Friday, December 29, 2006

Survived the first day at the MLA

But I'm taking today off. I got home around 1:00 a.m. But let's start at the beginning. I arrived and got registered in time to attend a 10:15 session, "Rhetoric, Composition, Writing: Affinities, Tragectories, Discontinuities" with Cheryl Glenn and Kathleen Yancey. Doug Hesse was supposed to be there as well, but instead Kathy read his paper. In Doug's paper, he started with a story about receiving an email from his daughter's Alma Mater. As Kathy read the email, I recognized it. It was the email that sent people to this, a flash presentation created by one of my students during the summer program I direct. I consider myself semi-quoted.

During that session my phone rang. (Actually, my phone wasn't the only phone to ring.) I turned it off and then at the end of the session, I checked my messages. It was from Lilian. After an unsuccessful attempt to call back, we finally connected and grabbed a bite to eat at Reading Terminal Market. Lilian ran off to a session. I was wandering the halls, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. On the bridge between the hotel and the convention center, I spotted a friend from grad school. We stopped and chatted for a while. We caught up on where everyone had ended up. Turns out he's been living not that far away from me. But he's looking to move on (as many people I ran into were. More on that later.)

After leaving my friend, I decided to wander the exhibits. I stopped by the Inside Higher Ed booth and said hi to Scott and Doug. I picked up a few free books. Yay! I had to meet someone at 2:30, so decided not to attend a 1:15 session (this is a trend I continued). I found a place to sit down. Somewhere during that time or maybe before that, I got email from Collin, inviting me to meet him and his gang at the cocktail thing at 5:15 and then perhaps join them for dinner afterwards. I had tentatively had plans with a friend who lives in the city, but she had not gotten in touch with me, so I decided to take Collin up on his invite.

After my 2:30 meeting, it was about 3:15. I scoured the program and decided there was nothing I wanted to attend. (Told you it was a trend.) So I wandered to the email room, checked my email, looked up some phone numbers and then found a place to sit. I swear I walked 10 miles, so sitting was utterly important. I called another grad school friend at her hotel, thinking she wouldn't be there and I'd just leave a message. She was there. Unfortunately, she was in the middle of an interview. Boy, did I feel dumb.

After sitting for a while, I decided it wasn't too early for a drink, so I wandered down to the lobby bar. There were no seats to be had and really I was more interested in sitting than drinking, so I found a spot at the other bar, which wasn't open yet. Thirty minutes later, it opened and since I was sitting there anyway I decided to have a drink. By the time I finished, it was time for the cocktail party. Very conveniently, I had left my coat on a coat rack right outside the room where the cocktail party was being held. Drinking ensued again as did chatting with some very nice people and meeting up with Collin and crew.

Eventually, we headed off to dinner at BookBinders, which was totally awesome. Really, there's no other word for it. Our waiter will tell you so. But it was really good. And, then we split into 3 cabs with Collin and I headed off to the blogger meetup, written about here and here. Collin and I were late and apparently we missed Dr. B. Oh well. I'm thinking I have plans to attend the 8:30 session tomorrow. We'll see. It's sooo early. I'm also thinking I'm going to need a nap later. When I left the blogger meetup to catch a train, I was thinking there'd be one around 11:30, but I hadn't checked the schedule and there wasn't a train until 12:10. I probably should have gone back and chatted a little more, but I didn't. I listened to a guy talk on his cell phone to his girlfriend about how he needs to get his own life together before their relationship goes any further. It was actually kind of interesting.

So, it turned out not to be so bad. I feel slightly guilty for not attending anything, especially since I've seen some blogger writeups of sessions that looked interesting. It's such a huge program. I think I'm over my fear of the MLA. Not sure if I'll ever go again, but if I do, I will no longer fear it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dateless at the prom

I'm headed to the MLA today. Don't ask why. It's complicated. I feel like the girl who couldn't get a date to the prom and goes anyway, only to hang out in the corner, hoping someone will ask her to dance. Only no one does. I don't really do well at these big conferences. I'm a regional/specialist kind of conference goer. I'm debating going to the blogger meetup tonight because I'll feel like I'm an interloper. Sure I blog, but I'm not a lit person. I'm a fence straddler. I've got one foot in each court and I'm not sure I'm happy with either. I'm dreading the badge glance. You know, the look to see if you're an appropriately prestigious school. I'm dreading people casually asking what I do and upon finding out I'm not in the professoriate or potential professoriate will end the conversation quickly by saying they have a thing. Little insecure, are we?

Yes, the insecurity is part of it. But it's also that this is a life I left behind almost six years ago, a life I semi returned to when I decided to complete the Ph.D., but one I'm not sure I want to return to. There's a lot about academia I enjoy. I like discussing intellectual topics, thinking about things that no one else really thinks about. But I don't like the way that talk sometimes gets so far beyond the practical that it's laughable. I don't like the hierarchy crap, the way one's school determines where one sits on the great chain of being. Maybe I'm being too hard on the institution. Maybe it's just me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Post Christmas Doldrums

We're in the slump between Christmas and New Year's when we mostly lie around and play with our new Christmas gifts. I'm planning to hop over to the MLA. Geeky Boy has a birthday party today. We have a New Year's party to attend and then it will be back to work and school.

I definitely enjoy the lack of schedule but I'm so not used to it. My life has be a relentless schedule for the past 3 months. Last night was the first night I slept well. I'd toss and turn, thinking about stuff I needed to do, worrying about the kids. I just haven't been able to wind down, plus I've had the virus which seems to be going away now. It was the kind of virus that sapped the energy out of me, but not quite enough to be incapacitating. I'd get up in the morning and by noon, I'd feel like I needed a nap.

I think one of my resolutions for the new year is going to be to relax a little. Do less. Enjoy more.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

I left the salt out of the biscuits. The ice cream pie was a total mess but really, really tasty. All in all a great success! Wishing you all a peaceful evening.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Plan of action

We have our big holiday meal on Christmas Eve so today is a day to get ready. I'll be doing a little rushing around, all in preparation for relaxing and doing nothing for a couple of days. The menu for the meal is:
  • roast
  • baked asparagus with cheese
  • glazed carrots
  • sweet potato biscuits
  • hot fudge brownie pie
So, I'm going to make a few things ahead of time and then be ready for a delicious meal and a relaxing evening. Here's what I need to do:
  • buy a roast (I bought a cheap one and have decided it won't do for Xmas Eve so I'm going to get a better one. I'll use the other one later.)
  • buy champagne
  • make Christmas cookies with Geeky Kids (we've made two batches of cookies already, one is already gone)
  • make the hot fudge brownie pie
  • maybe make some other chocolate thing. I have leftover chocolate.
  • watch marathon of Christmas specials
It will be busy, but fun. I hope everyone else has a wonderful weekend and holiday.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Winter Solstice, aka Festival of Wild Women

The winter solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysos was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysos would be reborn as a baby. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by the killing of a goat. The women's role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth.

Winter solstice celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, etc

Now that's my kind of festival, except the human sacrifice part.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Holiday Sweater

I do own a holiday sweater, but I doubt I'll wear it this year. Worse, I own a holiday vest which depicts the 12 days of Christmas. Growing up, we never had holiday wear. Socks maybe. My mother never sported a bright red sweater with Rudolph on it. My dad might have had a Christmas tie, likely a gift. When I began spending Christmases with Mr. Geeky's family, the holiday sweater became de rigeur. Mr. Geeky's mom worked at an elementary school so she had shirts and sweaters and dresses and socks for every holiday. So did many of the other women in Mr. Geeky's family. I wanted to fit in and I kind of liked wearing something to celebrate the holidays, so I wore sweaters. And then I was given a couple and next thing you know I had a whole collection. But I think the days of the holiday sweaters (for me, anyway) are over.

I could join the ugly sweater bar crawl, which I think would be the perfect use for my old sweaters. I prefer holiday jammies myself. Only I know how festive I am.

Alpha Males

Over the last few weeks, I've become more aware of this particular kind of man who eats lunch out or does business with "clients" in coffee shops. I find them very annoying and yet fascinating. These guys are well-dressed, generally in suits or in hip business casual attire. They often have those bluetooth earpieces, making them look a little like a Ohura, but it's cool among their kind. They have product in their hair, which is generally slicked back away from their face in a stylish, non-greaser-looking way. If conducting business, they have gadgets: laptops, Blackberries. They like to talk about money. I've overheard conversations about millon-dollar homes and business plans. There's an intensity about them that is a bit scary. They're focused, mostly on themselves. They seem to own the room, or at least the corner they've occupied for the moment. If they're with other alpha males, there is lots of jockeying for position. Depending on their age, this is done via jokes and references to popular culture or via talk about their possessions like their new car or plasma screen tv. You get the sense that either a) they know they own and run the world or b) they know they don't and this is the cover up. Do you know this species?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Year in Review Meme

As seen in The Clutter Museum, post the first sentence of the first post for each month.

January: This is the first new year's eve in a while where I've overindulged.

February: I didn't listen to the SOTU, but I read summaries and listened to the coverage of it on NPR this morning.

March: Both Elizabeth and Laura have posts about the Newsweek article (which I haven't read) on the European system of offering parents lots of time off and part-time job opportunities.

April: Just returned from a kick-off event at Mt. Holyoke for a Women's Public Voices grant.

May: I spend part of every Sunday watching This Week and Reliable Sources.

June: 1. Do you use an alarm clock to wake up? Yes

July: One thing blogging does for me is help to sort out all the crazy thoughts in my head.

August: I'm still sorting all this out, but I thought I'd give it a stab.

September: It's been a long week. I've attempted to start working on those resolutions I've made.

October: I originally started this as a comment, but thought it deserved a place in the sun.

November: Why does it always seem that everything has to be done at once?

December: I'm about a third of the way done with this chapter.

In summary: I started the year hungover and spent the rest of it commenting on things I haven't read and trying to sort out various things in my life. Sounds about right.

RBOC: Holiday Edition

  • The presents have been bought and wrapped and shipped. Can we just have Christmas tomorrow and be done with it? Personally, being the atheist I am, I'd rather celebrate the solstice on Thursday. Let's have a Saturnalia celebration or something.
  • I'm kind of bummed that the kids aren't out of school yet. We could be making cookies, going to movies and playing games, but no, they're trotting off to school every day, doing homework. Bah. Humbug.
  • I can't quite seem to unwind yet. There just seem to be loose ends I know I have to tie up or come back to in the new year. (Like grades.)
  • I have a cool plan in the new year for fun stuff on the blog. Maybe more fun for me that you, but hey it's all about me, right. :)
  • Our minivan is on its last legs. It's gonna need serious work. Merry Christmas.
  • There's nothing dumber than 24 hour news. What a monster we created.
  • Maybe I'll produce something more thoughtful at some point. Maybe.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm Person of the Year

And so are you. Time named us person of the year! Congrats. Yeah, I'm pretty excited myself. It's about time. I've been blogging away for 2.5 years. Okay, sure, I have to share my glory with millions of other people, but hey, isn't that what this whole web 2.0 thing is about?

My favorite quote from the intro is a question I get asked in one form or another all the time:

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Why we do it is another question entirely. Maybe because it's fun.

Hat tip: Blinq

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How Lucky We Are

My coffee reading this morning included a post by Phantom and an article in the NY Times, both of which offer a way of seeing how lucky we are to have what we have and to live the way we do.

The winter holidays are often a time when the stark contrast between rich and poor become most obvious. Those of us with decent incomes and families who also have decent incomes lament the abundance we're showered with and worry about our children being too materialistic. Lurking in the back of our minds, we may know people who have nothing, who scrape together just enough money to get their kids something for Christmas or who rely on charity to provide gifts and food for the holidays. I find myself sometimes feeling guilty about not doing more. Or living less abundantly. Partly I don't do more because I don't feel financially secure even though I know I make more than 90% of the country. I worry about losing a job, about putting my kids through college, about being able to buy a new car when the old one breaks down. But these are frivilous worries compared to some. Even if one of us lost our job, we'd find a way to survive. We might have to buy a cheaper home, buy fewer clothes and toys, but we'd be able to eat.

I do feel lucky. It's honestly taken me a while to feel this way since I'm living less affluently than my parents did. I think one of my resolutions for the new year will be to find a way to contribute more to causes I care about, to help alleviate the horrible disparity not just between myself and another American, but myself and billions of people around the world. In the NY Times article, Singer does the math and figures that if the top 10% of Americans gave on a sliding scale, we could eliminate world poverty. That's pretty amazing. Imagine what the world would be like then.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A complete draft!

I did it! Holy crap. I can't believe it. I have a complete dissertation draft. If my calculations are correct, I've written about 150 pages. There's a lot of work to do after the new year, but yay!! I didn't think I'd make it this far.

Friday, December 15, 2006

On Vacation, Kind of

Yesterday was my last day of work for almost 3 weeks. I always have tons of vacation to use up by the end of the year. Even taking today and all of next week, I will roll over a few days of vacation. That's one thing I would never complain about at work. We get more than enough vacation. It's a good time to take vacation since everyone else is taking exams, grading and definitely not needing my services. I was able to tie up my projects yesterday and now I'm sitting here in my bathrobe, ready to embark on over 2 weeks of freedom.

Only it won't be complete freedom for at least two more days. There's this dissertation thing to finish. The plan is to work on it today and tomorrow and be done. I *must* be done by tomorrow. I can't take it anymore. I think it will get done. It won't be the most wonderful thing in the world, but it will get done.

I am so looking forward to really being on vacation. I've let go so much and I'm looking forward to getting back to some form of normal. Here's just a sampling of things I am looking forward to in the days to come:
  • getting clothes out of drawers and closets instead of laundry baskets
  • meals with lower than 50% fat and sodium content
  • no more writing paragraphs in my head
  • baking Christmas cookies and fudge
  • playing games with the kids
  • reading for pleasure
  • time with Mr. Geeky
In 48 hours, I'll be there. See ya on the flip side.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kid's View of Global Warming

Geeky Boy laments global warming and calls on us grownups to do something about it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blogging pseudonomously

PPB posted something interesting today about why she blogs under a pseudonym and other interesting blogging tidbits. There are times when I wish I had maintained my pseudonym. There are things I'd like to blog about but feel that I can't because my blog is attached to my real name. It's not that I want to say mean things about people or anything like that, but sometimes I'd like to be able to write about situations and get advice from the wise people of the blog world. I really enjoy reading other people's teaching conundrums and institutional quandaries. They're often similar to things I've experienced and it's interesting and quite helpful to see how people have handled these issues. Sometimes I've had situations that have resolved successfully and I wish I could share that success. I wish, too, I could share my burdens at times. As PPB says, this is not a "pretend reality" for me. Sure, I have friends out here in the real world, but I value the opinion of my friends in the blog world too. It'd be hard to go underground now, but sometimes I wish I could.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Geeky Book Recommendations

My brain is too filled with stuff like audience and discourse communities and emergence to be of much use, but I thought in the spirit of winter solstice and the free time that many of us might be looking foward to, I'd recommend some geeky type books that you can read yourself and/or purchase for geeks and non-geeks alike. Oh, and go vote for me and Phantom and everyone else in the Weblog Awards. I've given up hope of winning, but it's fun to vote anyway.

Geeky Books for Everyone!

  • Six Degrees of Separation--a good introduction to network theory. We actually used this book in a freshman writing class.
  • Linked--another network theory book, but specific to the Internet. I liked this so much I've read it twice and am using it in my dissertation.
  • Emergence--I'm in the middle of this one and I like it so far.
  • Everything Bad is Good for You--Another Steven Johnson book. I like the message of this book. It makes me feel better about my Internet habits.
  • The Search--a book all about search. There were parts of this that I didn't like, but it's still fascinating.
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto--one of my favorite geeky books. There are a couple of other books that are similar to this that I'd love to read--maybe over the break.
  • The Tipping Point--I have read this one twice two.
I think that's it for now. One thing I'd like to do in the new year is to read a book a week the way Elizabeth does.

In case you're wondering, I did this after I'd worked on my dissertation for two hours.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Writing, thinking, rewriting

Bleh. I've decided to reorganize this chapter for the third time. I think I like the new direction I'm headed in, but boy, has this whole thing been a slow process. I know that everything I've written so far, while not being used directly, contributes to my thinking about the new direction. It does kind of suck, though, to have written nearly 20 pages of unusable material. I'm sure bits and pieces of it will find their way into the final result. I always find it amusing to look back at old drafts and notice that there is a phrase I kept while everything around it changed.

Tomorrow I need a pretty complete draft of about the first 2/3 done. Next week I have to do a little more reading and then write the rest of it when that's done. It definitely feels like one step forward, two steps back at this point. But I'll get it done. I have to.

On the plus side, we got the hole in our house fixed--no more squirrels! And we got some Christmas shopping done. I also switched to the new Googlized Blogger. Once the chapter's done, I'm going to redecorate a bit around here. Yay!

Okay--I couldn't resist a little playing around.

Gah! Reverted back--no Haloscan--pooey!

Friday, December 08, 2006


The 2006 Weblog AwardsYay for the little things in life. I'm up for an award in the Best of the top 3501-5000 blogs. Go vote. I'm in 4th.

We have friends in other categories. Go vote for them too. Chuck in best of 5001-6750.

If Phantom doesn't win Best Parenting Blog, there's something wrong with the universe.

Don't forget Pharyngula in Best Science Blog.

I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I noticed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee

For the past three days, our campus cafe has offered among its coffee options Cinnamon Hazelnut. Despite having sworn off caffeine, I have indulged myself in a small cup. I am nostalgic for the days when I used to meet a friend at a local coffee shop on Sunday mornings. I'd get Cinnamon Hazelnut coffee (slightly better than our campus's version) and a cinnamon scone. We'd talk for a few minutes and then start grading. We'd spend a couple of hours there, grading, occasionally making comments or asking for suggestions on how to comment on a paper.

That coffee shop served as a grading outpost, a study lounge, and an entertainment venue. During MA exams, a group of us met there once a week to quiz each other on pieces of literature from Beowulf to Gravity's Rainbow. At one point, I tried to connect everything we read to Gawain and the Green Knight. We all had pieces we hated and pieces we loved. We also shared our fears, our hopes, but generally were able, by sharing the burden, to enjoy the process. Almost always, one could walk into the shop during the day and find someone sequestered at a table, reading, writing, or grading. If they looked up, we'd nod at them knowingly and find our own corner to sit in. And we'd often stop by the shop to celebrate completing a project or a stack of grading. At night, it became more bar than coffee shop, with live music sometimes and a wide variety of drinks and snacks. When I've returned to visit, I've often met people there for drinks and lively conversation.

I do miss the camaraderie of the coffee shop. Here, I'm missing that kind of place. My little cup of cinnamon hazelnut brings that back, just a little.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dissertating while mothering

Bitch, Ph.D. comments and academom responds to the issue of getting a graduate degree while simultaneously raising children. Dr. B ends with this observation:
because, though I hate to say this, academia is not the easiest field for women with kids, especially in the plural; and graduate school, especially when you're still doing coursework, is probably about as bad as it gets. You might get the degree, but in all honesty it'll probably end up being seen a vanity degree: you'll have worked your ass off to finish, but while you were focusing on your work, you'll have been sidelined in the minds of your department as someone who isn't going to go beyond grad school and will somehow be reabsorbed into the non-academic world with a nice diploma to hang on the wall of your home office.
I personally think this sucks. Yeah, I see some truth in it, but I think Dr. B, of all people should try to suggest ways that this can be fought. Madeleine offers this response, which I think is spot on:
if we moms continue to ACT AS THOUGH we are marginalized, if we expect such treatment, I daresay we will get it. If you expect to be not taken seriously, you run the risk of falling into that predetermined role by acting like someone who doesn't deserve to be.
I never even considered my position as a mother as an issue. I thought of myself as a graduate student. I might have done things slightly differently than my single colleagues. For example, I always began working on big assignments early. I knew that daycare, illnesses, and other unforseen child issues might sidetrack me. But I didn't discuss this way of working with anyone. I typically came into my little grad office, worked from 9-5 and went home. And yes, there was often more work to do when I got home, which does get old. I never felt marginalized. I was offered work as a mentor and in the writing center. I won awards. Perhaps this was because I wasn't the only parent in the program or because the program isn't highly ranked. But I always felt that the program was supportive of my work as a grad student.

I started grad school with a 2 year old. I had my second child after I completed my masters. I restarted work on the dissertation after both kids were in school. And yes it's easier to handle, but I also have a full-time job, which I think makes it much harder. I have to work around the edges of the regular work day. With young children and reliable childcare, at least you can work during semi-normal hours and carve out some time for yourself and your family.

I've seen friends who waited until they finished grad school and got tenure before starting to think about kids. Some of them were unable to have kids. Some adopted. All are in their early 40s. I knew I couldn't do that. So I had my kids when I wanted to and worked everything else around it.

I also think it's okay to try and if you don't make it, that's okay too. Part of why I didn't finish earlier was because I found it difficult to juggle everything and I had no support. And plenty of people without kids never finish. Now, in the push to the finish, I've let a lot of things go--real cooking, laundry, free time, reading books for fun. Depending on the kind of program you're in, you and your family will have to be prepared for living in less than ideal conditions (possibly financially too).

The other, semi-related issue I was thinking of is the way we push people to work in the *best* program with the *best* people. Such a program might be good for someone who wants to go on to a prestigious position at a good school. And although I do think there are programs whose existence might be questioned, I also think there are perfectly decent jobs for people from *lesser* programs--community colleges, satellite schools, high schools. And some people want those jobs; they're not just settling for them. Just as you can get a good B.A. education from a school without a reputation if you put your mind to it, I think you can get a good Ph.D. education from such a school too. And I know all the caveats about the academic hierarchy and how people look at the school and all that. And I think that sucks and we should resist it and let a person's work speak for them instead of the degree. We all know that a Yale degree doesn't necessarily mean that person has learned anythng. All it means is he gets to run our country.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Squirrel in the attic

Update: Spelling corrected! I told you I'm not right in the head. Thanks LLA!

Update 2: We have a large hole in the side of our house. Damn squirrels!

We have a real squirrel venturing periodically into the attic. I'm reminded, in fact, of the scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when the squirrel jumps out of the tree. Someone yells "squirrel!" Panic ensues and destruction follows. Geeky Girl freaks out when she hears the squirrel. It is primarily underneath her room and so she believes the squirrel can get to her. She, like the people in Christmas Vacation, has a tendency to panic.

My metaphoric squirrel is all the stuff I have going on. Periodically, like the real squirrel, I hear it scratching around, trying to get out (or in?). And, I'm tempted to panic. But I haven't yet. I just keep working as if there is no squirrel. But that's not without its consequences. It's true. I am a bit stressed and holding most of it in, coping with it the best I can. But I've now got this TMD thing that's keeping me up at night and causing me headaches and dizziness. It comes and goes--like the squirrel. I'm planning to have this looked at today, but I'm a little fearful. There's not much one can do for TMD and most people advise against extreme measures. So, we'll see. It's quite difficult to concentrate when one's head is swimming and your jaw aches. It also sucks to not be able to eat quite right. I'm just hoping this will resolve sooner rather than later. Sigh.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

One third

I'm about a third of the way done with this chapter. I finished writing the first section today and now I begin (re)reading for the second. I was able to use about a page of the material I'd written before, including the introduction, which I thought worked pretty well. It might need to be tweaked once I'm finished with the whole thing, but it's a useful guiding force for now. It's really weird to write about how people learn to write while you're writing. I find myself measuring methods against my own process. I was discussing some of my ideas with Mr. Geeky, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive science, and he kept saying, "but you don't know what your brain is doing; that's the point." But I think I do and for some reason, I think that's important. I think I understand how I process information and when I think it's not processing well, I find ways to get myself back on track. In essence, that's sort of what I was thinking we do with students sometimes. We figure if we know where they've gotten off track, what's going on in their heads, then we can help them. But we can't know because they can't know exactly what's going on and so we try other things as well. It's not an efficient system. Whether it's writing or math or science or history, my impression is that there's no definitive method out there for teaching these subjects. It's all an educated guess. There may be evidence that one method is better than another, but there's still no method that stands out as perfect. Partly that's due perhaps to our lack of understanding about how people at various levels actually learn and partly that's due to differences among individuals. Also, I think at the college level, there are all kinds of emotional and motivational issues that have nothing to do with learning that sometimes get in the way. It seems as if, sometimes, we're asked to be amateur psychologists running little experiments on our subjects. I know most of us, myself included, don't think of teaching that way, but reflecting on my teaching methods and figuring out how to improve things often feels that way. Why, we often ask, when we use the same method from class to class, does one go well and one go poorly? Sometimes it has nothing to do with what we do and more to do with the makeup of the class--the personalities, the socioeconomic backgrounds, the motivations and desires--things out of our control. It is, as I often say, a complex and emerging system. How to manage that system and turn out students who have actually learned something is the million dollar question? I think I'm comfortable answering that question, but only tentatively because things change. Knowledge changes, the students change, the classes change and we have to adjust. Yes, it makes teaching harder. It makes thinking about teaching harder. But it seems worth it somehow.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Plugging along

I'm sure you all can guess why my words have not darkened the door of this here blog. I'm basically spending every waking moment reading (not yet writing). Every day this week, I've gotten up at 6:00, read until 7:30 with kids running around eating cereal and getting dressed. Then I go to work where I have a two-page to-do list. I've gotten through half a page. I know this isn't the recommended way of doing things in GTD, but I'm in a sprint to the finish. So I wrote down every loose end I could think of. When people come into my office and ask for something, I say, "I'll put it on my list" and they watch me, rather wide-eyed, add it to the end of my list. It will all get done. Some of the things are small things. Some bigger. But it will get done.

When I get home from work, I make dinner with whatever we have available. Last night, we ate pancakes. Mr. Geeky's been sick and I don't want to take the time to go to the grocery store. Also, I've developed a case of TMD. So I'm trying to eat soft foods. Fun all the way around.

After dinner, I spend a little bit of time watching Harry Potter with the kids. We've been going through all four movies over the last few days. Then I start working. Monday, I went to *$. Tuesday and Wednesday, I stayed here. Tonight I'll head back to *$. My goal is to get the first section of this chapter written, which I estimate will be about 10-12 pages. I have two articles left to read before beginning the writing, so it's unlikely that will happen tonight but it will certainly happen this weekend. I'm taking Friday off, but will work Saturday and Sunday and continue the routine through next week. My hope is that I can be finished by next Sunday, but I have another week after that as a buffer. It's so close.

I'm pushing myself both because I'm past my initial deadline I set for myself and because I really want a true vacation over Christmas. I'm looking forward to baking cookies, watching movies, playing games, drinking hot cocoa, and just hanging out. I don't want to be thinking about the dissertation at all. I can come back to it refreshed, ready to dig into revisions.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back to the grind

It was quite difficult to drag myself out of bed this morning. It's the home stretch and there's so much to tie up before winter break begins.
  • Finish the dissertation chapter
  • Comment on the final papers
  • Work with students on web zine
  • Fix up the program for the conference I'm organizing
  • Finish two projects I'm working on
  • Write two articles (short ones)
  • Christmas shopping
I'm sure I'm leaving something out. I think I'm ready to tackle these things, but I think it's going to mean a concentrated effort without much family time for the next couple of weeks. I think I can. I think I can. It's certainly much easier to deal with this amount of work after a nice hiatus like Thanksgiving. What's on your to do list?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving thanks

This year, I'm more thankful than I've been in years. The last two years we've traveled for Thanksgiving and this year, we're home with no one else coming. Though it might have been nice to invite another family or two over, this will make it a nice intimate Thanksgiving.

I think I'm most thankful for feeling like myself again. After about 6 months or so of feeling truly depressed, I feel more confident and hopeful than I've felt in a long time. I feel like I can actually be thankful instead of looking at the abundance around me and thinking only about the negative. Yesterday, Geeky Boy got home from school at 11:30. We had some lunch, played a round of Word Racer and Text Twist and then headed out for errands, which he gleefully wanted to go on with me. First, we went to get our hair cut, then we stopped by a department store to pick up a couple of things. He picked out some new cloth napkins for Thanksgiving and while we were there, he also picked up some Christmas kitchen towels. They were too cute, he said. After the mini shopping spree, we headed to Star$ for hot chocolate and decaf gingerbread latte with a snowman cookie and a slice of pumpkin loaf. We sat in comfy chairs and talked while we had our drinks and snacks. We then hit the liquor store to pick up some wine to go with dinner. Next, we went to the grocery store. Geeky Boy is an excellent companion at the grocery store. He checks the list, picks a couple of items and then heads off to get them and then comes back to find me. It's an adventure for him and often by the time I get to the 4th aisle, we have everything we need. At home, we unloaded the groceries quickly and put them away and then played games the rest of the afternoon. It was the first time in a long time I can remember enjoying daily errands.

It's a cold and rainy day here, a good day to be thankful for a warm home and a loving family. A good day to enjoy those things you're thankful for. I'm glad to have these people to go through my life with. Here's wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family and people you love.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Boxed in and other weekend observations

Over the weekend, we bought a new printer, inspired by my need to print some of my documents out (don't worry, ianqui, I'm trying to keep this to a minimum). We'd been thinking about this for a while since I have a crappy inkjet and Mr. Geeky has a 15-year-old laser printer that we sold plasma to get back when we were in grad school. The printer came in a large box, which Geeky Girl proceeded to lay claim to. First, she took out the styrofoam. Then, she used the cardboard inserts as doors, on which she wrote warnings such as "No Boys Aloud! This is the fashion house!" Then she brought in furnishings--a blanket, a Cooking Light magazine, and a pillow. When it was time for bed last night, she asked if she could sleep in her new home (located in Mr. Geeky's office). We agreed, if she would clean her room in order to make space for her box house. And so, she slept in the box house, snug as bug. (Picture coming soon.)

I mostly spent the weekend organizing, using Zotero to organize my sources (as Steve suggested below). I'd been wanting to try this tool out since I installed it about a week ago, so it worked out well. I like it so far, I think. I especially like the tagging and I've been linking a copy of the file to each entry as well as making notes about how I intend to use the source. I didn't work that much this weekend because I felt much too disorganized. It was seriously making me anxious. I think I'll be starting over a bit on Chapter 3. My work just wasn't coelescing very well. I kept writing and thinking, "I think have an article on this that would support my point, but where is it?" Not a very productive way to work. I don't think I'll have to completely trash what I have now, but there will certainly be some substantial rewriting.

We also spent the weekend as a family playng Word Racer on Yahooligans. Surely, you knew we were this geeky by now? Geeky Boy almost always beat us, but I won a couple of times. Geeky Girl often got bored pretty quickly and would help one of us instead. But it was still fun. Then we all watched BSG in the evenings. We're almost done with season 2.5--one more disc to go. It looks like there'll be a season 3 marathon later in December (yes, I'm planning already).

This will be a short week for all of us. I'm looking forward to a good chunk of down time.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Going undigital

I've been reading through/sorting through the many articles I have collected in digital form. I finally realized this morning that I was having trouble keeping them straight and so I've decided that I'm going to print them all out and sort them. And then hopefully use many of them in the writing I'm doing this weekend. Despite loving all things digital, sometimes you just need the physical instead.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's all relative

With the upcoming holidays, I've been thinking about relatives. I have quite a few of them, especially since my parents divorced, giving me two sets plus inlaws to contend with. All my relatives live far away, the nearest being ten hours away. I see my dad and stepmother quite frequently since they are willing to meet us halfway. I don't see as much of my inlaws. And they are a very close family and I think they see our not visiting as odd somehow. Doesn't everyone want to be around 30 people at holiday time? Well, no. Not really.

Mr. Geeky is the only sibling to have moved away. The other two are still there. Single sister-in-law I really like and wish I could see more often. I also like my father-in-law. My brother-in-law is fine, but his wife drives me crazy and they now have 4 kids under the age of three. It's going to be a hard holiday season for them since my mother-in-law died in the spring. Everything is going to be different, but they have a large close family and good traditions. Except not this year. For Thanksgiving, bil and his wife have decided to have a separate celebration and didn't invite fil or ssil. A cousin, who traditionally has Thanksgiving at her house, is still having that celebration, but bil and his wife and 4 kids won't be there. Christmas will be worse. The immediate family used go to the grandparents house in the morning and an aunt's house in the afternoon. Since the remaining grandparent is in a nursing home, the morning event is no more and the bil and his wife are having Christmas dinner (inviting the whole family this time). Ssil thinks this is too much change all at once and feels like the bil (but mostly his wife) is grandstanding.

This kind of stuff was par for the course in my family when I was growing up. Thanksgiving and Christmas plans changed year after year. Sometimes we went places. Sometimes people came to us. Most of the time, it was just me, my sister, and my parents. And that's how it is most of the time for us now too. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become for us a time to reconnect with our immediate family without the hassles of everyday life. We have our own traditions now and my kids (especially Geeky Boy) say they prefers my food to anyone else's. I know the various families want to see us, but I'd prefer to see them some other time when there isn't so much craziness with the holidays. Plus, our kids don't get a huge amount of time off at either holiday and since we have so far to travel, it's difficult.

As I was talking to ssil about the holidays and she was describing the soap opera-like negotiations, I said "All the more reason for me not to come." And she said, "All the more reason to come. I need support." I suggested she come here. Maybe she and fil. I'd be happy to host relatives even though I don't have a huge house or a dining room table that seats 12. We can sit on the couch with paper plates for all I care. And ssil thought about it and she thought getting out of the fray might be a good idea.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lack of motivation

I'm finding myself dragging a little, looking forward just a little too much to Thanksgiving break and then to Christmas break. Part of this is simply the sheer amount of work I have right now that I know will be completed by Christmas. I certainly need the break. But part of it, too, is emotional as I'm wrestling with issues I can't really blog about. And I wish I could because I value the collective intelligence of the internets. I feel a little bit stuck and am bombarded by conflicting advice. I'd love to say more but can't. Sigh.

I wish running off to Aruba were an option because that's what I'd like to do. You know those Calgon commercials? I think I'm that woman right now. Everything *will* get done, I know, and decisions will be made and things will happen and the world will continue to spin on its axis. It's like when I was kid and desperately wanted to sleep through long car trips. That way, I'd wake up and we'd be there, and I could skip the drudgery in between. Unfortunately for me, I could never sleep in the car. Instead, I had to invent ways to entertain myself. Much as I'm creating ways to motivate myself now.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Long time no post

Lots has happened since I last posted. There was lots of catching up to do after the election and I have quite a few irons in the fire in addition to regular work, so it's been busy. The dissertation is chugging along, slowly but surely. I'm faced with another stack of papers to comment on, but it should be okay. One more batch after this and then final portfolios.

The most fun thing that has happened was getting to meet three fabulous bloggers. Timna, What Now and Margo, Darling all met me for lunch in the city on an absolutely gorgeous day. It was so fun chatting with them all. Honestly, it was a lot like hanging out with old friends. It reminds me of why I like being in the academic world to begin with--such good conversations. We talked about our work, but we also talked about the profession in thoughtful ways and a bit about the world at large. There was personal stuff--partners and husbands and children. And we discussed food and travel and living in cities. I knew timna and what now from their blogs and I have to say that they were and weren't like their blogs. It was kind of like seeing an old friend after a long time. There's still a lot that's recognizable but there are new aspects to get to know. And margo, who was new to me, was equally fun to get to know and I hope we successfully convinced her to blog again.

The second most fun adventure of the last few days was shopping. Mr. Geeky and I are on a bit of a shopping spree after coming into some extra money from a large grant Mr. Geeky has been working on. We bought a new tv a couple of weeks ago. Our old one had begun to have this horrible high-pitched whiny noise that would eventually go away but was obviously a sign of decline. We also got ourselves a new comforter. This weekend, we got new pillows and some new sheets. We need to get a new mattress, but we haven't had the time to shop around. I got a gift certificate for Eddie Bauer and so bought a few things there and then decided to head over to Zappos and buy the shoes you see above. Aren't they cute?

I mentioned, I think, that we've become addicted to Battlestar Galactica. Well, we're plugging away on season 2, having two marathon sessions on Friday and Saturday night (yes, I know, we're total nerds). I think we're all going to be sad when we're done.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


While there are still races too close to call, here in my neck of PA, we can claim victory. Rick Santorum, out! Curt Weldon, out! Yahoo! Just as an indication of how bit a deal this was, in my precinct, which normally votes 2 to 1 Republican, went democratic in every race. We had about a 75% turnout, not as big as 2004, but still very good. I stayed up as long as I could to watch returns. Mr. Geeky stayed up longer than me and came up to tell me about the Webb/Allen race. I'd love to take the senate, too, but I think that's still a long shot. Man, do I feel better, though.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Let your voice be heard!

Go vote!

Many races are very close. Your vote counts!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Catching up

I end the weekend with a sense that I might just make it. I got the chunk of papers that I wanted to comment on done. I have more to do, but it seems much more doable now. I got 4 pages written on the *last* dissertation chapter. It will probably all be rewritten, but for now, it's going to stay. Mr. Geeky did the grocery shopping. This is *huge*. He hates grocery shopping, hates it. He offered; I didn't even have to ask. So this freed up a couple of hours of my time. Yay. Got some laundry done--most of it, in fact, in between commenting. I did all of this, actually, just today. I took yesterday off completely. I had judge training in the morning, so I figured I'd just write off the day. Mr. Geeky got me hooked on Battlestar Galactica. I know, I'm late to the game, but I didn't want to commit to another tv show. But we have the first 2(?) seasons on DVD so we can watch whenever we want. That was a nice reward at the end of the day.

The fear of learning

Since my dissertation directly addresses teaching and learning with technology, I'm constantly thinking about what the implications are of teaching in news ways.  Will Richardson's post earlier this weekend got me thinking more about what I'm doing and what I think teaching and learning should be.  Will expressed some disgruntlement about the fact that people just don't get it, that the Internet--and specially tools like blogs and wikis and podcasts--are changing the way people learn.  Teachers, he thinks, should model what they're teaching. They should, in essence, learn right along with their students: blog with them, collaborate with them, etc. And I agree with that.  I expect my students to contribute as much as I do. I never go into a class with all the answers. I expect, as a class, for us to discover them together. I expect that we'll explore, together, other issues on our class blog. But I find it hard to convince students that this is an acceptable way to approach teaching. I sometimes think that they expect me to have the answers and while it's true that I am older and have more years of schooling than they do, they are extremely intelligent people with different points of view, different ways of seeing things, and much that they can bring to the table.

When I'm feeling that students aren't living up to my expectations, aren't contributing, aren't bringing new ideas to the table, I start to get fearful instead of frustrated. And then I often lapse into old methods of teaching, of just talking at them or something.  And this has definitely happened over the years and I think that it happens to a lot of people who have good intentions. I think at the college level, when we use new technologies that bring with them new methods of teaching and learning, we're learning along with our students and we're often having to convince our students that this is okay, that there is value to this, that, in fact, in may be more valuable.

Alex Reid, puts this a bit more succinctly, suggesting that most people see the point of education as determining who has authority, of imbuing our students with that authority, so that when they go home with their B.A's, they will be seen as having been filled with knowledge that grants that authority.  But, he says, new media and networks disrupt that sense of authority:

The ongoing development of media and networks requires us to keep moving. It doesn't mean that what we've learned has no value; it means that it cannot establish us as authorities. . . . I know public school teachers often cite the limitations of testing requirements as a roadblock to innovation. However I think the limitation is more fundamental than that, closer to their own sense of professional identity. As much as the tests may limit teachers, they also secure them within a defined space of authority.

digital digs: the threat of the network

Teachers and professors are seen as "experts," as people who have a certain kind of knowledge. If we take that away, if we say that that particular kind of authority no longer qualifies one as an expert, then what do you call yourself. What was all that education for? I would argue, however, that someone with a Ph.D. didn't just absorb a bunch of facts; they learned how to find facts and analyze them, to question them, to present their questions to others, to find and create new knowledge. It's not about the content; it's about the process. And that's what I try to focus on in most of my classes; it's what I try to convey when I talk to people about using new technology, about using blogs, wikis, Flickr,, etc. to make the process more visible, to help students learn how to learn, how to participate in a broader conversation instead of spitting out information on a test.

If K-12 environments are resistant to change, Alex points out that higher ed might be even worse. At least with public education, there could be a new administration that might enact some kind of sweeping change, but that rarely happens in higher education. However, in both cases, changes from the outside might force people to change. There's already, as Alex points out, a tension between higher ed and the "outside" world:

I mean the tension between academia and the mainstream culture is heavy enough as it is based strictly on ideological differences. What happens when academics continue to insist on providing an increasingly irrelevant education and charging more and more for the privilege?

digital digs: the threat of the network

I think Will and Alex are both right. There are shifts happening outside of educational institutions that those insitutions seem to be stubbornly ignoring.  I think that they ignore them because they're afraid to learn; they're afraid to model learning, as Will says, and they teach instead. I understand that feeling. It does feel a little scary to look vulnerable in front of your students, but imagine how much more vulnerable they feel in front of you. I think this is a difficult time to be a teacher. But it's also an exciting time, if one can embrace some new ways of doing things and have a willingness to learn. Isn't that why most of us got into this in the first place? Because we enjoy learning?

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Feeling a little frazzled

For obvious reasons. I am trying to remain calm and take things one step at a time. I have a plan. I think I'm going to be okay, but until things start to fall into place, I'm going to feel frazzled.

  • Today, I travel down to our Government Building to get trained in election judging, which is funny, because I used to call our old judge on things he was doing wrong. I also pick up the super secret box with all our election materials. I feel a little like a secret agent. So that blows my morning.
  • Mr. Geeky is doing a presentation for parents' weekend, so he's dragging the kids with him. We should all be reconvened at the house for lunch.
  • We have no food.
  • Depending on what my family has planned, I will either work on some student papers or the dissertation. I feel like I need a break, so I'm just going to go with the flow
  • Tomorrow is dissertation first, student papers second.
  • Monday is a day nearly meeting free. I have a few irons in the fire at work. A lot of irons in the fire, actually.
  • On Monday, I need to again work on papers and the dissertation.
  • Tuesday is election day. Aside from setting up and the initial rush, I can actually do stuff, so I will. Otherwise, we get bored anyway.
  • I can't think beyond Tuesday. My hope is that progress will have been made by then and I'll be on top of stuff. If it's not, I can freak out then.

Update on the Geeky Boy situation: In addition to the morning routine problem, Geeky Boy has also forgotten assignments and projects and stuff. I think these are related issues. I actually called the school's guidance counselor. She was very nice and basically said that 6th grade is hard on most kids and there's a lot to get organized. She's going to meet with him and help him organize his locker and discuss some strategies that might help him.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My mornings are shot

I had been working on the diss for an hour every morning. This still happens, but only about twice a week. I've shifted my work to the evening, which works, but my brain is sometimes a little mushy after a full day at work.

The main reason for the lack of morning work? My children. They're killing me. For the first month of school, Geeky Boy hopped out of bed at 6, took a shower and got himself ready. But about a month in, the newness had worn off and he was staying up too late, not hearing his alarm go off. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if when I went to wake him up at 6, when I got up, he actually got up. Most of the time he goes back to sleep. And so I have to march upstairs at least once and sometimes two or three times to rouse him. These interruptions are not conducive to focused work, as one might imagine.

I have to admit that I'm a bit angry about this. I remember when I was in middle school. I woke myself up with an alarm clock. My mother used to check to make sure I was awake, which after a while, pissed me off because I could take care of myself, dammit. Part of me thinks that Geeky Boy should be the same way. But here's the sucky thing. I've thought, well, I'll just wake him once, and if he goes back to sleep, that's his problem. But it's not his problem, entirely. It will be looked at as my problem, too. If he's late to school, the onus is on the parent to provide an excuse. How bad does it look to say, "My son was late because he wouldn't wake up"? People will be thinking, "Lady, why didn't you wake him up?" Sigh. This is the trap of parenting. You try to give your kids some independence and rather than doing things for them all the time, you give them greater and greater responsibility, but then you're up against the parents who do do stuff for their kids and there's just no comparison. Up until this year, there were always kids whose parents "helped" with their kid's homework. Kids who did their own homework just couldn't compete.

I'm also angry, of course, because this is eating into my (very limited) work time. I estimate that I've got about 2 weeks of work left before finishing this chapter. Every morning I don't work adds a day, perhaps, to my time. Gah. It occurs to me that maybe I should just tell Geeky Boy that. It's obvious he doesn't understand how his behavior affects those around him. I wouldn't mind waking him up if I didn't have something to do. It might bother me a bit, but it wouldn't make me angry. Helping your kid grow up is hard.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Work Convergence

Why does it always seem that everything has to be done at once? Why can't busy times spread themselves out? I have hit a lovely point where I have papers to comment on (had to ask for an extension from my students), a chapter to write, stuff to read for class, an election to judge, and more. Gah! It will get done, but it's gonna be a little frantic. And then there will be Thanksgiving and I gorge myself and put myself into a food-induced stupor. I think I'm gonna need that.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A promotion, of sorts

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but things have been busy and all. But in my life outside of work, I actually got promoted. Last November, I was elected minority inspector (meaning I got the least number of votes, kind of like how they used to do president and v.p.). I had been doing the job on an appointed basis since the 2004 election. Basically, I sign people in to the polling place, and keep an eye on things. Well, our judge of elections, the guy who runs the place, decided to move away and retire. So now I'm the judge. I am in charge of elections in my little precinct. Big things could happen!

Of course, this is one of those promotions one gets because no one else wants the job. But I'm pretty excited about it. I haven't been able to come up for air enough to think too much about the fact that elections are just a week away, but now I have even more reason to look forward to them. Hooray for wresting power from old guys in sweaters! (Seriously, that's who runs things around here.) Now let's hope for even better things next week.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Things I've let go in order to dissertate

I really can't do it all, all evidence to the contrary. Here are some things that have slid over the last few months:
  • Laundry--this has gotten really bad because no one likes to do laundry. We're living out of baskets at the moment
  • My hair--I'm letting it grow anyway, but I'm also letting it go gray.
  • my wardrobe--who has time to shop!
  • real cooking--I'm totally relying on quick and easy food
  • most of my social life, such as it is
  • a lot of blogging--I'm still reading here and there, but not like I did before
  • pretty much anything extra
Mr. Geeky has picked up a lot of the slack, especially in handling the day-to-day stuff with the kids and cleaning. But he doesn't cook and he can ignore a pile of laundry like the rest of us, so we're kind of suffering a bit. This is my brief blog break before I go back to reading. I'm reading morning and night. I've written a bit, but I'm hoping to begin full-on writing either this weekend or Monday. I've set a personal deadline for this chapter of Nov. 15, so we'll see how that goes. I have some time, but ideally, I'd like to start doing some revisions in December. And I have a few other irons in the fire, as usual.

I'm really looking forward to the return of some of those things. I'm planning a pretty big celebration when this whole thing is done. You're all invited!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Paul Simon

Mr. Geeky and I spent last evening at a Paul Simon concert. It was pretty fun. We had decent seats and until the very end, there was no one in front of me so I had a great view. People were actually dancing in the aisles. We were decidedly not among the oldest there, as one might expect, but neither were we the youngest. Paul played for 2 hours, which included 4 encores. We heard a lot of old stuff, some new stuff and some stuff in between. I last saw Paul in concert nearly 10 years ago, in 1989 in Paris. I was very close to the front then, in the mosh pit (if one can have such a thing at a Paul Simon concert). It featured mostly songs from Graceland and I pretty much liked every song on that album. To date ourselves, Mr. Geeky says he listened to an earlier album throughout college, either Still Crazy or Greatest Hits. It was a good night out, even if it made getting up this morning a little more difficult.

Our next concert plan is one with the kids (who actually wanted to go to this one). They Might Be Giants is doing a kid show in Philly and we're planning to go. Should be loads of fun.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Power boots, doctors and more

Today I wore my power boots--knee high black leather boots that zip up the side. I love these boots. They have just enough heel on them that I go clicking down the hall, but not loud enough to be annoying. They have, dare I say, the sound of authority. They make me feel like I can do anything. And so, I started doing stuff. Mostly, I made a list of stuff, and only got through two items, but I have a good list.

I went to yet another doctor today, this one my ob/gyn, just for a checkup. And I am so firing this woman. All my other encounters with doctors lately have been great, not fun, mind you, but satisfying. They take me seriously. They ask questions and seem to understand that I'm smart and that I've thought through what I'm saying, trying to describe things in terms that will help them help me. This woman, upon hearing that a) I was having trouble and b) wanted to change b.c. methods, almost yelled at me. I told her I wasn't happy with my b.c. and that I suspected it might have something to do with my recent issues. She said there was no way that was possible. Instead of explaining why, she just declared it to be so. I was so taken aback, I didn't think to even ask. But it pissed me off. She showed no concern whatsoever for any of the issues I'd been having, nor did she consider the possibility that there might be a gynecologically related issue (as some of the other doctors have suggested). Plus, she made me wait and only spent a total of maybe 7 minutes with me, so I'm so done with her. Why do some doctors do this? Treat people like they're idiots. It's so insulting.

Aside from this little incident, I'm pretty geared up. I think the power boots just reflected my mood rather than causing it. These next few weeks are going to be pretty busy, but hopefully busy in a good way.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Conference Conversation

What fun I've had listening and talking to people. It's been a great pleasure as always to talk to Bryan, but I've also been able to talk to Kathleen, which has been great. I've been able to catch up with old friends as well, including an old friend from graduate school. The thing that always strikes me when I'm able to be around people who are interested in similar things to me is how much I long for this kind of connection and communication. I often feel isolated where I am and feel like I'm fighting all the time, fighting to get people to understand me, fighting for what I think is right, fighting to do the kind of work I want to do. I don't mind fighting, but it definitely gets tiring. And so it's nice to be re-energized. I'm actually looking forward to getting back and rethinking some things, getting myself focused on the way forward.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The cursed traveler

I'm in Oregon for a conference, which so far, what little I've seen, seems interesting. But getting here was crazy. It didn't start off too badly. I found my way to long-term parking at the airport, got checked in and, despite a really long security line, made it to my flight without having to run. But then things started to break down. We couldn't take off as soon as we wanted, so we were delayed getting into Chicago, which meant no time to grab food, but I figured I buy something on the plane (yes, you have to buy food now). Shortly after I'd eagerly consumed my Mini-Mealtm and gotten halfway through Lake House, we were told we were making an emergency landing. Now, under some circumstances, one might panic, but not long before this emergency landing announcement, they asked if there was a doctor on the plane. (And yes, I had visions of Airplane!) So we landed in Sioux Falls, and they took a guy off the plane and we sat there and got fueled up and finally took off about 1/2 hour or 45 minutes later.

Most importantly I finished watching Lake House, which was kind of cute. I also read my entire issue of Wired and almost finished My Freshman Year. So things seemed like they were getting back to normal, albeit 2 hours behind schedule. Then we landed in Portland. We went to baggage claim and watched the bags go around. Only mine never went around. The airline promised to deliver the bag to my hotel. So I walked out the door. Only, it was one of those rotating doors and I nearly got stuck in it. It just kind of stopped and there I was, stuck. Luckily, it started moving again.

Then the shuttle was an hour getting to the airport. But we eventually made it to the hotel and then the conference to catch the end of the keynote and then dinner. I got to catch up with Bryan and ran into an old friend from grad school. Looking forward to more of that tomorrow.

When I returned to the hotel, I stopped by the front desk to ask if my luggage had arrived. They said they'd given away the last of it. As if they had some kind of luggage stash back behind the desk. And then they said they wouldn't get another delivery until after midnight. Now, if I'm a desk clerk and a guest of mine is without luggage, I'd offer toiletries and perhaps to make a phone call for me. I mean, they're not the airline, right? How do they know?

So now I'm sitting watching Scrubs reruns, waiting for my luggage. I've been assured it will be here any minute. With the luck I'm having I'll end up with the wrong luggage.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My writing process

There's nothing like writing a big long thing like a dissertation to focus you in on your process for getting the thing done. My process has followed the same basic pattern, once I figured out what worked best for me. This is, I think, the hardest thing to teach people, that there is no one right way to go about writing. It's taken me a long time to get away from that idea myself. I would find out that some writer I respected wrote a certain way and decide, "Oh, that's how I should be doing it." When it didn't work out for me, I'd blame myself rather than realizing that that method just wasn't working for me.

So here's the method I've developed for myself. First, I must do the reading, thinking, notetaking part. I treat this just as I would writing and I do it every morning first thing. At some point, I will kick it into overdrive and start doing this in the evening and maybe do a marathon session on the weekend of working out what I might want to write. Then I begin to write. Usually, the reading and notetaking doesn't stop as I find I need to fill in gaps. I write for an hour every morning. I don't look back at what I wrote before. I used to do this and I found it paralyzing. Often, at the end of a writing session, I'll jot down a couple of notes about what comes next.

Eventually, these one-hour writing sessions end with a completed chapter, paper, whatever. Then I start reading and revising. I will either do this as a contintuation of the one-hour sessions or, preferably, take a chunk of time on the weekend to read and revise. Sometimes I'll print out my document. Sometimes I'll get Mr. Geeky to read it. It depends on how I'm feeling about it. Then I send it off. This whole process generally takes 1-2 months, depending on the complexity of the project.

Between chapters or projects, I find I need about a week of downtime. I might do a little library research to find new sources for the next chapter, but I don't do much reading and writing. And then I gear back up again.

It's been interesting to see this pattern develop over the last year. I used to worry about that week off, for example, but then I realized I just need to rest and that I would get started again. It'll be interesting to see if this pattern continues to work for me, or if I find a new pattern or different patterns for different projects. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A moment of pride

Since everyone else is self-promoting. I've been thinking about this for a while and I think I just have to say it (write it) out loud. I'm really proud that I'm finishing my degree. I don't want to jinx it or anything since I've still got one more chapter to write, but still. Looked at objectively, the whole process is pretty impressive. I began my degree in 1999. I took my comps in the spring of 2001 and then we moved here in the summer of 2001. I spent the next year poking around on the dissertation, writing one chapter and getting some pretty horrible feedback on it. In the fall of 2002, I decided to give it up and started looking for a full-time job. I got this job in January 2003. I did nothing remotely related to dissertating until last fall of 2005. Essentially, I took two years off. When I finish in the spring of 2007, I will have basically completed my degree in five years, writing the dissertation in about a year and a half, all while holding down a 9-5 job, raising two kids, teaching a class, and blogging. Holy cow.

Caffeine-free update

It's true. I'm now caffeine free. It's pretty awesome actually. I sleep better. I don't find myself dragging out of bed in the morning. This hasn't completely rid me of all my UT problems, but they're pretty minor at this point.

As others said, the hardest thing is finding something non-caffeinated to drink when eating out. Restaurants don't tend to carry caffeine-free coke, for example. I don't mind drinking water most of the time, but sometimes I want something with flavor. I'm drinking decaf coffee in the morning, which I know has traces of caffeine, but hey, I like the taste.

I highly recommend doing this. I feel kind of like a different person.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ghost Teacher

Last week, I had fun commenting on student papers. I know what you're thinking, no one has fun commenting on student papers.  Well, I did. I made audio comments, using Audacity to record and save my comments as mp3's. You could also do this with Garageband or a few other recording programs. My students found it eerie, like I was a ghost in the room with them, but also helpful.

Here's what I did. First, I read through the papers and made marginal comments using Word's comment feature. I've been using this feature for years and find it extremely useful.  Students seem to like it as well. When I made these written comments, I tried to respond as a reader rather than a teacher, asking questions, pointing out where I was confused or found an argument weak. I tried to keep suggestions to a minimum. Then, in the audio comments, I read the paper out loud and made comments about how to approach revising the paper. I tried not to be prescriptive in these suggestions, and just offered possibilities.  I uploaded the commented papers and the mp3 files into Blackboard, but these could be emailed or posted somewhere.

Students read and listened to my comments before meeting with me for a conference. About half of them opted to do the conference virtually via IM.  I asked them what they though of the comments and what they were thinking about doing in terms of revising.  The IM conferences were really successful. It was much more of a conversation than the face-to-face ones are.  I didn't feel rushed and the students didn't feel rushed so we just covered whatever we needed to.

Interestingly, I just generally felt more engaged with the process of helping the student revise their paper via IM than I sometimes do face-to-face. I don't know if the students felt the same way, but it definitely seemed like they were engaged. I'm not the only one who's found IM to be a useful tool for engaging and interacting with students.

Now, doing all of this took time (and for me, all that time was at night and on the weekend since I have a 9-5 job) and I have the luxury of having only one fairly small class.  But the audio didn't take any longer than traditional written comments. I know compositionists have been doing audio comments for a long time, using cassettes in the pre-digital world. It's amazing how easy it's become to do these things. It was very little hassle for me to get the files to the students and for the students to retrieve them. I'm definitely doing it again, as long as the students don't mind having a ghost for a teacher. And I could see myself having office hours at night IM occasionally, as long as I can be on the couch in my jammies while I'm having them.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Reliving the past

High school was not the best time in my life. As I was explaining to Mr. Geeky on the way down to my 20th reunion, the stories I tell myself and others about high school are not happy stories. There are plenty of happy stories (I think) that I could have chosen to represent my high school years, but I've chosen the not so happy ones. It's interesting how we do that, how we create a narrative for our life, picking and choosing what to remember and what to forget. It's true I had all kinds of problems in high school--not getting along with my mother, dealing with boyfriends and mean girls, struggling with the whole popularity thing, drinking, drugs, typical stuff really. It's amazing how much a typical high schooler has to deal with and how unequipped they are to deal with much of anything. At least that's the way I see it now.

I had no expectations, really, about seeing people from my past. All of the anxiety I used to feel when attending events with these people is gone. LLA described me as confident in high school. I had to laugh at that. I had no self esteem and constantly worried about what other people thought about me. When I walked into a room, I worried about whether people were judging my outfit or who I was with. I never felt sure of my choices. And I suspect I wasn't the only one. One guy said he'd been a bit freaked out on the first night. He couldn't really pinpoint why and I wonder if it was the shock of being in the same room with people that used to make you feel unsure of yourself. Of basically being transported back in time.

I was most surprised by how many people recognized me and came up to me to say hello. Everyone said I looked exactly the same. I thought a lot of people looked exactly the same. It was uncanny really how little some people has changed. The first evening was a little like speed dating. People would come up to me. We'd talk for a bit and then we'd move on to the next person. We had a little more time the second evening and for the most part, I got to see and talk to the people I wanted to. But there were a few people, who either weren't there or who I didn't get to talk to, that I missed. I realized that I always felt like I didn't fit into a particular crowd. I was always changing friends or kept my circle of friends pretty wide and yet, never felt popular. But, in reality, I think I had a lot of different kinds of friends and was close to them at different times over the years. And while "the popular crowd" may have been known by everyone, they didn't have a bunch of people walking up and talking to them and telling them that they were one of the people they really hoped to see.

So maybe I've made my peace with high school and will start telling a different narrative of those years, one that balances out the negative with the positive. I'm not sure what that story will be yet. I'm still working on it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


This evening I'm heading off to my high school reunion (the 20th). Shockingly, I did not buy anything new or go get a haircut or anything like that. I'll get to see this person and I checked the list and there are quite a few people who say they're coming that I'm looking forward to seeing. Which is weird. I was so ready to leave high school when I left for college. I was bored with pretty much everyone and was ready to leave them behind. I'll admit that when I came back from college over various holidays, I was a little jealous of people who were obviously keeping up with each other, visiting each other on weekends, going on road trips together, etc. I was too far away for anyone to keep up with.

I think I'm so far away from high school now that I don't really care anymore. I sort of vaguely remember going to my 10th and vaguely remember it being held at a venue where we used to have dances all the time and feeling like I'd been transported back to that time and place. I don't think that will happen this time.

Also, I think I'm looking forward to it because I really need the break. I need to escape for a while. My dad and stepmom are keeping the kids and we'll be staying in a hotel one night, so it will be a nice retreat for me and Mr. Geeky. We haven't had a night out since school started. I start to get a little antsy when that happens.

And I think the kids need a little break too. It's been go, go, go around here for all of us, so I think some good downtime is in order.

I'll be reporting back, of course. Let's just hope this doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I got nothing

Like many in the academic blogosphere, I'm engrossed in work at the moment. I have papers to comment on, reading to do for the dis, the usual 9-5 work, and the usual family stuff. I've been distracted by my continuing health issues, which, at this point, are simply mildy annoying. I sit around wondering what's causing this pain or that pain and what might be done about it. I worry only slightly that the pain is a sign of something horrible. Suffice it to say, it's generally hard to stay focused.

I feel sort of disconnected at the moment and I'm trying to reconnect, but it's hard to do in the swirl of activity. I was up until late commenting on papers, work that I actually find rewarding instead of grueling. I'm about halfway done. If it weren't for the 9-5 job, I would have done that commenting during the day instead of not even starting until 8:30. At least that's what I tell myself, and it is what I used to do when all I did was teach. So maybe it's even true.

For class, we're reading Women of Academe: Outsiders in a Sacred Grove. It's kind of depressing and even though one can write off some of it as being nearly 20 years old, much of it is still applicable. I think, for instance, about the way I have subordinated my career to my husband's. Like many of the women in the book, I didn't even think about it. It's not like I sat down one night at dinner and said, "You know, honey, your career is more important than mine." I didn't have a plan (again, true of many of the women in the book). I just followed my interests without thinking about the effect my pursuits might have on my career. I have no regrets, really. I've learned valuable things from all of my experiences, but they're not a nice, neat direct path to a career. In academe especially, circuitous routes are frowned upon. God forbid you need to support a family or ailing parent by getting a "real" job.

One of my students asked, what suggestions the authors had for change. I didn't have them read that section and I, myself, haven't read it in a while. But I definitely think I want the world to change. I think it would be nice if we valued the individual and their accomplishments rather than the particular path they followed (B.A. from the "right" school; Ph.D. from the "right" school; publications in the "right" journal). Gaps should be okay as long as they're legitimate--having a child; serious illness, or other personal crisis. Not everyone can simply crunch along when faced with a serious setback. While I'm making wishes, I wish that someone's work would speak for itself and while I know "networking" is good, it shouldn't be good for its own sake, but as a way to connect with people to learn something from them and they from you, to pursue common interests and perhaps collaborate.

So maybe I should have pursued my career with more singlemindedness. Maybe I should continue to do so now. For me, it's about doing good work. While I should be content with that, I'm often frustrated that good work is not enough. I'm frustrated by what I see are ridiculous systems and modes of evaluation. I find as I age, I get less willing to go along with the system. That gets me into trouble sometimes, I'm sure.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Giving up caffeine

In an attempt to alleviate my health issues, I've given up caffeine. I've been a caffeine addict since childhood, drinking coke and then in college, adding tea and in grad school, coffee. I used to drink two cups of coffee in the morning, a coke at lunch, often a cup of tea in the afternoon, and sometimes a coke with dinner. This isn't a huge amount in the grand scheme of things. I know people who drink coffee all day long. But I thought I'd give it a try. Given that I'm also pretty stressed out, it seemed a good idea to eliminate a stimulant.

Yesterday was the worst day and despite mass amounts of motrin, I felt pretty ill until mid-afternoon. You know you're addicted when you go through that kind of withdrawal. I did actually feel better in a way. My head felt clearer and I'm definitely sleeping better. So far.

My other symptoms haven't cleared up but it may take another couple of days for my system to clear out entirely. We're now attributing my back pain to our crappy mattress. Man, I'm getting old.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Emergent Teaching

I've been thinking a bit about my teaching this semester. I don't think it's going as well as last semester. Partly this has been my own distraction with health issues and stuff, but also I think it has something to do with the way I teach.

I put a lot of responsibility on the students to make my classes work. Like most discussion-based classes, I expect students to come prepared--having read the material and thought about it. Most of them do this and they are "forced" to do this in part by having to write for the blog. The blog itself is just as important as the class discussion. It should be just as lively as in-class discussion. In both places, both virtual and meatspace, if the students don't participate, then things fall apart pretty quickly. Oh, sure, I have questions and thoughts of my own that I bring to class, but I prefer it if I let the students lead the way. That's one of the luxuries of this class where there's no content to cover. We're learning to read and think and write about what we read and think, so we can go wherever we need to go or want to go.

Except that I feel like we're stagnating. I feel like the students may not really want to go anywhere. Or maybe I'm doing all the leading and they don't like where we're going, but are afraid to speak up. They're not really writing on the blog the way I want them to. For example, I'm looking at the blog now and there haven't been any posts over the weekend. None. For three days.

I think there are a number of reasons for lack of blog activity. One is that the blog is on a site with a bunch of other class blogs. Those are being used for entirely different purposes and our stuff is all mixed up with that. And I think our students are getting a weird view of what a group blog is. If I had this to do over again, I'd do it the way I've done it before. We'd have our own space.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, first, I need to reimpress the importance of the blog. I need to pull some posts and use them as examples of writing and work on those in class. I think I'll do a peer review session for this. I did this last year and it seemed to make a good impression. We're going to be creating a collaborative publication and I think that will help bond us together and think together as a class about some writing issues. Right now, any talk about writing, for the most part, is happening during individual conferences.

Second, I think I need to put some real responsibility on the students for discussion. They're doing fine on in-class discussion, but I'd like to go a little deeper. So I think I might assign a student to be responsible for leading the discussion, including looking over the blog posts.

I'm willing to take any suggestions anyone might have. And if any my students have found me, you can leave anonymous comments as well. It's not that I think the class is going badly. I just think it's lacking some sparkle. I feel like we're close. I'd like to see us get all the way there.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday at last

This has been a long week. It's been busy at work and dealing with the mystery illness has been no fun. It's amazing how mentally distracting it is when you think a kidney is failing.

I've been thinking about a few things as I've tried to take my mind off the failing kidney. There are the school shootings and the Mark Foley/Dennis Hastert fiasco. Also teaching. I think I feel a poll coming on.

P.S. My kidney isn't failing. So far, there seems to be nothing life-threatening. Meanwhile, I'm taking mass amounts of motrin.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Drifting toward hypochondria

Unfortunately, I have no idea what's wrong with me. Oh, I've been to doctors. They haven't found anything. I seem perfectly normal. But something is definitely wrong. One of my office mates thinks we should all just get annual CAT and PET scans since a lot of things that go wrong have no symptoms. I just want the Star Trek thing where they run a scanny thing over you to find out what's wrong and then run another one over you to fix it. Or shoot you up with those cool hydrolic needles.

So I went to work for two hours today and then I came home and laid on the couch and watched Chicken Run, Robots, CNN, and MASH. Yeah, good day. I also drank gallons of water and ate homemade apple pie. And I spent way too much time at WebMD where they didn't have my exact symptoms and the closest I could get were rare and horrible diseases. My students were sending me links to possible diseases. This is how I teach them to do research.

This morning, I was walking up the stairs to take a shower, already not feeling so great and felt pain shoot up my leg. And I thought, holy shit, I've got a blood clot. And then I remembered that I had rammed my leg into the bed post on my way to the bathroom last night. Yes, I jump to conclusions. I don't really panic about it or anything, but I'm a worst case scenerio kind of person. It's not that I'm pessimistic. I just want to be prepared. I don't want to be caught later saying, I had no idea that kind of thing could happen.