conference papers, which have ranged from 10-30 minutes (and the 30 minute one was actually the time I was allotted). I've given one conference paper where the conference planners specified I was *not* to simply read from the page, but should give a presentation.  I've done plenty of presentations in graduate classes, which have included summarizing texts, giving background information, and leading a discussion.  (And a couple of times professors even gave me feedback on those--but not always.)  And when I taught two sections of a WGS course that had 35 people in each section, I would often present information to the class, which I would supplement with powerpoint slides (primarily because with that many people, not everyone could see what I wrote on the board).

But I've also taken large lecture classes (a couple of which actually had professors who asked questions to the giant, several-hundred person class--and sometimes the handful of us who would answer would get into sort of interesting discussions), and I know that the basis of those classes is the lecture.  I've certainly experienced some really interesting lectures (along with some terribly boring ones).  So, even though it's frowned on, where do I learn to lecture? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

End of Spring Break

Oddly enough, I can't seem to find a video clip from Heathers, of Veronica's dad asking how spring break withdrawal is coming along.   Oh well.

Tomorrow is the first day back after this terribly late spring break.  I'm mostly happy with the balance of work and not-work I achieved, although I'm still erring on the side of not-work.  I'm quite pleased that I met my goal of finishing the 518-page Haunted Bodies: Gender and Southern Texts, an edited collection on my southern list.  It took a while--after getting through that behemoth, it only took me a day to read The Color Purple (which I'd read before, but it's been years.  Plus, it has the line, "The lord don't like ugly" in it, which is pretty important to my work).  I also finished the abstract for the Berry Southern Women Writers conference I've been working on, and got that submitted.  And I polished up a paper to submit for the department writing contest, which has tomorrow as its deadline.

In not-work news, we went to New Orleans Thursday for the book release/Eudora Welty's birthday event at Maple Street Books.  There was wine, champagne, cheese & crackers, and birthday cake.  The book, which is about the restoration of Welty's garden in Jackson, is a beautiful coffee-table book, and that author was quite entertaining.  I love Welty people.

I slept a lot the last week, and worked out a decent amount.  Knitted some.  Put away my clothes and suitcase that was still out since the SSSL conference.  Wore my pajamas until 3 and 4 in the afternoon many days.  Repotted some seedlings.  I also discovered that there's a jazzercise location much closer than the one I tried when we first moved here (as much as I love jazzercise, there's no way I'm driving 45 minutes each way for a class).  This one's in more the 15-20 minute driving range, which is much more reasonable.  And the student rate is $25/month, which is cheaper than the Y, which I was considering joining.  I love jazzercise.  So, I intend to try it out this week.  That would be fabulous if I could start going to jazzercise regularly.

I also managed to go a week without washing my hair, which may be a record (yay for ponytails!).  I shall now go and wash my hair in preparation for returning to school.  Still, this week is logical fallacy week in the classes I'm teaching, which is a not-labor-intensive week for me.  It's a nice way to ease back in.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The War Against Women

I'm thinking about John Scalzi's "Going Meta for a Moment" blog post, explaining the reasons why he wrote his brilliant "Being Poor" essay.  In "Going Meta," he explained that he was so pissed off by the asshattish response to Hurricane Katrina that he was unable to work--and this is how I feel this evening, having apparently reached critical mass of reading one after another right-wing attack on reproductive autonomy, and now this story about the bombing of a Texas State Senator's office. 

I have lost patience with having respect for other people's positions.  Are you against abortions?  Fine, don't have one.  Better yet, work to increase access to contraception and comprehensive sex education.  Or, at the very least, learn how conception and contraception actually works before proposing legislation requiring non-consensual, invasive vaginal procedures (which, by the way, anyone can construe as anything other than rape--well, they're wrong).  It is impossible to deny that there is a systematic attack on women's autonomy in this country at the moment. Again, if people were actually so darned concerned about the welfare of children in this country, they would be doing things like increasing--or at the very least, not decreasing--funding for education.  Improving Medicaid.  Things which actually impact children's lives--rather than threaten and shame women for being autonomous adults.

No one is seriously questioning men's rights too--well, anything, other than control over women's bodies and lives. No one is questioning Viagra access, or funding, or insurance coverage, or access to vasectomies, or working on holding men more accountable for paternity.  Like I said, no one is even bothering to learn how menstruation and contraceptive medication actually works.  And any woman who questions this is overreacting at best and a slut, harpy, and premenstrual bitch at worst.

I've lost my patience for being open-minded--and the primary reason is because I feel threatened.  It's not just a question of moral debate--rather, it's a question of the real possibilities of invasive procedures, public shaming, and condescending lectures from men who are opposed to female autonomy.  Even more, the continuing violent rhetoric of the right constitutes a real threat to me.  I went to the church in Knoxville where people died as a result of a shooter who was determined to take out liberals.  The Planned Parenthood I used to go to in Cincinnati has been the recipient of numerous attempted attacks.  It's not just a couple of nutjobs on AM radio--the rhetoric of the right encourages violence against people like me--female, feminist, liberal, and intellectual. 

Certainly, I plan on being at the March Against the War on Women on April 28.  But right now, I'm feeling quite cynical about its potential.  I went to DC in 2004 for the March for Women's Lives, and while it was an enjoyable experience of solidarity, I can't honestly say that it did anything lasting.  I'm beginning to suspect that political protests only serve as pressure valves to keep people from actually accomplishing anything.  We'll go spend the day yelling and waving signs and feeling like we're not alone, and the Monday there will be another bill proposed somewhere that requires a husband's permission before a woman can buy condoms. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Though I had Tobacco Road out to read on the bus ride home, I instead put it away, closed my eyes, and listened to my headphones all the way home.  It was a delightful break.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In which I try to not too much of a yogahead, but I'll probably fail

The last couple of days I've had several moments of paralysis, where my to-do list feels like it has so many top priority things on it that I've just not been sure what to do next.  Sure, I'm a big believer in do the next thing, but it's been hard to figure out what that next thing is.  Ironically, my to-do list seems a bit shorter than normal, but everything on it is important. 

Part of the difficulty has been in taking on this new class, though the benefits of the second class so far seem to be outweighing the negatives. Though it's the same class I've been teaching, this group seems so much sweeter than my other class. Perhaps it's a function of their being new and shiny, but--so far, at least--no one's been reading the paper in class or been nearly as chatty as my other class.  And I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to transition them to a course schedule that more closely matches the other class I'm teaching.  As soon as IT can figure out how to get me access to their grades, I'll then need to figure out how to integrate their previous grades with the ones I'll give them.  Midterm grades are due Tuesday; while it would be nice if I could submit them on time, if I can't, I can't.

I'm getting better of letting go of such things. I've been working on expanding my Wise Blood paper I gave at SAMLA into an article-length piece, with the intention of submitting it to Southern Cultures for their music issue.  However, its deadline was March 5, and last week I realized I wasn't going to make it in on time.  I had a finished, article-length version of my Edith Wharton paper that just needed its citation style changed for a women's studies journal which is having a special issue on fashion coming up; as that was quicker to finish, I focused on that, and was able to submit it on time.  Last week in writing group, I brought an abstract for a southern panel at MLA that's focusing on southern sexuality; that's a big priority, too.  Between my professor's comments and my awesome writing partner's comments, I was quite happy with how it turned out.  I continue to really appreciate my writing group/partner--having a reachable goal each Friday has been working really well to keep me on task.

Anyway, despite these accomplishments, I have kept hitting the wall of not knowing what to do next, which gives rise to unpleasant feelings of anxiety.  This anxiety has the snowball effect that I then keep doing work, and haven't been nearly as active as I'd like to be.  I have been doing other activities--my mandolin has been played, and over the course of several work breaks, I've made a bonnet for the Jane Austen Festival this weekend.  Still, I think the anxiety and fatigue have been interacting in a way to make me reluctant to do anything active.

I broke that cycle today, and did the online pilates/yoga class I like a lot this afternoon when I got home from a good day at school (the positive feedback loop thing).  I noticed, though, at the end of the video, how much I missed savasana, that wonderful pose at the end of yoga classes where you lie in corpse pose, usually while the teacher talks you through a relaxation exercise.  Happily, it occurred that nothing was keeping me from doing that myself, so I laid down on my mat and spent probably ten minutes walking myself through conscious relaxation and paid attention to my breathing.

I felt so good afterwards.  Though I've always felt suspicious of the yoga talk that savasana is needed to let your activity "sink in" or something, it occurred to me that such a pause is a good thing, and perhaps that's what I've been needing in my not knowing what to do next.  I get so into crossing an item off my list that I immediately move on to what's next.  I'm now going to try not going on immediately to the next thing--rather than do the next thing, I may try, do something, pause, take a break, do something else. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Where I'm At

Yesterday certainly was an exercise in perspective.  The two areas of the country where I have the biggest concentration of friends is the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky tri-state area and Tennessee, both of which were hit with storms.  Everyone seems okay, though a friend's relative in Indiana lost her house, and when they last checked in yesterday afternoon were unable to leave its remains (I guess they were in the basement) because the downed power lines were too dangerous.

Add to that a friend who was in the hospital last night after a mild heart attack, and a colleague at school who underwent surgery for a faulty artificial heart valve yesterday (her third open heart surgery).  Perspective, perspective, perspective.

I'm actually picking up a section of English 2000 taught by my colleague who had surgery yesterday.  I don't know her--I believe she's an instructor--though I think I've chatted with her before a talk before.  It's the same class I'm teaching, though her syllabus looks much, much different from mine.  There's another teacher who's picking up another section of the class, and she's given me access to her Moodle page, so I can see how she's going to proceed with the class. 

It will be interesting to see how this goes.  Midterms are due week after next, so I'm picking up this class almost smack dab in the middle of the semester.  Though I've complained about the lack of community in my department, it's opportunities such as this which kind of make me put my money where my mouth is--am I willing to pitch in when its needed?

This coming week, there's a meeting scheduled with the intention of "envisioning graduate studies" in my department, which was put together after some heightened awareness of student unhappiness.  I'm open about the fact that I was ready to leave my first semester here--only the promise of the course offerings the next semester (sexology, southern lit, and Faulkner) and one class I was taking whose professor was completely engaged and exciting--kept me from reapplying to other schools over Thanksgiving that year.  And it wasn't a shock about the difficulty of grad school--at UT, I spent the first month going--shit!  Who the hell is Wittgenstein and why has he been mentioned in every class so far?  Rather, it's a lack of structured support for incoming students, especially those coming in with an MA.  For students with a BA and MFA students, they have structures built in--they have a week of orientation to prepare for TAing a section of a large class, which gives them a built in cohort with which to learn.  For incoming MAs, there was nothing--not a welcome from a faculty member, not a here's what you can expect, not even here's where the refrigerator is.  There was an EGSA meeting for an hour, with a welcome and things,  and a welcome to Baton Rouge booklet with useful information about neighborhoods and for using PAWS and things.  And everyone attends the big English department meeting the Friday before school starts.

Still, at UT, there was a week of orientation for everyone, which was overwhelming, but incredibly informative.  Several professors participated, and by the end of the week I felt like a part of my cohort and had a sense of who to talk to about what.  Here, there's supposed to be a mentoring system in place, but it's a crap shoot whether the mentor a new student is assigned to will actually respond.  (You'd better believe I have--my mentee is a priority to me.)  Many of us have gravitated to other departments, like WGS and Mass Comm, because (perhaps because they're smaller) they provide the kind of support and community that's lacking in English. 

And with March here, it's now less than a month away that the WGS graduate student organization is hosting a screening of the documentary Miss Representation.  We had a very productive meeting with the director of the Women's Center this week, who's offered quite a bit of support for the event.  So, fingers crossed!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Henry James was never called ugly*

So, I really enjoyed this podcast of the Diane Rehm Show today.  It was about the Edith Wharton novel Ethan Frome, in part in recognition of Wharton's 150th birthday this year.  In the midst of an enjoyable discussion (though I found some of the callers inane--who on earth thinks that high school students don't enjoy depressing books?), there was mention of Jonathan Franzen's New Yorker article (the link is to the abstract--I read it through the library subscription to Factiva) about Edith Wharton.  What readers generally agree seems to have intended to be a positive reading of Wharton instead--despite some nice analysis of her texts, especially Custom of the Country--reads as sexist jealousy.

Basically, Franzen's reading of Wharton is based on the fact that he finds her--the author--almost completely unsympathetic as a person because of her wealth and privilege.  To Franzen, Wharton had only "one potentially redeeming disadvantage: she wasn't pretty."  Franzen sees Wharton's major works as being strongly motivated by her unhappiness with her own looks, and her disappointing marriage and love life.  (He even reads her affair with Morton Fullerton as "somewhat embarrassing.")  He does own up to his own jealousy of her lifestyle, which he assumes the reader shares: "To be rich like Wharton may be what all of us secretly or not so secretly want, but privilege like hers puts her at a moral disadvantage."  I don't really get this perspective, as there are plenty of authors I know I wouldn't have wanted to have met--some of my favorites even (Faulkner, for example, being pretty high up on the list)--but I don't think it's appropriate to let my distaste color my reading.

Franzen's preamble is unfortunate, because like I said, some of his insights into her work are quite interesting.  His recognition that "the alchemical agent by which fiction transmutes my secret envy or my ordinary dislike of 'bad' people into sympathy is desire." However, his focus on Wharton's appearance undermines what insights he does have.  His claim that, "An odd thing about beauty, however, is that its absence tends not to arouse our sympathy as much as other forms of privation do.  To the contrary, Edith Wharton might well be more congenial to us now if, alongside her other advantages, she'd looked like Grace Kelley or Jacqueline Kennedy."  He goes on to claim that Wharton was fully aware of her own ugliness and created characters such as Lily Bart in part as a way of torturing pretty women to make up for her own shortcomings. 

When trying to find the original Franzen article, I came across several responses I agreed with: Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality, for example, Shut Up, Jonathan Franzen, and--a brilliant perspective--Kenyan Review's Jonathan Franzen on Edith Wharton.

In terms of my own work, even though he's not talking about southern literature, the fact that he is so focused on Wharton's own lack of beauty is striking.  First of all (as many people have pointed out, even though all of this should really be irrelevant when talking about Wharton), is this an image that many would characterize as "not pretty"?

Second, I'm intrigued that Franzen seems to think that the absence of beauty is an unforgivable privation.  Poverty, we have sympathy for; ugliness, we don't.  Especially if it's ugliness that gets to loll about in bed all day and write.  Jealousy is assuaged if the person is pretty--meaning deserving--enough?

*With apologies to Jonathan Richman, a Jonathan whose opinions I always agree with (well, those I know about, anyway).