Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Students Get It

Via University Diaries, an editorial by an undergraduate at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, decrying the increasing prevalence of online courses at his (her?) university.

There has been huge push in U.S. universities towards providing online or "hybrid" courses. Many faculty realize that students in these courses miss out on a large part of the university experience. Apparently, some students do, too.

Now, if only we could get college administrators to understand.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Music to Write a Book By

In my normal life, I like halfway decent music, I swear. I'm never going to be on the cutting edge of anything, but I like to think that nothing I listen to is going to cause anyone to roll their eyes. Lately, for example, the music in heaviest rotation has been the Police, Jolie Holland, Cat Power, Andres Segovia, and the Garden State soundtrack.

This all changes when I flip to my "work" folder on iTunes. There you will find not only a bit of classical music (which I don't normally listen to, but there's something wonderfully apocalyptic about a requiem mass), but also an embarrassing collection of cheesy neo-medieval music. Seriously, this stuff is the aural equivalent of reading a trashy romance novel with Fabio on the cover while attending your local Renaissance Faire. I don't know how else to describe it. It is, by all measures, Not Good Music.

And yet... somehow, as background noise it works to put me in a write-about-the-middle-ages frame of mind. Just so long as I don't actively pay attention to it, I'm fine.

I'm sure other people have less embarrassing work music. Thank god this blog is (mostly) anonymous.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hanging Around

Today I continued the work I have been poking away at for the last week: going through upon which I've jotted notes, culling the bibliographic notations, and compiling the many bibliographic notes I have, both in computer files, and on the stacks of notepads that appear to date back to 2003. Ugh. Yes, I know I won't get through all of these readings, but at least I know what I've got in front of me.

I also managed, for the first time, to buy enough groceries to make a real recipe. For the past week, I've been slowly stocking things like oil, vinegar, spices, dry beans and the like. But tomorrow, I'm going to make a black bean soup and a jicama salad. It feels good to have real food in the fridge. It's been weeks.

Finally, I allowed myself a little recreation. The mile-square neighborhood I live in in Fellowship City is, I think, required by federal law to hold some sort of outdoor festival every three weeks, and this weekend was no exception. Tonight, in addition to tons of live music (free) and good food (not free, but net proceeds went to support the festival), there was an "aerial dance troupe" that performed on trapezes, stilts, and long reams of silk (see photos) hanging from a giant oak tree in the middle of the small park that this festival was held in. Think Cirque de Soleil, but done by all your neighbors. Some (like the young woman in this photo) had dancer/gymnast builds, but some others looked like your average-size-12 woman, and at least two were over 45 years old. People performed according to their abilities, and it looked like everyone was having a blast. Apparently, the way you get into this group (though probably not in the more strenuous or dangerous acts, like in the photo) is to show up for classes and rehearsals, and be enthusiastic. I think that's great. Fun, and a challenge, but without the need to be perfect all the time.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eight things

Okay, I've been tagged twice now for that "Eight Interesting Things about You" meme, so I'll succumb:

1. I am a morning person.

2. I believe that (possibly) the best thing about being a grown-up is getting to eat whatever you want for breakfast.

3. I took a job with a traveling carnival for eight weeks at age 17.

4. I read six languages; speak three of those (including my native language) with some degree of proficiency.

5. I hate peanut butter. Always have.

6. I smoked for years, quit for years, took it up again in the wake of a bad man problem, but am kinda sorta trying to quit again now. Have cut back a great deal, anyway.

7. I prefer overcast or even drizzly days to sunny ones.

8. I believe that the best thing about living alone is being able to turn on the music and sing badly or dance like an idiot without worrying about anyone walking in on me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How I know I'm Not in Job City Anymore

(Yes, it's another post about the weather. I promise that it will be the last such post for a while. It's just that it's such a novelty for me right now.)

I grew up in a place that has only a little bit of what could be classified as weather. But after over two idyllic decades, I took off for eight years in Grad School Town, whose weather I once heard described as "nine months of winter, and three months of hell." I fell into several climate-related habits: I kept one eye glued to the radar map on weather reports during storm season; I checked both temperature and humidity or wind chill before deciding what to wear and what clothes to pack with me (Snow? Leather shoes go in the bag. Thunderstorms? Put the suit jacket in the bag, and wear the Goretex. Heat index of 110? Wear the tank top, but pack a cardigan for the destination, which will be heavily air-conditioned.); and I always, always unplugged the computer before leaving the apartment for more than 15 minutes, for fear of storm-induced power surges wiping out every bit of work I'd done for the past year.

But I hadn't realized how four years in Job City -- a place that has even less in the way of weather than Home City -- had lulled me into complacency. But now, I'm back in a place that has Weather. Capitalized. And today, for the first time in years, I found myself bookmarking the website for regional NEXRAD radar, and unplugging my computer when I left the apartment. Just in case, you know.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Talking about the Weather

Today, in Fellowship City, water fell from the sky. All day long.

I don't really mind. It does that in Home City, too. But not in Job City. Hardly ever. The first year I lived there, I amused myself by giggling over the local news' "storm watch" coverage whenever there was the slightest shower. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I assure you that I'm not.

I'm actually looking forward to the rain, snow, and overcast days. They're the kind of days that make me want to fix a pot of some hot beverage, stay in, and work. I actually wanted to do that today. Unfortunately, until next week I have no books, no files, no library privileges, and my desk is sitting unassembled in a box behind the couch. Then again, I did give myself permission to not-work the first two weeks I was here, while I set the place up. And I'm actually encouraged that the weather has already prompted wanting-to-write feelings.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I've got to admit, it's getting better

I've now furnished the apartment. There are boxes everywhere. There is still no food in the fridge. But the boxes from UPS arrived today, a few hours after the furniture, so I've been able to settle in.

I also met the neighbor, who is very nice. Here she is, pictured with her human (also very nice):

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Have My Apartment

...and sadly, it's a bit of a dump: bad, half-assed repainting job, broken window in the kitchen, back door to the building doesn't even close. And I've resolved to myself to never, ever look at the lawn.

I've put in so many calls to the property manager as I discovered one thing after another that he must be sick of me already. But I have to live in this thing for a year, after all. So I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the problems will be taken care of quickly.

On the positive side, I've bought a bike, and joined the local natural foods co-op. Plus, the neighborhood is great.

I just need to take a deep breath (or perhaps several), and have faith that, by the end of the month, this will all be worked out. Besides, this is not about living well; it's about getting a book written.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Just a quick post tonight, to let people know that I've arrived safely in Fellowship City. Mostly uneventful, except that the short connecting flight from Nearby Hub City was in the smallest plane I'd ever been in (19 seats, not counting the cockpit), and when this small craft met with a storm system halfway between Point A and Point B, I was fairly sure that we weren't going to make it.

Tomorrow morning I go pick up the keys to the apartment that will be my home for the next year. It's a bit funny -- I still don't feel either undue excitement or separation anxiety. Maybe it's because I know I'll be coming back to the same job, apartment, furniture, and friends next year. This just feels like an extended out-of-town trip. Perhaps it will sink in later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ready. Sort of.

I have mailed the last box. I have packed the big suitcase (the small one remains). I have changed my address with the post office. I have dumped out the remnants of food in the fridge. I have cleaned the apartment more or less thoroughly.

I am leaving in just under 10 hours. I probably should be panicked. But I'm just too tired.

Next post will be a couple of days, after I find reliable high-speed internet access in Fellowship City.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Goodbye, Netflix

Lately, my life has consisted of sorting the miscellaneous crap in my apartment and office into piles, moving said piles into boxes (or the trash or Goodwill, whenever possible), and shipping said boxes across the country. But moving also offers a myriad of smaller joys such as canceling utilities and setting them up in other places.

Today, I made a decision that I hope will take me a long way towards my goal of scholarly productivity: I canceled my Netflix account.

Netflix, for the three of you who aren't familiar with it, is the beautiful, seductive, and ultimately destructive enemy of would-be scholars. Even those of us who have held out against cable TV, and rarely turn on the box to see the crap that comes out of it, are taken in by the siren song of Netflix, which holds out the promise of obscure foreign films you can't get at the local video store, Hollywood blockbusters that you might be ashamed to pay to see (or be seen seeing) at the local theater, and, most dangerously of all, several-season runs of highly addictive TV shows (Deadwood, the Wire, The X-Files [through season 5, at least], or all three Joss Whedon series). I almost never turn on the TV, but could happily spend two to three hours a night four times a week glued to my laptop screen (that's right: I don't have a DVD player), and you didn't even want to be around me when, for no discernible reason, my scheduled DVD was a day late.

I have a problem with moderation.

But today I made the decision, not to transfer the account to my new address in Fellowship City, but rather to cancel altogether. I'll probably go through pretty serious withdrawal. But it may be a small, temporary price to pay for more productivity. Or at the very least, for getting to bed at a decent hour.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Medievalist at the Movies

My students and friends know that I love a good (awful) medieval-themed movie. Bad movies can produce great teaching moments. In my classes, I have shown bits of "Kingdom of Heaven," "Braveheart," and "The Mists of Avalon" (ugh) to name but a few. Plus, I believe that the way we imagine and reimagine the medieval over the years tells us a lot about who we are, as a society.

So it is with real delight that I note the forthcoming appearance of a new film version of Beowulf, starring... well, just about everybody.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Life in Boxes

From age 18 to 32, I moved, on average, once every fourteen months. I don't like moving, but there is one advantage that I hadn't considered until now: fourteen months doesn't give you much time to accumulate a lot of junk between annual moving-related purges.

Now, however, I'm facing a partial move after having lived in my current apartment for a record-setting four years. And let me tell you, you never know how much crap you have until you try to put it all into boxes and move it halfway across the country.

I am fortunate, in that I'm subletting the place for the year, and the incoming faculty member who is taking it is taking it with all the furniture, kitchen stuff, and assorted things like potato peelers and toilet brushes that you need in a new place. I am renting furniture for the year, so my move consists mainly of clothes, books, and files. Yet these items seem to multiply and increase in size (and weight!) as soon as I remove them from the shelves, closets, and cabinets that are their natural habitat. I've moved tons of books up to my office, taken bags of clothing to the Goodwill, and still the stuff just keeps on coming.

And, a year from now, I get to do it all again...

But, I'm not complaining too much, as this is all in service of a year to devote to writing, writing, writing. It's worth a few boxes, I think,

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Finished! (And a Sense of Unease)

About half an hour ago, I finished the revisions on the article MS. Oh, sure -- I still need to print the thing out in a couple of days, doing the obligatory read-through to weed out the inevitable errors and infelicitous phrases, but I went through the reviewers' suggestions, point-by-point, and it seems that I've been able to address almost all of them.

Whenever I "finish" a writing project, I usually feel one of two ways. Sometimes (infrequently) I think "This is brilliant! People are going to read this, and think I'm pretty smart!" More frequently, however, I'm left with a sense of how it's not as good as I want it to be, but I don't know how to get it there, and wonder if maybe I'm the dumbest Ph.D. out there. My fraud complex kicks into high gear, and I'm sure that this will be the point where everyone finally sees that I'm hopeless.

In all probability, the truth lies somewhere in between. And probably, what I've produced is good enough. I'm not sure if my inability to be content with that is a good thing or not.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Mac User Rants

I love my Mac.

I've owned four computers in my life, all of them Macs. I love the design, the ease of use, and the idea that I'm not a slave to the clunky software and frequent glitches that plague machines running Windows. I know how to use a PC, of course, and often have to do so when using machines other than my own, but I don't see myself ever buying one. It's not just a matter of liking the Mac; I have a visceral aversion to Microsoft. I just do.

Nevertheless, I'm not hardcore enough to forgo Microsoft Office. I had the Mac Works suite years ago, and found it problematic. I've heard there is a new, better Mac suite out there, but Office is convenient, as so many of my students, colleagues, and professional contacts are PC users. Office makes it easy for us to share work, and that's been important enough to me for me to keep it installed and updated, despite my anti-Microsoft leanings.

Until now.

I just got notification from my university that Microsoft has just released a new version of Office that -- brilliant move, guys! -- is incompatible with earlier versions of the same software. Yep, that's right: if you create a document in Office 2007, and you send it to someone running an older version of the same software, they won't be able to read it, until they also buy and install the new version.

Worse yet: if the recipient (for example, yours truly) is running MS Office on a Mac, they're shit out of luck, because Microsoft has announced no plans to release an updated version for the Mac. None at all.

Transparent marketing ploy, anyone? The Evil Bastards in Redmond have tried this before, with Explorer. Problem was, there were so many superior web browsers out there (I'm typing this on Firefox right now, and also use Safari) that users simply switched to something else, and web designers wrote code compatible with the other browsers. I never heard of a single Mac user being the least put out of joint by not having their very own version of Explorer to use (most of us had been politely ignoring it for years). But Office is ubiquitous, and notoriously finicky about communicating with other software programs, which makes this particular bit of corporate skulduggery a real issue.

UPDATE: I just did a bit of poking around, and it turns out that the Mac version is scheduled to be available in January 2008. Apparently there were many, many bugs in the Beta version. It's a pretty serious delay, but I'm just grateful that I won't be teaching this fall, so won't have to deal with it too much.

(Oh, yeah: work. I've been plugging away at article revisions -- still shooting for Monday -- but also have begun the packing process. More on both of these later).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

That One Little Thing

Just a quick update: over the last several days, I've finally been putting fingers to keyboard, to finish that one little thing standing between me and the two big things I need to do (move across the country, and work on the book). A full month of reading produced only another page and a half of writing, but I think I've almost addressed most of the reviewers' comments on the article MS I've been writing.

Of course, the new writing isn't good. It never is, at first. And at some point, I will write a post about giving oneself permission to write utter crap. But not tonight. I need to go over what I've written today, and figure out how much is left to go.

Monday. Monday I want to send this off, come hell or high water.