Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Desperate Love for Baseball

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

A. Bartlett Giamatti

Despite the stink of steroids over all

professional sports, my desperate love for baseball,

it goes on. Goes on even with the Cardinals finished.

I still watch the games, I love the names. Prince Fielder,

Angel Pagan, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence–

a jump rope chant, a spell for a long October.

A. Bartlett Giamatti’s right. Forlorn

for summer just exactly when we need

it most. I miss the hundred sliding beads

of sweat, all racing down the gin & tonic glass.

Let me confess another sin. “Best ass

in the National League,” a friend said of Tommy Herr.

That’s why I started watching in 1982.

The game blessed my lust. My love. Continues to.

Muncie Jones, Indiana’s Sister, Gets Tenure at a 2-Year College

When my Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy Roane saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the theater when it came out in 1981 (I, personally, saw it eight times in the theater–paid for it eight times), they liked it, but Gran’mommy confessed to me they were a little confused about the nice college professor. Where did he go, they wondered.

When I explained the professor and the guy with the whip were one and the same, she said they’d wondered that, but they weren’t sure. She and I agreed that one of our favorite lines was when Indy asked the army guys, “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy aren’t alone noting the gap between Professor Indiana Jones in the lecture hall (in tweed, leaving no time for questions, stumbling when a girl blinks and has LOVE YOU written on her eyelids) and Indiana Jones in scrape after scrape (in leather, with a whip, getting knocked out when Marian whacks him with a mirror).

Recently, McSweeny’s has posted an amusing bit called “Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones Checks His Mail And Discovers That His Bid For Tenure Has Been Denied.”

This has made a couple rounds amongst my academic friends on Facebook, and it does amuse me, with criticism of Indy such as “In addition to multiple instances of public drunkenness, Dr. Jones, on three separate occasions, has attempted to set fire to the herpetology wing of the biology department,” and “he has consistently failed to report the results of his excavations, provide any credible evidence of attending the archaeological conferences he claims to attend, or produce a single published article in any peer-reviewed journal.” It concludes with “His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better.” I started grad school in 1987, and I’ve been teaching full time on the tenure track since 1992, and I can absolutely assure you that yes, it’s possible for someone amazing not to get tenure. Thus I read some anger behind the satire here.

It is also possible for a tenure committee to absolutely not get the point, and it seems clear to me that clueless academic committees are a legitimate target for satire. (I also understand that this is just a funny piece, and I’m jealous I didn’t think of it. It is the kind of parallel world weirdness I particularly enjoy.)

It is also possible for a hotshot to be found wanting when it comes to the actual job requirements, also possible for a committee to ask for actual evidence of successful job performance, and–in not receiving the evidence, to vote no.

But honestly, my guess is Indy’s absolutely safe. He’s clearly teaching at a swanky institution (they have a museum, after all, and can fund his expeditions), and although the McSweeney piece discounts the influence of Marcus Brody, the museum curator, Marcus knows the real stories. Dr. Jones also has the respect of his peers internationally–Belloc knows who he is, after all. Now, if Marcus loses his position, that’s a different story. But until then, I think the graduate student assistants will happily take over his classes when he’s off on an adventure.

Part of what makes him so safe is that he doesn’t appear to care at all whether or not he continues to have a job as a professor.

I’ve always been a lot more bourgeois. I graduated from the University of Montana in 1991, and started working in the UW System that fall. It was very, very important to me to get a job right away, and I was obsessing about it in ways no one else I knew was. My friend M.B. said she was impressed (or did she say she thought I was ridiculous?) that I went out to buy an interview suit.

I do wonder sometimes if I’d have paid more attention to my muse if I hadn’t been so interested in launching myself into the middle class. What if I’d gone from fellowship to fellowship? From one part-time gig to another? But no–it was always, always important to me to have health insurance and a reliable car.

Thus I started at UW-Richland in 1992, got tenure in 1998, and got promoted to Full Professor in 2005, the same year Wendell was born.

I’ve had just enough marrow-deep satisfaction from teaching, just enough salary/benefits to live where I want and support my family, just enough autonomy, just enough wonderful people to work with, and just enough time for writing that I’ve stayed and stayed. And stayed.

I like to imagine Indiana Jones’s little sister. Let’s call her Muncie. She maybe could have been an adventurer, too, but perhaps longed for stability instead. So she got a job at a two-year school that can barely afford to send her to conferences, let alone South America. She doesn’t have teaching assistants, so she really needs to be there for every MWF class, every Tues/Thurs class, for fifteen weeks and finals, semester after semester, year after year.

Her time piles up like one wooden crate on top of another, row after row, aisle after aisle….

Well that’s fucking bleak.

My life’s not like that.

Really it’s not.

I have a little talk I share sometimes when there’s a campus preview day at UW-Richland, in which I mention Indiana Jones, and point out that we now know lecturing isn’t particularly effective in the classroom, and talk about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. But I also mention that professors are expected to be professionally active, and that we do spend time adventuring as writers and researchers.

But just as Andy Bryan points out in the McSweeney piece, and as my Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy noted, it is pretty tricky to reconcile the tweed and the leather.

I have spent most of my career tending the tweed more. (A little sad for several reasons, including the fact that I don’t wear tweed.)

But I have spent just enough time dodging arrows to dive across a chasm and snag EXACTLY the right word for a slant rhyme that nails, absolutely NAILS, the closing couplet of a sonnet, that I know I’m not Muncie Jones.

Fall Semester 2012: Rolling Right Along

Earlier I reported that Fall 2012 was not excellent, but of course, that was PARTLY tongue-in-cheek. I am happy to report that Fall Semester 2012, while still not technically averaging out to excellent in every category, is rolling right along.

1. Bag Saga
Last January I got the brilliant idea that if I bought a different bag for each class, it would help me stay organized. The official “resting spot” for the stuff for each class would be a bag, rather than a stack on my desk. (I love stacks, but they aren’t particularly useful in staying organized, at least not for me.) I figured if a bag got too heavy, that’s how I would know it was time to file.

(I have a play in which a character loses an entire set of essays in what he calls his PIO bag–Put It Off. When the bag gets too heavy, he knows it’s time to deal with what’s inside. That’s when he finds the missing set of papers, which he had lied about to his students. It’s just now occurred to me to make the connection between what I decided to do in January and Freddy. Hm.)

This bag plan worked beautifully UNTIL I hurt my shoulder while swimming. My physical therapist said at one point, “You don’t carry really heavy bags, do you?” “Um, well….” So I went back to the Bargain Nook III, where I’d bought two of the class-bags, and promptly purchased three rolling backpacks. They were heavily discounted already, and I lucked out and bought them on a day when their tags were the right color for that day’s discount–I think I paid $10 each, and these are solid Lands End bags.

The compartmentalizing continues apace. It’s working well. O.k., so, I look even more like an absolute dork as I walk across campus, but really–it’s a matter of degree. My rolling backpacks did not turn me into a dork, or even tip the scales significantly toward dorkiness. They’re just highly visible badges I’d earned long ago.

Plus, my shoulder feels great, and I’m working my way back up to the number of laps I was doing last spring when I got hurt.

2. Current Numbers
I like to report periodically how promptly I’m returning student work. Doing all right on that score, not great, but all right. I reconfigured the numbers to include D2L/online quizzes. I’ve done a lot of work to put quizzes on D2L, largely to ensure fast feedback to students. As soon as they submit their quiz, they can see what they got right and what they got wrong. Then I make sure to evaluate the scores within a day of when the quiz closed, and I report to them on whether or not I needed to adjust the scores at all. Last year, I didn’t include this in the overall numbers, but I am this year. Just because it’s not the traditional mode–collect a paper quiz, ask my student worker to score the multiple choice part, return them to students–it does still count. Then I’m keeping a separate number–how long is it taking me to return ENG 102 papers? How long to return longer writing assignments in general?

So…not where I’d like to be with the longer writing assignments. Part of that came from having a paper assignment rather than having it on D2L. I finished grading a set of Early American Lit in-class-essays on a Friday, but I wasn’t scheduled to see them until Monday, and then I took a sick day. If it had been a D2L/Drop Box assignment, the # of days would have been 9. But since I didn’t return all of them (they did have the opportunity to pick them up from me on that Friday) until Wednesday, 14 days seemed more accurate. Also note–because of budget cuts, faculty at UW-Richland don’t have a “faculty secretary” any more, so I couldn’t ask anyone to go in my office, snag the essays, and have them at the office for students to pick up. I suppose this is one way technology makes budget cuts less onerous–D2L, when I use it, is kind of my faculty secretary….

But what makes me happy is that the numbers are better than they were last spring–both in overall numbers, and in terms of where I was in Week 6 last spring. Rolling right along!

3. Dramatic Re-enactment
I mentioned that I called in sick–there are approximately sixteen hundred viruses flying around campus already, some of them stomach-related. I’ve had multiple reports of students being sick–they use colorful language to describe this less often than you would think, being college students–and then I even had an eyewitness encounter. One of my poor students got sick on his way out the door with the trash can. I told him I’d brought my camera this past Friday in case he wanted to do a dramatic re-enactment, but he said no, that he never wanted to do that again in any way. But it looked something like this:

But this student is better now, and will be caught up on Monday when he participates in peer editing. He is the kind of student who is absolutely cool enough to weather that kind of incident and end up having a good semester.

4. Impressive Student #2

Next time you find yourself wondering about, or complaining about “kids these days,” first of all, that makes you sound old, and second of all, consider this young woman. She is about to head home for ankle surgery, and her doctor is MAKING her stay at home for a few days, because everyone knows she won’t stay off her foot if she’s back in the dorms. She is my advisee, and has been meeting with me regularly to make sure the surgery doesn’t derail her semester. In my head, surgery means “good excuse to turn things in late.” For her, it means “can I do all my assignments and take all my exams EARLY?” And that’s just what she’s done. I’m looking forward to hearing from her (“or it might be my mother emailing you right at first,” she said) next week about how the surgery went, and then I’m sure we’ll have a meeting to go over her midterm grades, which will be terrific.

5. Random shots of impressive students

6. If my student working is no longer scoring multiple choice quizzes, then what….

In addition to the regular Xeroxing, shredding, and data entry, my wonderful student worker Rhiannon is now organizing my books according to the Library of Congress protocol. It looks messy, sure, but that’s not really unusual for my office, and the long-term payoff will mean that I can actually find a book in my bookcase without scanning all the books, two or three times, before I decide I must have taken it home, only to find, no, it’s in the bookcase at work after all.

7. Wouldn’t it be great if it had occurred to me to finish this post with a picture of a Rolling Rock beer?

Oh! If only I’d thought of it. But this particular shot is a Friday early-evening moment–some of us went out after work. I was sampling the new Leinenkugel Big Eddy. Not bad.

8. In the end, if you work with good people, it’s all worthwhile.

If you know anything at all about UW-Richland, you know who this is, and you know how hard he works, and how much UW-Richland’s success has depended on him over the years. You also know he’s retiring relatively soonish (so he says–we’ll see if it actually ever happens), so I thought I’d grab a shot of him at his desk.

I asked him to do something rude for the camera, but he wouldn’t. I guess I’ll have to try again another time.

9.Rolling Right Along
Keeping track of my work hours this semester, I’m averaging 40+, even having taken 1.5 sick days. I’m a little concerned about the number of hours I’ve logged working on Sundays–I actually think it’s important to TAKE A FREAKING DAY OFF ALREADY. So it’s a little ironic I’m posting a work-related blog on a Sunday. I promise I’ll stop thinking about work right quick, once this is up.

We’re in midterms now, and once I’ve posted midterm grades (taking this opportunity to remind myself they’re due 10/26 by noon), I’ll ask students to let me know (via anonymous internet surveys) how the semester is going. I’ll do a post after that, with updated numbers as well. And hopefully I’ll still be saying that things are rolling right along.