31 October 2010

Sigh of relief

I have finished A Thing. Not just finished, but submitted. Consummatum est.

It's a short thing. It was supposed to be a quick-and-dirty, if not quick-and-easy, distraction from other writing, something I thought I'd throw together in ten days when I realized a deadline was barreling down the tracks at me. I thought that since I'd been working on this material (on and off) for five years, it should be easy to put together a conference-paper length note just to have something out there; and if I missed the deadline, then I would go back to the Current Project briefly before beginning to read for my R&R (speaking of deadlines barreling down upon me).

Forty days later . . . . Well. Now I know that when I work out how long something will take me, I should then multiply by four. At least, that's the factor when I'm teaching three classes and dealing with intermittent panic about which project to procrastinate work on.

But now it is done, and sent, and no matter what happens with it, I have submitted one piece of unsolicited, original, scholarly work this year. The R&R (gods willing and the creek don't rise) will make two. The poor Current Project . . . all I wanted was to get it into shape to send to a couple of friends last summer this fall over winter break? There might be a window in which I can get back to it before I have to turn to revising last year's Kalamazoo paper for publication (thanks to another deadline).

Deadlines are very helpful things. I wish I didn't need them to be set by other people. I know people who set and meet their own deadlines. Why can't I be one of them? Maybe it has something to do with that factor of four. Still, if I recognize that factor, I can work with it. And cutting it back to a factor of three seems like a worthwhile goal.

It amazes me how suddenly a horrible mess can gel into what looks like a tidy, professional piece of writing. A week ago I was still pulling my hair out. There were bracketed notes to myself all through the Thing, and although my writing group said to cut everything after page 5 (and most of page 2), I wasn't sure. In the end, much of pages 5-8 returned, page 2 came back as conclusion, the bracketed notes became formatted endnotes, and now my mess is a Thing of Beauty. If the Thing returns, I'll find someone else who will appreciate it.

But let's hope the place I sent it will be its Forever Home.

25 October 2010

Review re-run

About two years ago, I wrote about the Broadview Canterbury Tales, which I was considering as a textbook. I'm now in my second semester with it, and I'm not so happy with it.

One reason is simply familiarity (or lack thereof): I'm used to the Riverside's composite text, with readings and spellings from Hengwrt as well as Ellesmere. Presumably, over time one would adapt to that. But that's really the least of the problems, though individually they all seem small. It's the aggregate that makes me want to return to the Riverside.

The line numbering goes a little funky now and then, especially around the end of a tale or section; there sometimes seem to be extra lines that don't appear in the numbering system.

I don't like the punctuation. Sentences are chopped up in unfamiliar ways (so in a way this is reason one over again), and I think sometimes they don't make such good sense as in the Riverside's punctuation. I like to see related ideas grouped together in elaborate clauses rather than presented as a serious of one-line sentences.

The notes are less detailed than I would like. True, the Riverside's Explanatory Notes at the end of the book are awkward to consult and go over the heads of many of my students if they do look them up. But I would like them to be there for my more advanced students.

The lack of language instruction in the introduction turns out to be a problem. I thought that wouldn't matter, because I did a lot of my own explaining anyway. And if I were really organized and wrote my own mini-grammar-handbook (or just a series of handouts) that would be one thing. But it turns out I'm not that organized (big surprise, yeah?), and that a lot of my in-class explaining was in response to student questions about the Riverside's introductory material. If I assign it, it may be confusing for some, but at least they read it and then when they ask questions I can fill in some gaps, and even people who didn't do the reading will get something out of the lecture. Now, students aren't even asking questions, because they don't know what they don't know; they don't know where to start with the questions. I need them to ask questions so I know what to lecture on.

Cost is a problem. Used copies of the Riverside CT are a little more expensive than the Broadview, new. I do try to be aware of textbook costs, and save my students money where I can. Some of the problems I mention could be overcome if I wrote more handouts and just spent more time with this version of the text. But, bottom line, I'm not very comfortable with the Broadview edition, and I feel like my teaching is suffering because of that. If the Riverside CT were cheaper, I would definitely go back to it, no question. As it is . . . I think I'll go back, and feel guilty.

24 October 2010

I, Prof-robot

I had two coffees today. I mean Saturday, yesterday. Both should have been decaf. I think one was full-lead. So here I am, wide awake in the middle of the night. And what am I doing with my time? That's right: grading. The students are right. We're always on the job. We have no lives. Outside of class, we live in our offices, and the janitors unplug us at night and plug us back in when they arrive in the morning. Or maybe we plug ourselves in to recharge at night, since now that we're doing more with less, there are fewer janitors to look after us. Somebody forgot to unplug me tonight, so I just keep writing my favorite comments about funnel introductions (they out-Herod Herod), the importance of fragment numbers when citing the Canterbury Tales, and seeing #4 on the assignment sheet (recipe for a good thesis statement in a close reading).

21 October 2010

Another rant

It's not just titles that cause trouble, but my name itself. At least in these parts. "Hull" will stand in nicely for my real name, as both are common-enough English surnames, from English place-names. I never have this problem in the British Isles, despite my American accent and the variety of regional accents there; from Cork to York, Edinburgh to Exeter, on the phone, in person, my name is immediately understood and correctly spelled.

In the U.S., however, from coast to coast, conversations go something like this:

"Your last name?"
"No, Hull."
"Spell that, please."
"Aitch, Yew, Ell . . . "
"Aitch, Yew, Oh . . ."
"No, Ell, as in Lightbulb."
"Oh, Hull!"

What the Hull is so hard about my name?

19 October 2010

A messy post about writing (messily)

I hate to admit it, but that post about your metaphor for writing keeps echoing through my head, and the quotation in my last post set off another round of reverb.

Just on the literal level, some of the piles of paper I have for writing projects are at least three inches thick. Hanging them on the wall would probably cause structural damage. And as for a cover sheet listing what needs to be done to finish them, jumping Jehosaphat, if I were capable of making that list I wouldn't have any trouble finishing the project, whether or not I actually wrote the list down. It may be a character flaw or a sign of a deeply disorganized mind (but wait, I thought that was a marker of creativity), or it might be due to the way I work or the type of work I do.

(Sir John says I'm more like a experimental scientist, where the "list" goes, "Shoot some electrons at some aluminum atoms and see what happens. Whoops, that wasn't what we were expecting. Figure out what to try next.")

One of my projects needs me to look up some words in the MED, the OED, and the LALME; that's clear-cut enough. But what comes next depends on what I find. It's probably something like "stare at results and see if they shift into a meaningful pattern." It might be "find some more reference works to fine-tune this." It might be . . . well, look, I see no point in developing a flow chart of all the possibilities I might pursue; even I can see that that is prime work-avoidance activity.

Moving on to further reactions . . . .

"'Joyful blessing' my ass," I said, and started thinking hateful thoughts about my piled-up projects. Actually, whether it's down to temperament or religious attitude, I don't think in terms of blessings. Last night, in fact, images of wilderness and deserts sprang to mind, with me hacking away at underbrush that chokes my path again as soon as it's cleared, or slogging away hopelessly towards an oasis that might well be a mirage. Why do I do this?

How can I not?

And then I thought: my writing and I are like one of those ill-assorted couples that make onlookers wonder how they ever got together, and what keeps them together. They bicker. They insult each other. At least one fantasizes about leaving the other. But if an outsider suggests actually leaving, the response is, "Oh, no, Spouse couldn't manage without me. And . . . you know . . . I'm not sure I could manage without Spouse."

My writing makes me feel awful, sometimes (it tells me I'm not smart enough, not hard-working enough, not dedicated enough). I fear it will leave me for someone younger, smarter, fitter, more energetic, more organized. I get frustrated with it. It goes slowly. It's messy, baggy, a pain in the ass. But give it up? No way. It gives meaning to my life. I wish I had more time for it. Maybe I should take it on vacation (writing retreat) and show it a good time. Of course it would probably mean more if I just did my share around the desk every day, instead of trying to make up for neglect with new pens and notebooks and things. But my writing is part of me. We don't have to be nice to each other. It knows how I feel.

And certainly I like it too much to nail it to the wall.

18 October 2010

I . . . don't know what to say

I should go to bed; instead, of course, I'm reading blogs, & of course my attention was caught by this title: Mid-Semester Sinking Feeling. I clicked over, and read this:

"The mere act of cleaning my office, clipping together my packets, and creating my cover sheets brought me tremendous clarity. I even put my cover sheets onto beautiful flowered paper to remind me that each writing project is a joyful blessing in my professional life!"

Sorry, but you just lost me, even though I usually love to read about getting organized. I'm going to have to fall back on my favorite quotation from Anne Lamott: "That is so beautiful, I said; and I am so mentally ill."

Only, really, I don't think I'm the sick one here.

17 October 2010

RBO Catching Up

  • I have managed to keep myself amused through part of a batch of papers by pasting the finished page of comments into wordle and seeing what they look like. Sometimes it is instructive to compare one page with the previous one, or to get a sense of whether the right words will jump out at the student. But I think I'm going to have to stop doing this and just get on with it.
  • Having reading glasses certainly makes it easier to do close work.
  • They are the new glasses. The old ones seem well and truly gone. Along with my lovely case. Sniff.
  • I have not yet picked green tomatoes. I have many many things to do that more urgently need doing.
  • I have ordered blinds from a local place that will install them. One less thing to do myself.
  • Basement Cat is a breathing obsidian paperweight on my desk.
  • I have ordered another pair of footwear as a Grading Bribe. Unfortunately, after the last experience of having to return the bribe and yet still having to finish the grading, I am feeling a bit cynical (or do I mean righteous?), and the prospect of a Grading Bribe is not having so stimulating an effect as I might wish. It may be necessary to visit the chocolate aisle at Trader Joe's to provide more immediate rewards.
  • But that would also require longer sessions at the gym, and I have many many things to do . . . .

10 October 2010


  • Glasses have not reappeared. I ordered new ones. If that makes the old ones reappear, then there will be one pair for work and one for home.
  • I don't like the colors currently available in similar glasses cases. Le sigh, le pout.
  • 3 sets of papers to grade. Le waaaaah.
  • I have lots of green tomatoes refusing to ripen. Cooking mince pie filling is no doubt in my future. Maybe it would be a good break from grading. Maybe if I took mince pies to school, people wouldn't notice they didn't have their papers back yet.
  • The Rebelletriste's Twain seriously freaked out Basement Cat. Poofy tail, spinal horripilation, nervous retreat up the stairs. Never mind squirt bottles, I want me a baby to threaten that cat with when he's bad.
  • I think I want top-down/bottom-up honeycomb blinds on some of our windows, preferably cord-free ones, because of the cats. Does anybody have experience installing them? Wot's it loike?

08 October 2010

Hola, Profacero!

If you're going password-protected, will you invite me? My e-mail address is in the sidebar.

Muchas gracias.

06 October 2010

Blogging the lost

My reading glasses! In the periwinkle-blue case from Levenger . . . please come home! No questions asked; I hope you're having a good time exploring new places, but please, please, come back. I'll get you a new case, if that's what you want, or take you to exotic libraries, if that will please you. I can barely work without you. Life just isn't the same in your absence. Come home, come home to me, o my spectacles!

03 October 2010

Pursue elsewhere? Yeah, right.

I am outraged.

See also here.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Today the seven members of the French faculty at SUNY--Albany (all
tenured) were informed that by presidential decision, ostensibly for
budgetary reasons, the French program has been "deactivated" at all
levels (BA, MA, PhD), as have BA programs in Russian and Italian. The
only foreign language program unaffected is Spanish. The primary
criterion used in making the decision was undergrad majors-to-faculty
ratio. We were told that tenured faculty in French, Russian, and Italian
will be kept on long enough for our students to finish their
degrees--meaning three years at the outside. Senoir faculty are being
encouraged to take early retirement. The rest of us are being urged to
"pursue our careers elsewhere," as our Provost put it.

Needless to say, the decision is personally devastating to those of us
affected, but it is also symptomatic of the ongoing devaluation of
foreign-language and other humanities program in universities across the
United States. I'm writing to ask for your help in spreading the word
about this decision as widely as possible and in generating as much
negative media publicity as possible against SUNY--Albany and the SUNY
system in its entirety.

There is much background to add about how this decision was reached and
implemented, too much for me to explain fully here. Suffice it to say
that the disappearance of French, Italian, and Russian has resulted from
an almost complete lack of leadership at the Albany campus and in the
SUNY system. Our president, a former state pension fund manager, holds
an MBA as his highest degree, has never held a college or university
teaching position, and has never engaged in any kind of scholarship.

More disturbing still, due process was not followed in the
decision-making process. The affected programs were not consulted or
given the opportunity to propose money-saving reforms. Our Dean and
Provost simply hand-selected an advisory committee to rubber stamp the
president's decision. The legalities of the situation remain to be
discussed with our union, UUP, but in the meantime I welcome any advice
you may have.


Brett Bowles
Associate Professor of French Studies

01 October 2010

Strange conversation

You will have gathered from the lack of posts that I've been swamped lately. Exploding Head Month started early this year. But this afternoon I was working in a coffeeshop, and while I was in line for coffee, the following exchange took place:

Man Probably Younger Than I Am: Hi.

Dame Eleanor: Hi.

MPYTIA: Your hair is really misleading.

DE: Why is that?

MPYTIA: Because you look so young.

DE: [Absolutely refusing to touch the question of apparent or actual age] I think so many women dye their hair that a lot of people don't really know when hair starts to go grey.

At that point I got my coffee and went back to my table. And the conversation played over again in my head. Was MPYTIA saying . . . that I should dye my hair? That he was about to hit on me, until he realized that I'm probably a decade or more older than he is? That I am dressing too young for my age?

Should I have channeled Gloria Steinem and informed MPYTIA that this is what 40-whatever-I-am looks like?