One should never look at teaching evaluations in the middle of the workweek. Or the middle of the term, really. I don't feel like my evals are ever bad, but they're so contradictory that it worries me how on earth they'd actually be factored into promotion and tenure. I grade tough, it's true. And I explain that at the beginning of the course and what to do to avoid it.

My favorite comment of this round: "[students here] don't agree with 'the class average was a B, and that's above average'." Funny, I wasn't aware that was a matter that the average of your grades was a matter that could be disagreed with.

Really, this isn't so surprising. It happened at both universities I've taught at previously in the first terms, but this feels like - probably because it's the most current case - the most outlandish example.

Back from the conference babble

Really, this is just a bunch of random notes. I'd intended to blog a bit while I was away, but things got too busy for that (which certainly wasn't the plan). So, here's a little catch-up.


Most importantly, welcome to the world, Leif! Can't wait to meet you.


When a conference is bad, it's really bad. This, sadly, is the state of things at most of the big discipline wide conferences, or so it seems to me. I've tried to avoid them, even in job-hunting years, because it feels like talking quietly into a mob.

Fortunately, the conference I've been at recently has been smaller, and the energy of it has been good - I've got a possible project coming out of it, and a little kick in the pants to finish the projects I've been working on.


I love the scenery here - desert and mountains and cool air. I'd been tooling around a bit in the rental car, enjoying being able to take a drive with the window down. If I'd managed a musical entry for the week, it would've been "Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt" which would've been perfect for the winding road and this scenery.

It's a little hard to think about how to discuss the album. It's a tribute, after all, which means it is highlighting the songwriting and the interpretations of the folks appearing on it. Worse, I don't have it all with me when I want it. The rental doesn't have any way to play from an iPod (how demanding we get as consumers), and when I really want the album is when I'm driving towards the mountains. It's got some gems: Emmylou Harris singing "Snake Song," for one. Willie Nelson's heartbreaking take on "Marie" for another. It's not the only tribute to Van Zandt - Steve Earle recently released an album of Van Zandt songs. And his songs crop up here and there across a number of Lyle Lovett albums as well. But it's my favorite of them, and that says a lot considering.

I first heard Townes Van Zandt's music in second grade music class. He was wedged in among a lot of the famous song writers that my music teacher at the time liked: Dylan, Guthrie, and I think - though my memory may be playing wishful tricks on me - even a song by Cohen. I didn't blink much over him then, but heard some of his music again in college. His music has been a fixture of road trips for me ever since. He's got the wanderlust that I so often feel, and sometimes he's cornered it. Most times, however, it's got him instead. I sympathize. Or empathize. Whatever. Part of the joy of his music is the tension that exists in his songs between the heartbreak life can bring and the joy just being in the world can offer.

And who among us isn't wandering down those roads?

In the air

Somehow, improbably, I have dodged snow and nemesis airports. I hate the quest for outlets and the overpriced mall food and the weird realization that walking through an airport provided about just how small the space of awareness - or the awareness of space - truly is.

How very strange to land and check e-mail. I'm trying to decide if it is the inevitable irritation that builds with travel - doubled by being stuck in the middle seat at the back of the plane - that has left me cranky that a good grad school friend turned occassional conference friend has decided the one time outside of a conference it is okay to communicate with me is to hit me up for a donation. Isn't that why I have family?

But there's good news too: I've had a paper accepted at what I now realize is a ridiculously selective conference. If I'd realized, I probably wouldn't have submitted. Now, I guess I know what I'll be working on for the next couple of months.


Often, I'm a lucid dreamer. Lately, however, I've had dreams where I've been aware of the dream nature, but unable to influence the dream or to wake up from it.

The recurring motif is a black cat - more of a very small, very thin (almost emaciated) panther - that is slowly gnawing off my right hand. In some dreams, I'm surrounded by people - in the first, we were playing Trivial Pursuit. In others, I'm alone, headed somewhere. Sometimes I can shake it off for a moment; other times, it has its claws too deeply in my arm.

It starts at the space between the thumb and pointer. Though I swear that it pauses to savor those first bites, it eventually picks up speed, tearing and gulping, almost unhinged and careless. It does not make a sound. Nor do I. I only try to shake it off, for as long as I'm able, before my arm gets heavy, before it stops to look at me, coldly, as if it could stare me into acceptance.

Or worse, as if to let me know acceptance or struggle matter not a bit.

...a solid soul and the blood I bleed...

It's been a productive office hours day so far: a recommendation letter written and sent, tomorrow's lecture prepped, my reservations for an upcoming conference checked and modified appropriately. It's amazing really, since my colleagues are swarming the hall today, having conversations about sweaters and injuries and the like.

I'm tempted to close the door. But that feels a little wrong to me, having complained more than a few times as a student about walking down a department hallway and getting treated to a sublime exhibit of Far Side cartoons, newspaper headlines, and event announcements, but rarely ever actually seeing a faculty member. It was especially acute when I was supposed to catch them in their office hours but found only that well-decorated door. I wonder at what point this happens - is it a change that I'll one day go through? Is it like academic puberty? One day my voice in department meetings will change, and I'll slink off to my office and shut the door, grumbling about how no one understands me? Is the sabbatical nothing more than the equivalent of getting the keys to your first car?

Hipster music may be one of the forms of music that the academic adolescent blasts to drown out crude authority figures who just don't understand. Think about it.

So, it's with some irony and distress that the album I'm listening to today is one that came across on a number of "Best of.." lists recently. Today's disc is "Merriweather Post Pavilion" by Animal Collective.

Let me be upfront: I bought the album because it turned up on so many lists. And unlike many of the things from those lists that I passed over, it seemed like it was worth a listen to me because it wasn't quite like what seems to be the dominant indie/hipster musical preference d'jour: whiny voice, coffee house guitar, I'll try to channel Connor Oberst if you'll tell my ninth grade girlfriend she was a bitch sort of feel. You know the sort. I love lo-fi as much as the next guy, but when it turns into a formula, well...it's like the anarchist I saw in grad school who smashed out a turn signal while the driver was still in the car, then cried for the police when the guy got out of the car to give him his own version of street justice. I don't care if your formula started out with some cred: once it reverts to type, it's less than interesting. It's I loved you but you jumped the shark funny.

The songs I checked out from this album before picking it up had a sort of experimental feel to them. My suspicion is that Animal Collective would fail the "does the album sound like them live" test that is one of my more trustworthy musical tests. It's all well and good if it flies in the studio, but does it feel the same at the show? I saw Modest Mouse a few years ago, and to this day, feel like I saw someone masquerading as the band who I might have liked better than the band whose album I'd been enjoying.

Maybe it's the same for Animal Collective: the album's got a little bounce but not so much to burst your working quietly vibe, but perhaps the band brings a little more menace to the show. I feel like it's a background noise album, rather than something that has an anthem or a song that I'll find myself quoting or humming or even wanting to sing along with.

Maybe that's why it works so well for moments like this at the office: not just because sometimes you need background noise, but maybe because the pre-tenure process functions similarly. If pre-tenure is your safe time to be produced and made to sooth the masses, post-tenure could be your moment to revisit your menace? That hardly seems the case, but it's an interesting possibility.