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.