Wednesday, April 24, 2013

a super-concentrated collection of cuteness

I promised quite a while ago that this blog would "not to go all "oooh, you should see the adorable thing my kiddie did today" on you."  However, it does occur to me I only really mention her here in passing...and that if you read this, you only get a partial view of her and (by extention) my life.  This would be unfair, because so much of my current existence is being the father to the world's most awesome kid...and she seems, over the last week, increasingly intent on proving her awesomeness. How?
  • Last week, we were sitting together watching something on television.  I told her "I like sitting with you, Sylvia."  Without turning, Sylvia said "no problem."

  • This weekend, as I was doing some grading, she came into the study and played for a little bit.  When I heard her get up to leave, I said "bye bye" to her. She responded with a "see ya!"

  • Later, I was still grading.  I heard Lori and Sylvia in the hallway.  Lori would sing "I got you, babe," and Sylvia would respond with "I got you."  Sylvia also does this with me all the time.

  • Sylvia has a habit of coming in and keeping me company as I use the restroom.  Sometimes she brings me tea mug, my book, and even once my mandolin.  Monday, though, as she opened the door, she said "Daddy?"  She saw me in there, said "Ooops, sorry," and pulled the door mostly shut.  In a few minutes, though, she started to push some bath toys through the door crack.

  • Over the last week, she's started to lay some of her stuffed animals down on our bed, cover them with a blanket, and tell them "Night night."
I used to think I ruled.  Now I know Sylvia rules.  Ah, well...keep in the family.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

on the state of the teaching thingie viii--bragging

The one final thought about teaching has to do with bragging.  One of the advantages of teaching writing is that the discipline does not really lend itself to exams, final or otherwise.  And in the university structure, the week after classes is reserved for finals.

In the past, I've used this to my advantage.  I've had all my work due on the last week of the semester...preferably early into that week.  Then I would get all my grading done by the end of the last week of the semester.  I would return everything on the last Friday of the semester.  Then I would spend the weekend tweaking all my friends who would complain about the stacks of grading still on their docket. I would invite them out for drinks, beg them to stay out late, and when they protested, I would reply "What? You're not done yet??? Why, I've been done for two days."  Then I would duck whatever projectile they've thrown my direction.

This year, however, the schedules were weird.  My lit class had everything due the Thursday of the last week. Moreover, since it's a lit class, there's a lot of them in that one will take a while. I did have my Comp I scheduled to be in Monday, but they were begging for more time.  And then my band got offered a gig at a music fest run by the college radio station, so the due date there got pushed to Wednesday.  I'm doing two online classes, and I've realized that, due to a quirk of scheduling, there's actually one less week in Spring than in it was either cut the schedule or give them until exam week for their work.

Bottom line?  For the first time in ages, I won't be done before finals week.  I'm going to be against the wall just like everyone else.  Man, I hope no one else gets done early and starts bragging about how they're finished. That would be the worst...

on the state of the teaching thingie vii--evaluation

One of the very true things about teaching writing is it makes one become a grading efficiency expert out of necessity.  There's just so much to grade.  Compounding this is the fact that most beginning teachers tend to want to comment on everything.

Part of this is the "hey, I will give them the feedback I would want" factor.  The problem with this is most grad students will be writing and rewriting because it's their job. Their professional development depends on rewriting until everything is as close to perfect as possible.  Students, however, will never do that level of writing.  The other factor at work is many people think commenting on every single line will make them appear to be that much more of an authority figure.  This is important to many people, because let's face it.  There's no one as insecure as a young teacher.

When you teach writing, however, you get 4-5 papers for every single student.  Then there is the rough drafts, so you can double that number.  Then there are proposals and outlines.  If you try to comment on everything, you will, quite simply, go mad.  The thing, though, is that students just don't need this level of commentary...nor do they want it.  Page after page of commentary might actually do more harm than good;  after all, students are people too (evidence to the contrary), and seeing nothing but grading marks is a bit disheartening.

My solution?  I've gone to just a two page rubric.   I read the whole paper in one sitting only.  I check some boxes. I give them maybe 5-6 sentences.  No conferences...unless they want one.  This way, I can bust out 5-6 papers an hour rather than the 2-3 conferences I would do...or the 2-3 papers I would grade when I was the "pages of notes" instructor.  The best thing about this, however, is the responses are pretty much the same in demeanor and judgement.  And 98% of the students are equally happy.  If someone wants more feedback...well, that's what office hours are for.

Lesson?  Why kill yourself if only for your own ego? It need not be a requirement of teaching.

on the state of the teaching thingie vi--Mr. Nice Guy

I have finally gotten some key features of teaching down pat.  When I was a grad student, I tried to be approachable in class and tried to be fun.  However, this got beaten out of me a little when I started adjuncting....I simply didn't have time to think of it. 

Since my family leave, however, I've lightened up my demeanor in class.  I'm more talkative before class starts.  I make more jokes.  I'm more likely to engage them in non-lesson related conversations.  As a result, my students seem to like me more than before...and this makes classes more fun.  Of course, the tattoos and beard might play some role in my new-found popularity.  The lesson?  Being friendly never hurts...and never underestimate the power of cool, I guess.

the state of the teaching thingie v--isolation

One thing to which I've been adjusting is the isolation at work.  Pretty much no other faculty is in the building.  This means I do get more work done.  However, there's no one to talk to, to commiserate with, and to generally distract me from the work. Good for productivity, yes, but not nearly as much fun.

the state of the teaching thingie iv--being a lit guy

When I was younger, if you would've asked me, I would tell you I always envisioned myself being the popular culture-oriented professor in a literature department. This is why I got both a BA and an MA in Lit.  Literature courses, however, are very hard to come by.  Grad students in the English department usually get thrown into writing classes.  So do adjuncts.

 This semester, however I got a literature class.  It was only the second time it happened...and I only was assigned this class when one of my other classes got cancelled.  Rather than doing an organizing theme, I decided to just load it up with stuff I wanted to that was cool.  We've had:
  • The Hunger Games
  • World War Z--Terkel meets Romero!
  • Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom--this was the surprise of the semester, as it's both a monstrously fun read and brimming with ideas all at the same time
  • Gun Machine--Warren Ellis brings his fiction mastery to prose.  All cop thrillers should be this much about information
  • 1984--while I've been a big fan of Animal Farm, I had never gotten around to this
  • Glasshouse--perhaps the biggest head-spinner
  • a ton of cool short stories, including stuff from Gaiman, Zelazny, McCarthy, Welty, Assimov, Clarke, Sheckley, O'Brien, and tons more.
 The students, though, are the best part.  They are fearless.  I've given them some pretty weird readings, and they've always plunged right in.  I started giving them basic lit terminology, and they took it in.  Then I started slowly with the theory.  They took it in.  Then I started ramping up the theory, and they kept taking it in.  I was, on occasion, holding near graduate student level conversations.  I'm really going to miss this class...because it's exactly how I always imagined teaching would be.

the state of the teaching thingie iii--urchin

One of the advantages of the night-heavy schedule is that I do get to spend a lot of time with my wonderful daughter...and don't need a sitter very much.  We get to hang out, read, play, occasionally go to our predominantly deserted mall so she can run around untethered.  It's cool...I get to be a productive member of society at my job and be with the coolest person ever.

As I'm back in the day shift for the Fall, though, we're gonna have to arrange two full days of day care for her.  Yes, it will be more of an expense.  I'm gonna miss her tremendously, though.  Gotta make the most of the summer.  Parks, here we come!  That is, if the weather ever stabilizes.

the state of the teaching thingie part ii--food

Along with said lateness of teaching, the schedules have made it very difficult to keep my family in a good supply of food.  When in the hell can I cook?  Particularly this semester, where I would get home at 7pm two days and 10 two other days.  This means that I've had to go to a lot of casseroles and other big meals...which in turn means that starches have played a larger role by necessity in my cooking.  This is, of course, not the healthiest thing for someone who is (let's admit it) not exactly svelte. 

It's also meant I don't cook as much chicken as I would normally, which means much less stock, which means much less frequent (gasp) red beans and favorite dish.  I don't get to do nearly as many sautes.  Nope, everything is casserole or soup.  I don't mind cooking such things, but with so much of my culinary efforts going becoming individual leftovers or freezables, I'm beginning to feel like an industrial kitchen.  I'm an educator, damn it, not a Hungry Man Frozen Meal subsidiary.

the state of the teaching thingie part i

First in a series of posts on my thoughts at the end of the semester on teaching.

Ever since I brought forth Sylvia (with a bit of help from my wive), I have been teaching a primarily night schedule.  I have (amongst my other classes) taught Comp I from 7:30-9:10pm.  This is pretty late for "welcome to college" students, and the class numbers have, as the semester goes on, dwindled.  One of them went down from twenty students at the beginning of the semester to a mere three at the end.  I'm down to 7 in my late class, but that's is admittedly easier to learn their names this way.

Starting in the Fall, I'm back on the day shift.  It will be weird walking out of the university and still being able to see the sun. I will also feel like less of a vampire....not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

on kid television and sci fi

I see much more kid's tv than I ideally would like.  It's changing me.  This morning, I woke up with a Fresh Beat Band song in my head...and as much as I have a crush on Kiki, I don't really want their music to start invading my slumber.

As I've experienced all this kiddie entertainment, I have also started to analyze it in an attempt to understand it.  I can't help it...there are parts of my mind which haven't gotten the "hey, you're not a scholar" message.  And I think that, during today's session, I might've actually had a breakthrough...of a sort.

We were watching an episode of Blues Clues, where a neighbor came over.  She looked around, and said "wow, this place is bigger than it looks on the outside."

Suddenly, enlightenment came.  The people in kid's shows?  They're all time lords!  They gotta be...that would explain how they operate with next to no understanding of adult thought or customs!

Of course, they gotta be the "B" team, because they're generally not all that bright.  They must've been the time lords the daleks looked at and said, "Destroy!  Des....oh, what's the point?"

I never said it was good enlightenment.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

the naive notion of the day, 4/14

If there's something I would (naively) like, it would be honesty.  I would like everyone to be a bit more honest to each other.  I would like:
  • people who are bigots to just admit they are bigots.  Don't hide behind your views.  Don't try to justify your bigotry through intellectual dodges such as, for example, "the traditional definition of marriage" (which is, traditionally, more about property and control than anything else).  While I don't like bigots, I prefer an honest bigot to bigots who deny their bigotry.
  • selfish people to just admit they are selfish.  Don't hide behind others as justification for your selfishness.  If you're only interested in satisfying yourself rather than compromising and occasionally listening to other people's wants and desires, then just say so.
  • people to admit it when someone is doomed rather than filling them with false hope.  Sugar-coating one's situation doesn't help anyone.  If someone would've actually told me getting a doctorate most likely would not lead to a job, I could've lived my life differently.  Similarly, if the people who were supposed to prepare me for the job market would've just told me they weren't really interested in helping me be marketable...I'm not saying I wouldn't have done the same thing, but it would've been nice to at least make informed decisions.
  • people who don't like someone to just say they don't like someone.  Don't withdraw.  Don't "play nice."  That only leads to confusion.
People like to talk about social niceties.  Personally, I hate most of them. Politeness often just becomes another word for "dwelling in confusion and potential misinterpretation."  Let's just quit the games, the pr, the social niceties, and just be honest.  I bet the world would be a better place.  I know my world would improve.

(yeah, I did say this was a naive notion)

on connectivity

There are some scientists and philosophers who believe that, at the quantum level, everything and everyone is connected to some degree.  In this world-view, every action affects everything else in the world.  We are all part of one super organism, and thus, at some level, we are all one.  If you've ever heard of the Gaea Hypothesis (that we need to think of our planet as one massive, connected ecosystem), then this view shouldn't be unfamiliar.

I don't know if this is true or not.  I know that on some level, I'd like to believe would lead to some justification for being a good person. Cosmic justice based on sound science rather than hierarchy-obsessed moral indoctrination would be nice.

However, if this is true, we have to talk.  This means that yesterday, you all were a collection of miserable bastards.  I should know, because I had a day full of depression bouts and life kicking me in the face.

In short, y'all need to straighten up.  You didn't think about how your moods would affect me, did you?  Selfish jerks....

Saturday, April 13, 2013

on wanting to constantly interrupt

I have a lovely kid.  She is utterly awesome, and I realize I am incredibly lucky that I get to spend most days with her.  We play and have fun.The days, however, come with what I have to admit is a fairly sizable drawback:  it means that I have to watch a certain amount of children's programming.

Don't get me wrong.  It's not like we just sit around glued to the television.  And it's not like all the shows are terrible.  Jack's Big Music Show is actually quite awesome.  It's well-constructed and a little off-the-wall.  It's surprisingly kind of has a little bit of a Muppets vibe.  So of course it was canceled after three seasons. 

(Incidentally, this is an example of what I call the Firefly rule:  the quality level of a program is inversely proportional to how long said show will be on the air before being canceled.)

Many of the kid's shows, however, are quite nerve-wracking.  How would you like to sit through a program featuring British pigs who snort every ten seconds, accompanied by the world's most intrusive narrator, with opening credits every five minutes?  That, friends, is Peppa Pig, and it is even more horrible than one might expect.  Sadly, though, it is not the most annoying show on the air.

Regardless of the overall program quality, they all usually share some fairly annoying traits.  For example, the characters will frequently ask the kids watching questions about the action.  This I understand;  interaction is good.  The questions need to be at a toddler level of difficulty.  I also understand this point, as the kids need to be able to answer the questions.  However, it still inevitably makes all the characters act like complete idiots...and this is one of the (many) things I have to just grit my teach and bare.

This requires a lot of patience on my part....and if you know me, you know that patience is not one of my highest virtues.  I really don't want to be a father who mocks his kid's favorite shows.  This would make me an ass when I would rather be a good parent.  So instead, I hold it in.

Lately, though, I've been thinking I need a release.  Maybe I could start a Mystery Science 3000-esque show, but one focused on kids shows rather than bad films.  There is certainly no end to the potential for mockery with kiddie programs.  I can also (believe it or not) be quite humorous if I want, so this is something I could really pull off. 

On the downside, though, I'm not really sure there's a market for a parent being a tremendous jerk. 

on the future of higher education

I just saw a commercial for one of those on-line universities.  Having taught many on-line classes and having published work on on-line teaching (in The Chronicle of Higher Education, no less...when I was a scholar, I did not suck), I am enough of an authority to say that on-line education is a pale imitation of person-to-person teaching.  Better than a kick to the thorax, maybe, but not an adequate substitute.

This particular "university" had an interesting twist to the formula.  It pointed out the perils of higher education nowadays, and pointed out that these problems were really "opportunities"...for college administrators.  So you should go to their on-line school, earn your "degree," and then become an you would be able to have a good career creatively dismantling higher education as we know it.

Kinda like training at an abattoir school so you can become a barber, I think.

discovering Pink Floyd's problem

I've been a fan of Pink Floyd for a long time.  When I first discovered them, I was near the end of elementary school, and at that time, they just struck me as trippy radio music...not that I really understood what "trippy" meant, but you get the point.

Later, as I entered high school, my hormones started to race, and I started to think about altering one's mind, Pink Floyd really clicked for me.  I listened to a lot, but I kept coming back to Wish You Were Here and The Wall.  I even bought one of those hi-fi gold cd sets of The Wall.  I don't know if it actually did sound better (having never done the comparison/contrast), but it was worth it for me as a symbol of my...I dunno...dedication, maybe?

When one is suffering through teen angst, one gains a certain affinity for angst-ridden music.  I did, at any rate.  I even went so far (at the suggestion of my brother) as to listen to The Wall on headphones as I fell asleep.  The results?  Let me tell you:  if you think side 3 is depressing, just try experiencing the nightmares it will induce.

Later, as I had more aspirations of being a "serious musician," I gravitated toward Animals.  It was more trippy (which I understood more fully, being a little bit trippy myself).  It was also a bit more literary, more metaphor-based. Plus, if I'm to be honest, I was mostly drawn to the awesome guitar solos in "Pigs" (which might just shred more than any other solo ever).

I haven't listened to Pink Floyd all that much lately.  Part of it was going to see the magnificent Polka Floyd Show...after seeing them, it's hard to hear the original without thinking something is missing.  But this is not the dominant reason.

When one is happy, what purpose do depressing words serve?  And when one is not happy, will they do anything other than make the situation worse?

Earlier, when my current depression fit hit (I'm beginning to understand they're never completely going to stop), I got a lyric from The Wall stuck in my head:  "Nobody Home"'s "I got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains."  A cool line, to be sure, but it's from one of a depressing album's more depressing songs.  And as I become more and more aware of my own depression, I realize turbo-charging it with even more depression really isn't what I need.

I do fine with the gloom on my own, thank you.


So I've been away, yes.  Although I haven't blogged very frequently, rest assured I have wanted to write more.  Of course, I also want to take more photos, write more lyrics, and so forth. I could say that time is of the essence. And this does have the advantage of being true;  between my daughter dragging me around the house to play (which, for the record, playing with her is awesome and amazing and something I wouldn't trade for the world) and then trying to fit actually doing my job and trying to do housework in the rare moments where she actually naps, I don't have a lot of leftover time.  How on earth do I have time to write?

I don't, really. But I've determined I really cannot let that stop me.  Why? Several reasons:

First, a good friend is putting me to shame by blogging fairly regularly at The Great Concavity. His output is putting me to shame. I cannot be such a sluggard by comparison.

Second, my daughter is getting increasingly adept at expressing herself. About a week or so ago, I was holding her after she woke up, and she leaned forward, put a hand on my cheek, and kissed my other cheek.  And it's not just her joy which is inspiring. As of late, she's also been pushing us.  One way is by pushing boundaries, and her favorite way to do that du jour is by putting her feet on the table when we eat.  After correcting her four times during Wednesday's lunch, she looked at me, got quite serious, and said "Daddy's mean."  Well, if she can express herself, why can't I?

So, sorry if this ever gets monotonous or depressing or whatever, but I plan to put a lot more time over here.

It's time to bring the gloom!

on social skills

Self-awareness is an interesting thing.  As of late, I've started to realize many things about myself.  However, out of all the things I realize, I understand very few of them.

For instance, I realize that the thing which sets me off the most on the road to a bout of depression is feeling unskilled.

After years of work, I'm beginning to feel pleased with my skills in many areas.  I think I finally have the teaching thing down better than ever before.  Last semester, I got the best student evaluations I've ever received....and since "how much the students like me" seems to be the basis behind my annual evaluations, this is a good thing.  I'm teaching a Lit class this semester, and it's completely spite of it being a 2000 level class, the conversations often border on senior/grad level.  I am now 95% confident in my teaching skills.

Ditto on my music (the band's going great, and I can acquit myself just fine in a solo performance).  I'm also fine with my parenting ability to date (which is helped out by having an amazing kid) and my ability to function in a relationship (which is helped out by having an amazing wife).

Why, then, am I so inadequate at having a social life?

My weekends inevitably run the exact same way.  I hang out with my wife and kid until my daughter's bed time...then I sit on the couch by myself until I go to bed.  Saturday, I get up, feed and then play with my daughter.  When I eventually get the time to check the internet, I inevitably find several friends posting about the great time they had the night before, the people with whom they spent the evening, and how hung over they became.  Then the evening comes, and the cycle repeats.  There will be no calls or messages, but I will inevitably find out the next day about all the massive hi-jinx which happened in my absence.

Then there are the weekends where my band plays.  I love playing's one of the best parts of my life.  Yet although it's fun, it's not really relaxing.  I have to work to get my stuff in and out of the bar, on and off the stage.  I will have to get myself in the mood to perform (in other words, keep focused and not freak out), and then, after playing, try to get myself to come back down to where I can reasonably interact with others and maybe eventually sleep when I get home.

Don't get me wrong.  In the final balance, my life is great.  Yet I wonder what it is about me which makes those in the area not want to hang out with me. Have I offended them?  Have I started to bore them?  Is there some other reason why they've moved on from me?  It makes me wish I didn't need to be around people.

My kingdom for social skills!