Oh, right! That's what I was forgetting...

...the blog! Also, to answer e-mail. But that's neither here nor there.


Also, I haven't had a lot to say. But so everyone's on the same page, here's what's been happening.

I've been working, slowly, on the book. I also managed to submit a paper to a journal and do some web work for one of the organizations I'm involved with. The conference is coming along swimmingly, if the pool you're in causes you to slowly wish you'd just drown quickly. The theme, it seems, somehow must involve something vaguely apocalyptic. And people have stopped returning e-mails about details. I suspect this means all manner of work will fall out of the sky like radioactive ash sometime around Spring midterms.

Maybe "apocalypse" really is a good theme.

And it does fit here. Driving to pay my rent the other day, I saw an Isuzu truck that was tricked out in such a way that it looked like something from "The Road Warrior." And gas prices are awfully ridiculous. And the drivers here are awfully bad. If only we had a feral looking kid who'd throw razor sharp boomerangs. That'd be awesome.

My father had heart surgery - incidentally, in case you ever need to know, the phrase "heart failure" doesn't actually mean the heart has completely failed, only that it's failing. It makes a big difference, and if there are any medical doctors out there, it wouldn't be so bad to lead with that bit of information instead of making us ask. Twice. He's fine now, though: a defibrillator implanted, which makes him sort of a cyborg which is kind of cool. My father: half human, half machine.

The roommate is up for a job that would have him gone in August. I am, if you don't know, something of a planner (about some things at least), and this makes planning hard. Do I wait to sign a lease until he knows about the job? Do I stay here and try to find a new roommate? Do I abandon ship and try to find a smaller place on my own? Can I travel home for an extended trip or is something short and sweet better? Can I travel to the first meat market of the season?


I've played one game of Ultimate Frisbee, and I'm proud to say I still have both knees. Actually, I started back to the gym a few weeks back, so maybe that helped. I'm also secretly hoping that if I get used to using the school's gym over the summer, the possibility of having to work out when there are actual students won't bother me quite so much. And my sleep schedule has more or less switched completely to the summertime rules where I sleep late and stay up far, far too late into the evening.

But that part, at least, is fun.

RBOC: Summer Goodness

I suppose I should be irritated that my summer plans haven't gone off the way I wanted (ah, who am I kidding - I am irritated). Instead, though, there's some decent things going that are worth a brief nod (or that will, at least, fill a quick blog post while I wait for the phone to ring...):
  • first day back at the gym. No death, and the knee seems to have held up well after so long off of it. We'll see how tomorrow goes
  • news of a new Charlie Kaufman (of "Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" fame) called "Synecdoche" and that has one of my geeky actress crushes Samantha Morton (of "In America", "Jesus' Son" and "Sweet and Lowdown" semi-fame). This is good news.
  • concert trips to see Pearl Jam and R.E.M. in the next couple of months. I've seen both before - very memorable shows for very different reasons (both were outdoor but one saw 115 degree temperatures). It should be good times (and cooler)
  • writing is getting done
  • finished The Raw Shark Texts, and while it's interesting in terms of the story of memory being told, what stuck out to me was its take on the social construction of language. It also reminded me, a bit, of William Gibson's Idoru, in that it seemed to posit an interesting (but not too) sci-fi look at the impact of swimming in information. Gibson gave us information/media allergies, while this gives us information predators.
And that's probably enough for now.

Hooray! The phone!

Concluding the Summer Course Debacle

My letter to the powers that be. The things I wanted to say but wisely cut out are in brackets.

It seems like this has been a doomed exercise from the start. [If this had been a date, I'd have asked for the check and run for the door like I'd stumbled across and East Coast/West Coast rap feud. Honestly, people playing Romeo and Juliet will look to this for how to do star-crossed properly.]

The course did finally get the third student, but though she registered yesterday, she didn't appear on the course roster until late today. The new problem is that somehow the other two students didn't know the course was to be a six week course [and honestly, isn't there a standard on this?.] It doesn't show online as six weeks though those are the hours we submitted for it. [I don't have a copy of the catalog to verify how it shows there, but I'd bet my meager paycheck it got screwed up there, too]. That does mean, though, that they can't take the course unless I change it to work in a four week session.

I don't see any good way to make this a four week course, and honestly, the whole [SNAFU-ridden, Byzantine] process has left me drained and disinterested [not to mention angry, resentful, and more inclined than ever - and who'd have thought it possible - that I must find a lifeboat from this slowly sinking ship] . I'll assume someone else will explain to the students how and why the course isn't going to make.

Apologies for my frustration.
Really I put this together so that when I someday get to do an exit interview, I can give them a 30 page, reference document. Not that I'm bitter.


They love me.

They love me not.

That's what trying to get this summer course together has been like. In theory, tonight is to be the first night of my grad course. The problem is enrollment. Unfortunately summer courses here cost a boatload (maybe ironic since I get paid less to teach one here than I did as a grad student - $2,500 before taxes here). We have to have a minimum number of students enrolled for the course to make, and my number has been bouncing around from one week to the next. For about a week, it's been high enough for the course to be offered. Today, though, one of the students ran into a roadblock and may not be able to take the course. But they're not sure. So no one's quite sure whether the course will happen or not.

[Rant added for your reading pleasure - 4:11 pm, same day:

It is also frustrating that I had to argue with a colleague about why I won't pressure students to take the course that they'd pay too much for while I was being paid too little to teach it. Cost per credit hour goes up in the summer for students while contact hours go slightly down. And yet what I get paid for one course is paltry.

And I'm sitting here agonizing over it because, sadly, $2,500 (before taxes) will make a world of difference to me since I'm paid below average for someone with my level of experience at this type of university in this field. On one hand, I'm tempted to just call the course's time of death and get on with my own life for the summer; on the other hand, $2,500 would let me actually pay off something for the first time in three years.]

We're also working on a conference here. The person who is supposed to be taking the lead on this was to be in today dealing with all sorts of details, only they never appeared, and I wound up having to juggle lots of those things as well. I'm getting ready to say I have to stop helping with it, as I've no interest in being the hitched to the plow for a project I'm getting very little say in. I do wonder how it'll go over.

But for now, I should go prepare my discussion for tonight (assuming "tonight" happens).

Summer Reading

Even though I've got a summer course to teach and a book to write, the thing that I'm really excited about is the possibility of summer reading. I don't get much reading done for pleasure during the term - maybe a book or two a month plus lighter fare like magazines and comics and such.

And since there was just a book sale here, plus a trip to the bookstore yesterday, I'm pretty well stocked up. The current list looks like this:
But that isn't really how I read. This is why book clubs are lost on me - because I can't read things for enjoyment on a deadline. I like to be able to pick up what I want and what suits me, and book clubs rarely pick things that match my mood. So we'll see whether I actually get through any of these or not.

But I'm curious, as always, about what other folks are reading, and what they'd recommend and why. And I do wonder who's read any of those and what your thoughts are. Should I juggle the order?

Insult to Injury

Today I got a note from one of the schools that didn't hire me. It was asking for some follow-up information about my interview. Specifically, they wanted to know where I heard about the job so they could better ensure future positions were advertised most (cost) effectively.

However, this is the same school that took two months to reimburse my travel expenses, and then only managed to reimburse half of them. And no explanation was given.

So I'm sitting here trying to decide how to politely suggest that committee go (cost) effectively fuck itself. But it occurs to me that this might not be the best thing, particularly as I anticipate going on the market against next year.

Music Meme - the Conclusion

This morning I found myself wishing, among other things, that all of my blog posts had titles like "Super Happy Gigantic Complaining About Students Post of Joyousness" because then it would feel like a Japanese game show. It's probably for the best that I haven't followed that instinct or this post might be titled "Colossal Fantastic Answers to Memes You've Forgotten About Love Time."

Kill your darlings, right?

Anyway, here are the answers to the Music Meme post from awhile back for anyone who is still curious.

1) "Mess" - Ben Folds Five
2) "Walking After You" - Foo Fighters
3) "A Sermon" - The Police
4) "Feel Alright" - Steve Earle
5) "Passing the Hat" - Cold War Kids
6) "Heaven" - the Golden Palominos
7) "Sunndal Song" - the Apples in Stereo
8) "Lonely Avenue" - Ray Charles
9) "La Costa Brava" - Ted Leo + the Pharmacists
10) "Waterfront" - John Lee Hooker
11) "Do You Wanna Touch Me" - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
12) "I Don't Sleep, I Dream" - R.E.M.
13) "Hop a Plane" - Tegan & Sara
14) "Bright Young Thing" - Albert Hammond Jr.
15) "A Little Bit Lonesome" - Kasey Chambers
16) "Kiss, Kiss" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
17) "Brass Monkey" - Beastie Boys
18) "Family Snapshot" - Peter Gabriel
19) "The Card Cheat" - The Clash
20) "Amarillo Highway" - Robert Earl Keen Jr.
21) "(Marie's the Name) Of His Latest Flame" - Doyle Bramhall
22) "The World You Love" - Jimmy Eat World
23) "Wild Pack of Family Dogs" - Modest Mouse
24) "Straight to Hell" - The Clash
25) "Foodfight" - Be Your Own Pet

Perhaps I'll do the meme again sometime soon. Hope everyone enjoyed it, and apologies if the hints were too obscure. And if you like the image, you can check out the t-shirt which I just discovered (and will someday own) here.

Meme: Passion Quilt

Lumpenproffesoriat tagged me for a meme a few days back, and I've been thinking about it for a few days now as I've been finishing finals and doing my best to get grades in and random departmental stuff done. It seemed like a nice way to end off the semester, thinking about why I do what I do, and trying to express it somewhat creatively.

The rules of the meme are fairly simple:
  • Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
  • Give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."
  • Link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 (or more) educators.
Now I'm not going to tag people, but I thought the meme works nicely with the semi-recent thread about why people teach (you can see my answer to that meme here). I've got the same concerns I had then - do I want to out myself in terms of what I teach with this or should I find a way around it? As before, I'm trying to find a way around it, not just because I want to maintain some small vestige of privacy, but because beyond my subject area there are some lessons that I want students to get.

This topic has been much on my mind this year (see this post for some early thoughts on it). And I don't know that I can phrase it better than I felt I did that day. I teach my subject because I'm interested in it. But there are broader lessons to be learned from the course. I remember a professor telling me early on in my own undergraduate career that college was as much about classes and a field of knowledge as it was about learning to make smart decisions and take responsibility for yourself. Those aren't the lessons my picture is about, per say, but you get the idea.

When I started to think about what the underlying themes to what I teach, it boils down to this (and we can call this my title to help satisfy the meme requirements):
You have a choice, and that choice not only matters but it affects others.

So with that in mind, here's my image. I decided, since I've been playing with Photoshop lately, I should play a bit and make my own. Here goes:

The image is far from entirely my own. When I first read about the meme, I immediately thought of the old cover for the "Know Your Rights" single by the Clash, and so part of that is seen here in the center. But I also thought a bit about a series of images by Scott McCloud who, in giving his explanation of how we read comics, also does an amazing job of explaining signs, signifiers, and signified in his book Understanding Comics. So I've plucked some things from both of those images, and combined them a bit to make my own.

Now rather than tag five people, I'll let whomever is interested nominate themselves (but please let me know if you do it, as I'd love to see what everyone comes up with). It would be fun, too, to have someone collect the images and answers someplace (honestly, shouldn't someone pitch this as a book?).

A Note About Moms

Since it's Mother's Day, and I've mentioned not only having the Multiple Moms but also the hassle (a pain but worth it) of trying to get gifts off to 'em both, I thought I should take a moment on the blog to tell a tale or two in honor of 'em. There's a bit of a chronology here, but the mystery is good for you, trust me.

I am, as you may have guessed, a lot to put up with as a child.

Okay, I'm a lot to put up with now, too. But let's assume that's my fault and not theirs.

In spite of that, I don't ever remember my mother losing her patience with me (at least not until my teenage years). What I do remember is that she let me be curious about whatever I wanted to be. My father worked a lot, and so the day to day of dealing with me (as with so many families) came down to my mother. My father read bedtime stories, but my mother put up with all the questions, the exploration of rules, and the pushing of boundaries. She was the first one to have to deal with my wanderlust and sometimes ridiculous desire to explore.

I had a lot of fairly big medical difficulties as a kid, and it would've been easy to have been handicapped by them. A lot of parents would have needed to watch my every move or to have kept me out of things. But though I know my mother was often afraid for me, she never showed it and never stood for me being afraid.

And while the other mother didn't come into the picture until much, much later, there are things to be thankful for there, too. My other mother had to step out of my life before I ever knew her, and I'm sure - because we've talked about the circumstances - that it was the hardest thing under the worst conditions she could have to do. She was given a tough choice, and she made the right one though it was the hardest for her. We didn't meet again for twenty-five years, and when we did, it was obvious that she'd missed me every moment of that time. And though it wasn't easy, she accepted that I couldn't give back those years or those memories, and she was willing to start from there.

So thanks, Moms, for making me better and for making the hard choices. Thanks for always trying to do the right thing by me, putting up with me, and for all the times you've had to watch me go.

Happy Mother's Day.


It's days like today where I admire the commitment of vegetarians and vegans the most. I simply couldn't do it: there's willpower and then there's what I have, come summertime.


Just a break from finals grading which is, thankfully, getting done. This is unusual for me, as my tendency is to put it off as late as I possibly can.

A bit of good news here and there: it looks like my summer course is going to take. There might even be more people than the bare minimum needed. So now I need to revisit the syllabus next week and make sure it's doing what I want. The pay's a pittance, but every little bit helps. And since flights home are ridiculous - when I checked yesterday, they were over $800 which I hope was just some fluke of the days I tested.

There was a nice card from one of my students in my mailbox today, and another who stopped by to tell me how a year ago to tell me that a year ago they weren't sure they could continue here - or that they could make it. And now, it's time for them to graduate, and they wanted to say thanks for all the help. So I've got a little bit of swagger to help me through the grading, which is always nice.

Tomorrow, the plan is to grille - I've got a steak ready, and there'll be pico de gallo to spare. It feels like summer might actually be here.

But for now, back to the pile o' grading.


My honors student just rocked his defense. We're talking panties on the stage, audience members fainting, lighters in the air, smoke 'em if you got 'em rocked it.

Said the outside member, "It's the first time I've ever considered - let alone been able to give an A+ to one of these."

Said the inside member, "It feels like a well-developed outline to a book. Why aren't you applying to graduate schools?"

I am, as you can tell, more than a little proud of what that student accomplished.

RBOC: Finals Week

Madness and chaos abound. The Seniors don't know whether to run amok or back to their dorms in fear. And I'm too incoherent for anything like paragraphs, so...
  • Mother's Day continues to bedevil me - the gift bought for Mom #2 well in advance online to be shipped and received has just gone up in smoke with a "oh, sorry, we don't have this in stock after all" e-mail. If I don't find something good tomorrow, it won't be pretty....
  • an 8 a.m. final? Seriously? If 8 a.m. was honestly an option for me, don't you think I'd have a job that paid better?
  • you know it's been a hell of a term when you find yourself thinking "Grading 42 papers in the next three days seems like a vacation."
  • stopped by the Dean to congratulate me as it's been decided various things I've done have pushed the department's freshmen enrollment up. It's anecdotal, but I'll take it.
  • sent an e-mail to the graduating seniors to facilitate some end-of-the-line things and made at least one student cry (in a good way)
  • flickers of hope for the summer course - cross your fingers, as I'd like the pittance it pays
And so, once more unto the breach...

Cinco De Mayo

Lumpenprofessoriat had a great idea for today's holiday: a little music. And since that post gave us a Los Lobos clip, I'll go with a different band.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, here's a clip from one of the great all-time Texas bands: the Texas Tornadoes! For those in the know, the Tornadoes were a bit of a border-radio super-group, with Flaco Jimenez, Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, and Augie Meyers, all of whom were pretty big stars in their own right.

Hope you're all having guacamole (of one sort or the other).

Anatomy of an End of Term Sunday

There's just something about the days at the end of the term that read like bad fiction.

Today wasn't bad, exactly, but it was filled with lots of little things. For example, while I got to lie in my bed with a bit of the sun on me and talk on the phone, at least one of the conversations was like watching someone else's root canal. The phone call was with one of the mothers, and true to form, roughly a half hour in, the grandchildren issue was raised in the best passive-aggressive way possible (I was informed that she'd had to resort to buying things for other people's children because none of her kids were doing their jobs). Because Mother's Day is coming, I refrained from telling any of the cruel "stop harping on this" sorts of tales that I might otherwise have.

And yet this evening, when I went to the post office to make sure my Mother's Day cards got in the mail, it wound up in an epic adventure because evidently working stamp machines are a thing of the past around here (and, incidentally, the ability to buy a single stamp must have been deemed outmoded). As if dealing with Mother's Day for two mothers who not only talk but compare notes wasn't bad enough, I need postal hassles as well.

At the grocery store, a whole list of items on my regular shopping list have vanished from the shelves: the cool, environmentally friendly laundry detergent, Peanut Lover's Chex Mix, and chorizo among them. But thank goodness I can purchase seven different kinds of Italian sausage. I'm so annoyed, I'd steal a line from Wednesday Addams about what those sausage are made from except for how it would make me sound.

This afternoon, I received an e-mail from one of the honor's students I'm working with - thankfully not the one I'm in charge of - telling me he'd have a draft of his thesis to me in the morning, and, oh, by the way, his defense is at 10 am. One of the great tragedies of e-mail is that typing out "Hahahahahaha! You're kidding, right? No? Get out." doesn't have the same effect as saying it in person.

Finally, tonight, joy of joys, the Ex Who Crushed Paris felt the need to again get in touch with me. This is a ongoing problem for me, and not just with this particular ex. I have enough ex-gf tales to fill a significant part of the book I'll one day seriously consider writing only to opt for a nap instead. And it isn't as though I'm particularly good at dating either. The only thing that's worked well in the past has been to fight fire with fire. My preferred message is one collect call at 3:30 or so in the morning for each unwanted communication (for best effect, let the operator choose the collect call carrier - ask them to pick one they've never had anyone request before).

Still, I've made it to the end of the day. The stars are out, the dog is sleeping, and the only thing left to be done is to send the e-mail promising to savage anyone who tries to get me into that defense. It'll be bloodier than a cannibal Thanksgiving.

(Isn't that the most disturbing .gif ever?)

Thank goodness summer will be here soon.

Conflation, Confusion, and Digitalization

Tell me if this strikes you as ironic.

Imagine you're someone faced with a problem. The problem could be solved by writing a one line e-mail and moving on. Instead of - or, to be fair, maybe in addition to - doing this, you write an entire paragraph (or a page or whatever) complaining about the problem.

I came across this over at Prone to Laughter, and followed it through to Learning Curves, and it seems like there a few things worth talking about here.

Like many of the posters on both threads, I have some problem with the application of the idea of "digital natives." Like most theoretical concepts, it's often used haphazardly. We're prone to assuming that students in colleges are representative of this idea. And to a significant extent they are. But this is the first assumption - and it's a dangerous one for us to make - is that they all are. There are still students - a significant number of them - for whom college is their first real experience to regular internet access. Assuming that because your students are young and should be members of this "digital native" group that they are, and that because of that they know the ins and outs is a dubious.

But the second confusion about the concept is more insidious. And Dance does a nice job of raising the question: being a digital native does not imply fluency or literacy. Instead, it implies a different set of relationships, the same way that being a native of one country's culture doesn't mean complete fluency in every detail or a proper use of all the cultural tools and concepts. Instead, it means that the way one relates is likely to be different.

The reason for the question of irony at the beginning of the post is this. One of the things that we hope for "digital natives" is that they'll be - or become - fluent in the most efficient ways of navigating all the information available to them. A person who is truly digitally literate - or even academically literate - should be able to think of several ways short of e-mailing the professor about when a final is.

But - and this is huge - the most efficient way is to find out directly from the person who has the most control and knowledge of the situation. I could check the registrar's site, but if there was a change, would the registrar likely be aware of it? I could check the department's web site or with the department secretary, but again, is it possible they might be missing some crucial piece of information? I could ask a classmate. They might be wrong. The syllabus could have been changed. The one nexus of information most likely to have the best information is the professor.

That said, at the end of the day, even if questions like that are annoying, students asking us questions should be treated as a good thing. How many times have you wanted to remind them that it's better to ask than assume? Or better to be sure than to make a guess?

We've got a lot to gripe about, but this one just seems silly to me.