Wednesday, January 31, 2007

morning blogging routine

My morning/blogging routine is a funny thing. I think that often bloggers read before they write. In fact, I think many writers (at least academic ones) read before they write. That's how we get ideas to share, items to respond to, etc. So tend to read and read all of my favorite blogs and news sites, and then when it finally comes time for me to write/post, I suddenly feel too tired. I've taken too much in. I can't sort through it all. I've been in front of the computer too long. I don't know what I want to write anymore. The obvious thing to do here would be to write first. The problem is that I generally have my bowl of oatmeal or cereal an cup of coffee in front of me when I start this whole process, and it is much easier to read than to write when my hands and mouth are filled with breakfast.

This morning I spent some time updating my "blogroll." Last night I just read around and explored some new (to me) blogs. For some reason I found myself really drawn to blogs that belong to academic/teacher mothers. I guess because it gives me hope that if they can do it, I can do it too! (Even if I have NO idea *how* they do it). A couple of my favorites: professing mama (formerly known as ABDmom, so it is kind of cool to follow her through the whole grad school to assistant prof. process) and crunchy granola.

I met with my director yesterday. Today I will send out potential exam dates (March) to my other committee members so that we can all coordinate. My committee wants me to formulate my own exam questions, which they can then tweak and/or revise as potential exam questions. I think it is a great exercise, and I understand the pedagogical reasons for doing the exam in this manner; I am just daunted by the task. I will start writing those on Friday (and will hopefully post ideas and/or the actual quesetions themselves here). I thank all bloggers who have posted their exam questions and/or exam process, as it is helpful to have these models.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

i've lost a very important blue notebook

Hopefully it is simply misplaced. It is a simple, thin, blue, Mead notebook that contains pages and pages of handwritten notes on texts from my reading lists. I know it has ALL of my notes on Balibar and Macherey's "On Literature as an Ideological Form" and many pages on Michael Apple's Ideology and Curriculum. I know it contains much more than that, but those are the texts I'm concerned with at the moment. These notes are obviously from back in the days of studying/reading before I had devon, but now I'm trying to get all my notes and books and photocopied excerpts and articles in alphabetical order by list on my shelves, and I need to find that damn notebook.

suddenly i see?

We've all, no doubt, heard the kt tunstall song (over and over). Maybe even seen it featured in The Devil Wears Prada in the scene where the determined Anne Hathaway character strides through the streets of NYC suddenly transformed into a fashionably hip woman, and we see the look in her eyes: she gets "it." Suddenly fashion makes sense to her; suddenly she knows *this* is what she wants to be. I mean, suddenly she sees it, that is.

Anyway, lately, whenever I hear that song (tunstall performed it on Ellen last week), I wonder if most academics have this "suddenly seeing" moment. A moment when it just all makes sense, and we become 100% certain that this is what we want to do/be, and we stride through the halls of our institution (well more likely, the halls of numerous institutions while on this very long journey) on a mission...a clear mission...?

I've been wondering this, and then came across this. Lately I've been calling what I do (PhD work and teaching) my "career." I don't know that I was conscious of this word choice or if it even means anything per se, but it was interesting to read this post about the differences between work, career, calling, and vocation. I certainly can't imagine walking around calling this my calling.

Friday, January 26, 2007

i thought i had blogged yesterday

Talk about feeling badly about the failure of my 21 straight days of blogging -- check out this guy. He is writing and recording one song over the course of a 24 hour period every day for a year, and he's sticking with it. Apparently if he fails to achieve this goal for even a day, then the project is over.

But all in all, I simply haven't been blogging every day because this is "supposed to be" a blogging adventure that documents my life in academe, and all I want to do lately is blog about anything but that. I guess that is also okay; avoidance, I would say, is also a part of this life in an institution. Right?

Yesterday, while at the gym, I picked up a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly and read an entertaining (I guess this is where the name of the magazine comes from) interview with Norman Mailer. Maybe this is typical of an EW article, but I guess I was surprised to actually get engrossed in an article while at the gym. Of course, it also made me long for the days of reading novels (even if Norman isn't actually reading any himself).

Finally saw The Good Shepard last night. One of the comments on IMDb is "finally a film that doesn't assume you're an idiot" (or something to that effect), and I'd have to agree. I don't consider myself an idiot at all, and yet my head was aching by end. Having never really been a viewer of any type of spy films, and, as it turns out knowing little about CIA operations, I found myself confused, worried, frightened at various points. It also made me feel that D and I should read aloud A People's History of the United States -- a few pages every night.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

blogging with my students

I've obviously failed miserably at my 21 days experiment. But blogging with my students is a great opportunity to help me keep on track.

My ENG106 students are working on their first contributions to our class blog. They're writing responses to Toni Morrison's "Recitatif." And I could just smack my own head, because I just realized that I forgot to discuss the title with them before they started writing. Ah well...such is the excitement of a classroom -- it's always live.

In other news...I had one committee member tell me (via e-mail) that my project is coming along nicely. A marked up copy is waiting for me in my campus mailbox. I'll revel in "nicely" for a few days before I actually pick it up and see exactly what that means.

There is really nothing else to report. Now I really feel like a student -- struggling to fill that eight minute timed freewrite.

Friday, January 19, 2007


A friend of mine, after taking her exams, told me that she spent most of the first day just getting together all the quotes she planned to use. I thought, what a great idea; I should get a head-start on that. So I've been going back to various texts and collecting quotes in devon. Obviously, at this point I don't know what my questions will be, so I am simply gathering quotes that I feel will be most relevant to my project as a whole.

Problem is that a lot of the time I just really like the quote (or the idea contained therein) but can't really see how it connects to any of the arguments I plan to make. I've spent about three days (only about an hour or two each day) harvesting quotes from Stanley Aronowitz's The Crisis in Historical Materialism. I know I've spent too much time and taken waaay too many quotes from this book (there are just so many that appeal to me). One from today that totally doesn't seem to connect to my project, but that I like anyways:

"Feminist struggles have the possibility for contributing to a new configuration of classes within contemporary society because they go beyond the limits of economic self-interest" (112).

Ms. Dewey

I decided to check out ms. dewey -- a search engine (I believe created by microsoft). When I arrived at the site, however, I was a little suprised to see Ms. Dewey is Papi -- the l word's new character, who was just introduced last week. Her name is actually Janina Gavankar. Most surprisingly is that when I put in the search terms: papi and l word and ms dewey, well, Ms. Dewey seemed to recognize herself, saying something about how she likes to take a laptop to work with her so that she can keep up on herself. Pretty hilarious.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

technology...powerful classroom tool or...

infuriating, morning-ruining, unreliable, ineffective let down.

uniblogs failed me big time. For the past couple of days it has been quirky and unreliable -- at various times I haven't been able to login, or once I've logged in it doesn't let me do anything. Not to mention it is soooo slooooow. Once I managed to get up one post, it has been impossible to even update my class blog with a simple post. Today was the day to set up my students with their usernames (in ENG106) and their own blogs (in ENG251). Well, if uniblogs was giving me this much of a headache, I couldn't imagine how my already skittish and skeptical students would do (and if you can't login, there is really not much point in having a username or a blog).

I spend all morning trying to get uniblogs to cooperate with me, with no luck. With ten minutes left on the clock before I have to leave the house, I am frantically trying to figure out my best alternative.

I left the house, and got almost all the way to school when I realized that I forgot a document at home that I hadn't saved to my flashdrive, and that I didn't know the password to one of my blogs (it was the mumble jumble of numbers and letters that I hadn't yet changed to something that actually makes sense to me). I would need the password to implement my newly forming plan, which was to have students attain their usernames and blogs directly through wordpress. I had to turn around and head home, and then realized I needed enough time to print out the document as our printer is out of ink. It's a sad, sad story, I know.

I began with such good intentions wanting to support edublogs and its sister uniblogs, but these technological tools failed me at the wrong time.

At the last minute before class I threw this site up on wordpress, but I still need to return to it and add what was on the original site. I changed the instructions for my ENG251 students so that they would utilize wordpress instead of uniblogs.

Today when I got back home, I discovered something is so very wrong with my computer. I don't know what, but it's running at a snail's, worse than that, and sounds like it is panting and heaving and never quite catching its breath.

Update: Now I've tried to post this entry three times, and it appears that blogger is having some issues. One could say it's not really my day....

Monday, January 15, 2007

today's workout

Because it is freezing and rainy and icy and gross outside, I refused to join D at the gym today. Instead, I decided to workout at home. I did this workout. I know a lot of people say that it is tough for them to get a good workout at home, but let me just say that doing this jumping workout today suddenly makes spin class seem less tortuous. Most of the moves I couldn't do for the required amount of time. One minute of "killer" push-ups??? At first I thought it must mean do one killer push-up, and I thought *maybe* I could accomplish that.... With moves named cancan and hopscotch it sounded like a lot of fun. Overall, the workout took me about 25 minutes to complete (longer than it should have), making it a perfect exercise activity for those exam study days when I want to save some time by NOT driving to the gym but am in desperate need of an exercise break. That is if I am ever brave enough to try it again.

D got me a physioball for christmas, so I can also use that on days when I can't make it to the gym. I also want to get a medicine ball and a jump rope.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

lazy sunday post

1. football is on. go pats!

2. went bowling. (it is rainy and icy outside)

3. played tennis with complete strangers and D. it was fun.

4. played with photobooth on the computer; cracked ourselves up taking hilarious pictures (i considered putting one up here, but i'm just not that brave).

5. now we are in our pjs and sweatpants and stuff. hunkered down. more wintery mix to come.

6. trying to take some down time before the semester starts on tuesday, but i'm not very good at it.

i'm not sure why i numbered this, as this is in no particular order.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Energizer Teacher

There is a kind of interesting discussion that has been taking place on the WPA listserv. It was prompted by the new movie Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank and began as a critique of this type of representation of teachers (particularly young, white and female) who give up their own life in order to "save" the lives of their disenfranchised students. These teachers are portrayed as completely self-sacrificial -- having no life outside of school and their students' lives. The listserv has gone on to name numerous similar representations with teachers of various races and both genders (though the question that initially began the discussion was looking for representations of minority teachers, teaching a body of primarily white students). While the discussion is primarily focused on race -- something I also find interesting (the person who posed the question could only come up with To Sir with Love, which was also the only film I could think of) -- I am very interested in this idea of the self-sacrificial teacher who is willing to give up "her" marriage and personal interests in order to better "serve" her students. (Granted, I have not seen Freedom Writers, so I'm working primarily from what people have been saying about it and previews, but I've certainly seen these representations in other films).

Lately I've been going around talking about the amount of energy it takes to teach. Something any and every teacher is well aware of. And I've started thinking back to a time when I was adjuncting, teaching five classes and working an additional job and taking a graduate class. (Apparently the teacher whom Freedom Writers is based on was paid 27,000/year and took two additional part time jobs). I keep, how did I do that? Right now the three classes I teach seem to take over my entire life. Five just seems overwhelming. However, I've always said that I'd love a community college job, and those tend to be a 5 - 5 load (sometimes more). When interviewing for them, I simply thought, I've done this before, and I was quite happy. But I was also something else: single. Not only was I single; I lived in the middle of nowhere (Newfane, VT with a population of under 1700) in a tiny (very rustic -- you could see the dirt from the ground between the slabs of wood that made my floor) cabin with no heating source except a wood stove. I had very few friends, and certainly fewer whom were easily accessible without all wheel drive. I worked out -- mostly by myself, but sometimes with the two friends who lived closest to me -- at a gym near one of the colleges where I taught. Yes, it seems I was living the life of a monk. And so teaching five classes simply was my whole life, and I quite enjoyed it. But life now is very different. I live in a city. I have two separate communities of friends. I have a partner, a house, a yard, a dog, heat that turns on by itself. I have a mall nearby. I play tennis, take spin classes, yoga classes, play Ultimate frisbee. (I'm beginning to sound like a bit of a yuppie). I meet up with friends at coffee shops, run into people I know at the movies. One person on the listserv said that one of the first things he learned in an education class is that a good teacher has a rich "outside" of school life. So it would seem that all of these things should be good for my teaching, and I'm sure that in many ways they are. But I haven't quite gotten the knack of having this rich outside life and not feeling overwhelmed by teaching. Part of me truly feels that my students should have a piece of my brain at all times: when I'm falling asleep at night; when I'm listening to D talk; when I'm out to a movie with friends -- during all of this I'm still brainstorming how to reach so-and-so, how I'll do such-and-such the same or differently, or I'm thinking about their blog entries; how I am going to respond to what they're thinking, etc. And even with the amount of energy I put into teaching, I'm still no Freedom Writer teacher; I'm still no Dead Poet's Society teacher. I'm just getting by, at the same time as I'm trying to do everything I can to ensure my students learn and succeed.

So I guess that ultimately my thought is that I have been convinced by these portrayals of the self-sacrificial teacher; that it really does take complete devotion to teaching and to the lives of students to be a "super"-teacher. How else to be a super-teacher? I read the listserv, and rationally I know the ways that these images and narratives are problematic. I know that the poster who wrote about having the rich outside life is probably right. But I'm still not fully convinced. A part of me continues to believe teachers need to take vows of celibacy, a vow of poverty, and forsake all that is not directly beneficial to their students.

Then I found this book and thought it might be helpful to read it. But then I read the customer reviews, which say things like:
Graduate students thinking about making careers as professors should read this book carefully, especially if they have or would like to have children. Each author in the edited volume describes her valiant attempt to have a family life and an academic job at the same time. It's not a pretty picture. The narratives are personal and powerful. Several are horror stories about the inhumane treatment of new professors who are also new mothers.

Although this book is most relevant as a cautionary tale for women entering academia, it is also a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of feminism. The memoirs of some of the senior female academics, pioneers in their fields, reveal awesome courage. This is the printed mentor that I've seen other books purport to be.

My one concern is that the book's bleak honesty may discourage some graduate students, or create the impression that it is better to wait until after tenure to start a family.

Horror stories? Courage necessary to a female academic? Discourage graduate students?

Friday, January 12, 2007

I've spent the morning deleting spam from this blog. So that was fun. Blogger is really annoying me lately, and I'm considering moving this blog over to edublogs/wordpress. I don't know -- maybe I just need to explore this new out of beta blogger more thoroughly.

Yesterday afternoon I suddenly realized I have not decided what am I going to have my students use as an RSS aggregate this semester. I'm definitely switching from flock because it just seems that the main benefit of flock was the way it integrated with wordpress, yet this payoff was not necessarily worth the initial hassle of having everyone download a browser they'd never used before--although I did have students tell me at the end of the semester that they now use flock regularly as their browser. I am trying to decide between google reader and bloglines. I've haven't really dedicated myself to playing around with them as much as I wanted to, but at the moment, google reader seems to make a bit more sense--simply because my students will be utilitzing uniblogs to publish their blogs (they won't need something like bloglines that does it all).

The latest College English landed on my porch yesterday. I'm wasn't terribly excited by any of the articles, but became kind of interested in the argument being made by Patricial Webb, Kirsti Cole, and Thomas Skeen in their article, "Feminist Social Projects: Building Bridges between Communities and Universities." The article responds to critiques of service learning projects that describe them as atheoretical. The authors claim that feminist theories could bring a critical perspective and legitimacy to service learning projects that would allow us (and our students) to take into account the systemic aspect of social problems -- as opposed to service learning simply being grounded in an ethos of volunteerism and philanthropy. This somehow how seems important to/related to my own project, which, in a sense, critiques service learning (at least implicitly) through its critique of critical pedagogy -- my own perspective also being to focus on a systemic analysis of systems (in the case of my project -- specifically, the University); however, these authors seem to have a plan (something I tend to lack) for a feminist approach to service learning that moves beyond a critique of existing structures to strategies for change.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Break in Review

Okay, so I managed to do two of twenty-one days of blogging. I'm going to make myself start over every time I miss a day--otherwise I'll never get twenty-one consecutive days, and my "experiment" will be inaccurate.

Over break I *finally* around to finishing/reading Janice Erlbaum's memoir, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir. It's the type of fast-paced read that I couldn't put down, but even with the speed with which I read it, her life really came alive for me, leaping off the pages so that I too was was in that chaotic, (sometimes) dark whirling cloud that was her teenage years (and/or NYC in the 80s). The book left me feeing strangely dissatisfied with my own life--in part because my own life suddenly seemed so boring, but also because I so enjoyed reading a book that I picked out, that wasn't on an exam list, that I wanted to read just for FUN. Reading Girlbomb made me resent being in a PhD program and made me want to be able to read for FUN all of the time. It also made me want to write. Oh yes. When she sits up in bed after just having sex with one of the "boyses", and she gets her cigarette and her journal and gets down to writing--I want to get back to that (well minus the boyses and the cigarette part). Alright, all in all, it simply made me sick of academic-ese and made me want my own language back.

As for movies, we saw the Dixie Chicks documentary Shut up and Sing, and I must say that it was one of the most moving movie experiences I've had in about twenty years. I remember in the "old days" when folks would clap at the end of movies or react strongly during the movie--that was part of the movie-going experience--sharing that viewing with other people. But now we seem to be all closed off, keeping our emotions to ourselves. But during this film, the audience reacted during the movie--actually clapping in the middle of the movie and then again at the end.

We also saw Charlotte's Web. Joel Siegel absolutely loved this movie, nominating it as one of his top ten picks of 2006. I'm not sure that it was that good, but it was really fun to see one of my childhood favorites brought to life in such a visually pleasing way.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Beloved Professor

I recently found out that one of my professors from graduate school passed away on December 23rd. I took the news very hard, as she was the one professor out of my countless years of schooling that I was absolutely comfortable with. She was the professor that I yearned for all through my undergraduate experience. She helped set me on the path that I am on today.

It is eerie to get such news. In part because she was quite young--so it was completely unexpected. But also because she was simply one of those people who I knew (or felt) would always be there for me. Even if some time passed between contact with her, she was always willing to hear about my life and share a bit of hers.

She was just a wonderful woman, feminist, teacher, rhetorician, friend, and mentor. I will miss her more than I can ever express.

Dr. Teresa Hunt -- in memoriam.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New Semester -- New Blogs

I spent most of the day prepping my ENG251 class -- Topics in Prose Writing: Writing about Society and Culture -- for next semester, and I finally have the class blog site up. I've decided to have this semester's blog hosted through edublogs. This means that it is still a wordpress blog, but I chose to use edublogs for a couple of reasons: 1) bad behaviour should help reduce spam. 2) James Farmer convinced me. In fact, I plan to have my students host their individual blogs through uniblogs this semester.

The features on the ENG251 blog that I'm most excited about: sidebar widget that reads only those links that I've tagged as ENG251 ( thanks dave )--meaning all the online class readings can be easily accessed from the sidebar (and will automatically update as I add more); easy access to the class wikispaces space--which will also update as we build additional pages; RSS sidebar widget for those sites that are important to stay on top of.

The syllabus is posted in a most incomplete form, so that needs updating. There's much more to do, but that is the beauty of a blog--it makes the progress part of "work-in-progress" so simple (and fun).

21 days of blogging -- experiment

"They" say that if you do something consistently for twenty-one days, then it becomes habit. So, being the inconsistent blogger that I am, I've decided to try blogging at least once daily for twenty-one days--to see if, at that point, I just won't be able to stop blogging once I hit days twenty-two and so forth. I figure that as the semester begins, and I ask my students to become bloggers, I should really be able to call myself one as well. Not that I believe you need to blog daily in order to call yourself a blogger, but I should be posting at least as much, if not more than my students (who won't be daily bloggers, unless they choose to be).

I know that Donna at Why Not Blog? blogged every day for the month of November. Her final post in November adresses both why I don't beat myself over not blogging regularly--sometimes I just don't have much to say. But, on the other hand, she reminds me/us of why it is also useful to blog daily--so that we actually blog about all those things we carry around in our heads with the little label "blog this" attached to them.