Wednesday, November 29, 2006

dribs and drabs

Lately I've been completely avoiding my "scholarly" work life. I can never figure out what to call my "not teaching" work life. I hate the bizarre distinctions--as if teaching is not scholarly or academic or research-oriented.... Basically, I've just been avoiding revising my prospectus. Every time my "writing time" comes 'round, it makes me feel sick to my stomach, so I've been (understandably) putting it off. Today I *finally* finished revising the chapter two section!!! Since the intro and chapter two were the worst, I feel relieved. I now only have two more chapters and the conclusion to work through, but there are only about a total of sixteen comments from my director total, so I see a light. Yes, a light. But then again, I still have to go back and put some "finishing touches" on the introduction when. Today I finished chapter two with thirteen minutes left on my pester, so I decided to blog--something else I've been avoiding, since this is my "academic" life blog.

I need to keep reminding myself that when I finally am able to get myself to sit down, open my prospectus and focus on the revisions, it is not that bad--kind of exciting even--but overcoming the nausea to get to that point is always a difficult factor.

Part of my ongoing struggle in terms of this revision has been to articulate (more clearly) the reason that I see the University as a starting point in scrutinizing one's own critical position. Here is something I wrote a couple of weeks back that became in exercise in articulating that part of my argument:

I have been looking forward to getting this month's issue of College English and checking out William Thelin's latest article, "Student Investment in Political Topics." I figured the article would be closely related to my dissertation, but at the moment it resonates most strongly because the past couple of weeks of ENG105 have been devoted to my students choosing topics for their final paper, which will be a piece of cultural commentary/criticism. And I've been struggling with remaining a bit laissez-faire, while also guiding them toward actual cultural critique(s).

Thelin writes, "Our students have a better chance at financial comfort by developing an awareness of the cultural contradictions of capitalism and engaging in the concomitant political action than by competing against one another within the current system" (143). I agree with him and find myself making a similar argument when addressing the importance of looking at the corporate University as an object of study. I believe the "contradictions of capitalism" are alive and well in the University and that this localized context provides for an opportunity for students to look closely at issues of globalization and capitalism in a way/place that hits close to home. Thelin, however, sees a localized context as problematic (in agreeing with Donald Lazere), arguing that "having students focus exclusively on local issues does those students a disservice, as it denies them the opportunity to 'understand the political and economic forces to which they are captive'" (143). In terms of my own projcct's argument, I do not see the local context of the Universityas the "exclusive" focus of the classroom, and even so, I don't see it as doing a disservice because in my mind it does just what Lazere and Thelin fear a localized context and local issues fail to do: provide them with the opportunity to understand the political and economic forces that affect them daily (their education and their future). The University as corporate is the most immediate political economic force to which they are most certainly--in many ways--held "captive." And often "held captive" in ways that that don't even realize. After all, the food court is just where they get food, right? The fact that the are eating Sbarro's and Buger King for four years has no long term of extended effects, right? And those classes they take with a professor whose salary is in part funded by Pfizer? Those classes won't affect them beyond the scope of the University, right? Or the sweatshirts they buy their friends and families as gifts from the campus bookstore...? Part of Thelin's argument is based on the quote from Wayne Booth that opens his piece: "The most valuable political act any teacher can perform is not to impose particular political views but to teach students to see the words that society tries to inject into them unseen." And the University is certainly a part of that appartus that injects words and images into its students in an "unseen" manner. Teaching them to "read" the University seems to me as important as Thelin's project of teaching them to read Parade's list of the world's worst dictators. I'm not arguing that studying the purchasing habits and profit margin of the campus bookstore will necessarily be more enlightening to the students' understanding of global issues than Thelin's example, simply that it is as reasonable a context (if not more relevant to the students' daily lives) than any other we choose as the focus of critical pedagogy writing classroom.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

these days...

these days (a.k.a. the last four to five weeks of the semester)...

I eat twizzlers while grading to avoid taking up smoking.

I don't get my hair cut.

I don't go to the grocery store;

therefore, I don't cook;

therefore, I don't eat "real" food.

I lean on get me through each day. (It's gross).

I don't return phone calls.

I try to keep track of what the various stacks in my office actually mean.

I start thinking ahead to all of the things that I'm going to do "right" next semester.

I do the dishes (which really only consist of cereal bowls because there is no cooking going on) every few days.

I stare obsessively at the pages of my planner, as if suddenly an additional block of time will appear...or maybe a whole additional day of the week.

I see my exam date becoming further out of my reach (again).

I go back and forth on how many days I can actually allow myself to travel for thanksgiving.

I contemplate how I can get through to the next semester with my limited clothing supply, seeing as I can't seem to make it to the dry cleaners, and most my other laundry piles up while the occasional load I do manage to throw in often sits in the dryer for days at a time.

I write lists, thinking that will somehow make sense out of the chaos that is my life these days.

Monday, November 13, 2006

revising break-ups

A good friend of mine is going through a difficult break-up. I know she would do (and has done) the same for me/us, so D and I have been there for her quite a lot over the past week and a half--providing her with a bed to sleep in, a place to vent and ears to vent to, and substantial (if repetitive) advice. The only problem is that much of the hell that has broken lose in this slowly ending relationship has taken place in the middle of the night. For some reason, this break-up feels as though it is suddenly becoming my/our own. D and I wake up exhausted, having been up for many hours of the night. Time that I would have spent reading and prepping has now been given over to listening. Of course, I know this won't last, and any friend of mine who is in a heap on the floor (though this particular friend is much stronger than that...but close to it at times) is not going to stay there if I/we can do anything about it.

The interesting part of this for me is that it is one of the moments that causes me to be a bit more empathic toward my own students. I often get stories/excuses about lost sleep over helping a roommate or friend. My all too common reaction (though not the one I express to the student) is to let the friend or roommate take care of him/herself so that you can take care of you and your school work. But right now I'm seeing all too clearly the ways in which we do and can (and maybe even should at times) allow the problems of those close to us become our own problems as well.


I have really been struggling through this most recent revision of my prospectus. I've spent weeks simply (re)working the introduction, and trust me, the amount of time is not reflected in the quality of the introduction. I've now forced myself to momentarily move on to the first couple of chapters, but this morning alone I spent nearly an hour on a paragraph--a paragraph that still appears pretty weak to me.

One of the central questions plaguing chapter one is: How does the quest for disciplinarity work against the counterhegemonic potential of rhet/comp?

I make this claim that

Finally I will argue that composition’s quest for disciplinary recognition has been a distraction—a distraction from our classrooms, a distraction from the current conditions of the corporate University, and a distraction from the ways in which our potentially counterhegemonic position has been subsumed by the popularity of cultural studies/critical pedagogy, or at least when it is used as yet another step in achieving disciplinary recognition, which becomes another step into the corporate world of higher education.

This thought first occured to me while reading the WPA listserv. At times (this was a couple of years back) I felt that so much of the conversation was focused on achieving a certain status as a field that all talk of pedagogy was put on the back-burner. But overall, I'm not sure (yet) how I am going to go about supporting this claim. (Oh! Another moment of empathy for/with my students!)


On top of all this the coffee shop where I tend to accomplish a lot of my work is playing some mix that just happens to have ALL of my favorite songs on it. I'm not quite sure how they knew, but it is a little distracting.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I love Halloween

I just love Halloween.  It is such a festive holiday.  It is such a holiday of rebellion.  Very rarely are we given clearance to go out, look like somebody else, and wreak havoc.  Even if I'm occasionally sickened by the bags and bags of halloween candy stocked on store shelves--stuff that, as D puts it, "People shouldn't even be eating."  Oh, but what do I do?  Fill a plastic pumpkin with a mix of twizzlers and chocolates and bring it to school for my students.  Ah, yes, my ability to take a stand against corporate America seems to wane with each passing year.  Now that is frightening!

Yesterday I wore halloween socks to work and dressed in all black.  I had my students work collaboratively on writing "The Worst Ever Halloween Essay."  Then in the evening, D and I donned crazy wig/hat combos and painted our faces and took "the kids" (her niece and nephew) trick-or-treating.

Today though it is back to reality, and the truly scary piles of student papers awaiting my time and attention!!!!

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