Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Let it All Hang Out," indeed.

From the Wikipedia entry on Evergreen State College,** whose motto, Omnia Extares, is a bastard Latin translation of "let it all hang out":

"In 2008 the college became one of about 30 college and universities in the country to create a gender neutered option in its campus housing."


**Yours Truly almost matriculated at Evergreen at age 18. The story of why I did not has nothing to do with faux Latin, nor with the fighting Geoducks (pronounced "gooey-duck") themselves. Nor were they neutering students at the time, as far as I know.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Semester's Resolutions

I have a No Good, Very Busy Semester coming up.

Here's the skinny: I'm not back on duty until January 26th, but once it hits, it's going to be a killer.
  1. I am teaching four classes: one senior seminar (with major papers & portfolios), one graduate seminar (underenrolled, so not sure what will happen there), one survey course (old lectures, but new readings), and one upper-division course (for which I'd like to revisit the first 1/3 of the lectures). None of these are new preps, but I'm going to be substantially tinkering with all of them.
  2. I'm going to two conferences, one in April, and the other in May. No papers to present, but I'll be chairing panels at both. The main hassle here is the travel.
  3. With any luck, I'll be doing pre-publication revisions on the book -- though I still haven't heard from reader #2.
  4. Trying to write a conference paper that I hope will be the foundation of a chapter for Shiny New Project. Conference is not until October, but I want it off and running. In any case, I need to get at least 2,500 words (conference paper), and would like to get 8,000 (mini-chapter).
  5. Organizing a plan of action for a research trip this summer -- even doing some preliminary reading.
  6. Possibly working on edited volume.
I've decided I need to use the next three and a half weeks to get some momentum built up. Desk organized, new lectures and writing project underway. Organization has never been my strong suit, nor has consistency. But that's got to change, if I want to make it through this semester without going utterly batshit insane.

So, the New Semester's Resolutions are as follows:
  1. Write every day. And do it first. If this means dragging my lazy ass out of bed at what I would normally consider an ungodly hour, then so be it. 500 words (bearing in mind that they don't have to be good words) should be a nice, attainable goal. I can allow myself exceptions on travel days, though.
  2. Take a picture every day. I really like my hobby, but I've gone off the rails here, and I'm in danger of losing that "whole person" thing that I'd been trying to cultivate.
  3. Move more. Take a walk, get on the bike, whatever. I need this now, more than ever. I do have time -- if I have time to sit around reading stuff online, I can spare half an hour for this.
  4. Read a book a week. I've spent so long focused on The Book that I've developed a bit of tunnel vision. If I could read a book a week per course in grad school and still get my writing churned out while teaching, I can do it now.
That's it. Just four. Still, it seems ambitious and idealistic. Wish me luck...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Break So Far

At 2 p.m. on December 24th, I finished my grading.

If this seems rather late to be grading, please note that our finals week ended on December 19th. So, ID's visit coincided with me giving finals and grading large stacks of bluebooks. Fortunately, he gets along fine without needing to be entertained -- something I still have yet to really internalize.

Anyway, the late start means that we go on for a while -- in fact, I don't have to be back into the classroom until January 26th. So, here are my fascinating plans:

Dec. 25-30: Post-semester, post-holiday, post-visit cleaning/organizing of home & office (about half-done, made less pleasant by the twin facts that our campus has shut off all heat in the buildings until January 3rd in order to save money, and the on-campus coffee emporia are temporarily shuttered for the same reason).

Jan 1-5: AHA. First trip to NYC for me. I wish I had more money to spend, both in the city, and at the book display.

Jan 9-13: visit to ID in... well, I have yet to come up with a good pseudonym for the town where ID is now employed. Hopefully I'll have one by my first post from there on the 9th.

In between all that, I want to get started on researching a new paper (a fragment of Shiny New Project), because I've semi-demi committed to giving a conference paper in October, and I need to know that the paper is actually there before I do, so I don't have another unfortunate conference incident (see here, item #3). I've also been pulling up books to rewrite about 1/3 of my lectures for Favorite Course, because I'm woefully behind on the literature.

Upcoming: the Seasonal Swag Report, and New Semester's Resolutions!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bah, Humbug! part II: Hundred Years' War edition

Quick quiz (based on a short ID question for my students)! The Hundred Years' War was:

a) ...a time of economic and structural chaos [in which] many things were destroyed but new aspects of life eventually developed. People struggled, but it was significant for the importance that later occured.

b) ...fought between the City of God and the City of Man.

No peeking at your notes, now!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bah Humbug!, part I (End-of-semester follies)

An actual e-mail from an actual prospective student:

"Hello Professor Notorious!

My name is [redacted]. I am interested in taking your History XXX class in the spring. However, I was hoping if you could tell me some of the material that will be covered during the class and also what events will be covered as well. Please get back to me when you have a moment. Thank you!"


Sunday, December 14, 2008

O "Christmas Tree"

I love Christmas.**

Seriously. Except for cranky, ill-behaved people at the local retail establishments,*** everything is just fine with me. I own the soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I've been to one church service in the past decade and a half, but around Christmas, I can be observed singing religious carols, mainly because I think they're the prettiest ones. I like finding perfect gifts (I've got a surprise one for Wonderful Neighbor), and wrapping them up prettily.

But I have never had a tree.

The Christmas tree was the best part of Christmas growing up. We lived in an area where we went and cut down our own. So I would pile into the station wagon with dad and we'd head out to the edge of town, wander through until we found the perfect tree,**** saw it down, and bring it home. Then there was the decorating, which always happened at night, as a family,***** with a fire in the fireplace and Christmas music on the record player. Doesn't that sound nice?

But the thing is, except when I've gone home to visit the family, I've always spent Christmas day alone. And to me, the tree and all the wonderfulness that went with it required a sort of happy, intimate togetherness. Doing the one without the other seems empty, like the worst kind of one-night stand.****** So I've never had the nerve to get one.

But this year, ID will be here (arriving today, in fact!), at least through the 22nd. So something that close to what is required for me to fully dive into the land of Christmas-Tree-ness has allowed me to bravely do something that at least approximates it:

Of course, the format is closer to "scholar" than "It's a Wonderful Life." But all in all, I think it's not such a bad compromise.

**I like Hannukah, too, but mainly because a senior colleague at another university throws a big party that's always a lot of fun.

***I find that the adults are far worse than the children in this respect.

****"Perfect" for dad meant a fir, somewhere around 5-6 feet tall, and with natural branches, rather than pruned ones.

*****This faded a bit as the house was home to first one moody teenaged girl (me), then another (my sister). My brother was in no way culpable. But you know, things are finally getting back to calm, and I suppose we have about 6 good years before my niece enters her moody teenaged years.

******This is not to impugn all one-night stands. Just sayin'.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This will either get me fired, or get me great evaluations.

(Note to newcomers: if you got here by googling certain anatomical terms, the following post is going to be a serious disappointment to you. Might as well click away now, before you waste your time.)

While working to cheer me up after I found out that a certain Dream School had chosen not to interview me,** friend and fellow blogger S. e-mailed me a funny story from her classroom this week. I won't go into details, because it's not really my story, but the upshot of it was that it was a moment when unintentional physical comedy worked because the professor in question was happy to laugh at her own foibles. And it reminded me of a recent time that something similar happened to me. I shared it with her, and now I'm going to share it with you now, in case you needed a bit of light comedy to take your minds off of papers, bluebooks, presentations, or the impending interview season.

Background: I have, this semester, possibly the best class I've ever taught: small (19 students), smart, and all but three of them are constantly popping up with discussion. We hit it off well from the first week on, so it was a great semester. And the fact that I'm a complete dork as a lecturer, and can laugh at my own dorkiness, seems to work.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I got off onto some tangent or another regarding the medieval Mediterranean, and decided that I needed to draw them a map to illustrate. Now, I'm a rotten artist, but you can usually figure out what my freehand maps are, especially if I say helpful things like "that's France" while I'm drawing. So I start in the west, draw the eastern coast of Spain, then up to southern France, then a blobbish peninsula for Italy, then kind of half-circle around the eastern Mediterranean, then back across for North Africa. I get halfway into the next sentence in whatever point I was making when I suddenly realize that one should be a bit more than vaguely representational when drawing Italy, because it looks like I've just drawn a giant penis on the board. "Now that just looks bad," I say, and they laugh. "I'd better clarify that." So I pick up the marker again and draw another couple of small blobs off the tip of "Italy", and say, "There. Sicily and Sardinia. That should be better." But even as I say it, I (and my students, who begin laughing even harder) realize that all I've done is to draw what can only be described as... well, puddles, off the tip of my all-too-phallic map. "Oh, crap -- that's even worse, isn't it?" By this time, I'm getting students desperately shouting out, "Make it a boot! Make it a boot!" Which I do, and it looks marginally less obscene. Even so, I had to let myself laugh for a full minute or so, then take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths before I could go on with the lecture, since by that time I could barely remember what I had been trying to say in the first place.

I make my own fun.

**No, you didn't miss something. I had refrained from mentioning this because it wasn't central. I'm not "on the market" in the traditional sense, because I have a job that I like. But this was one of those job ads that you see and think, "That's my job." Except in this case, it wasn't.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

RTP shenanigans

So, my tenure file passed the first hurdle (department committee) several weeks ago. My service record is a little weak, but my teaching numbers are "above average", and I ended up going up with two peer-reviewed articles and a book under review at Dream Press, with one very positive review back. I've been told by my department committee (unofficially, of course) that I have nothing to worry about. It's now in the hands of the college-level committee.

Of course, the tenure files are all in line behind the retention files: those "third-year reviews." And this is where it gets weird. The two colleagues in my department up for retention both got renewed for a full three years, which was expected, since both of them have stellar records in research and teaching, and both have gone over and above for service. All of this with a very heavy teaching and grad advising load, since we are not a research university.


Yet the college-level committee expressed "concern" about their publication records to date.

One of these colleagues has published two peer-reviewed articles or essays since his hire here 5 semesters ago.

The other just had her book come out. That's right: I said "book." Here she sits, semester 5 on the tenure track, with an actual copy of her university-press book on her desk.

And the college committee is "concerned."

Which makes me concerned.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Best. Book. Title. Ever.

A couple of days ago, blogger Bittersweet Girl noted with chagrin that her working title had been swiped out from under her. This sucks, because as one commenter noted, coming up with a good title is hard. My own working title is the fourth iteration (if you count my dissertation title), and the only one that doesn't totally suck. Even so, it's only good, not great.

This got me thinking about really great academic book titles. For me, these have to meet three tests:

1. They should meet the "book spine test": the title, sans descriptive subtitle, should be short enough to fit well on a book spine, and should be intriguing enough to make a browser pick it out and actually look at the covers, front and back, to see what the book is about.

2. They should be more or less obviously related to the topic of the book. You need not be able to tell what the book is about from the title (again, sans descriptive subtitle), but once you know the topic, the title should make perfect sense.

3. They should have a hook -- for me, this means either witty, or evocative. For example, Donald Worster's Dust Bowl meets criteria #1 & 2, but not 3. His Rivers of Empire, on the other hand, falls into my "great titles" category.

My colleague, an environmental historian, suggests Richard White's The Organic Machine. For my money, I go for something outside of my field, a study of disease in early America called Pox Americana (which some, admittedly, may find too cute by half, but it tickles me).

Other suggestions for favorites? Remember, we're talking here about the title before the colon. And it need not be a great book; just a great title.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Plot Thickens (a Shiny New Project update)

Interesting Development is sleeping late, which he does. So I've gotten up and gone out to a local coffee shop to work on Shiny New Project. I've successfully pushed grading out of my mind. This project is starting to be the thing that gets me up and going in the morning. That may not last, so I'm taking advantage of it. The thing is, every day there's something new.

1. I may have been wrong about my poisoning victim -- I think she survived. But she may be in custody for having tried to poison the man who allegedly tried to poison her.

2. I've been constructing her in my mind in the way that the overwhelming majority of the testimony has: as an adulterous wife who wanted to poison her husband in order to marry her lover. But now we have her testimony, and there's a new wrinkle: she claims that her husband had been carrying on an affair with his slave.** Also, that he was always jealous and possessive, and everybody knows that such men are likely to spin tales about their wives. And also that he once beat her so badly*** that she had to get full-time care from a physician.

3. Oh, and for all the cat-bloggers out there: I love you dearly, but it looks like the family cat probably dies in this one.

**Said slave was, in the husband's testimony, the wife's accomplice in delivering letters to the go-between for the wife and her lover. As a side note, several witnesses noted that the slave was missing part of her nose.

***Precisely, she said she feared that her eye would have to be amputated. Eyes popping out of their sockets is actually a trope in case literature on violence and beatings, so I'm not sure how seriously to take this.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In retrospect, I guess that was the obvious answer.

Reading my case yesterday, as the officers of the court question the mother-in-law of the suspected poisoner:

Q: Is there any rumor as to who it was who tried to poison your son?

A: Yes: everybody says it was his wife.

Q: And do they say why she might have tried to poison him?

A: Because she wanted him to die.

(I like to imagine the last delivered in an incredulous, "well, duh!" voice. I also like to imagine the rolling of the eyes as the inquisitor followed up with "Well, why did she want him to die?")

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Domestic Blitz (recipe attached!)

Not everybody who knows me knows that I love to cook. Seriously, spending four hours in the kitchen on a weekend day while listening to the news or audiobooks is just my style. So, combine that with a visit from Interesting Development, and you've got me acting like June Cleaver. In the last 24 hours, I have kind of cleaned the house, done laundry, and picked up Interesting Development from the airport. I then came home and continued my domestic blitz by making a vegetarian version of "meatloaf" (lentil-free, I promise!) and roasted green beans with mushrooms. While the loaf was cooking (for one hour at 350 degrees, just like all those casseroles of our 60s/70s childhoods!), I began cubing two butternut squash for my contribution to tomorrow's holiday feast. This one I got off Epicurious, and I am posting it here today, as per the nefarious plan hatched the other day in the comments section at Historiann. You can make the filling a day early, but make sure to bring it back to room temperature before you do the assembly.

Note that this recipe contains almost an entire stick of butter? Including butter on the inside of the foil lid? And that this doesn't even take into account all the cheese in the sauce? Even though it's so rich that you will only be able to eat a small portion,* you will surely gain five pounds just looking at this thing. But let me tell you, it's totally worth it.

[post-production notes: 1) Figure on two hours prep time, and that's if the squash is already peeled and cubed, and the hazelnuts are already toasted and de-skinned. 2) make the squash cubes small -- about the size of a die, or even smaller. 3) I had trouble getting the béchamel to thicken. I think I reduced the heat too much after the boil stage. Next time: lower it to keep it just below boiling stage, and never stop whisking. 4) I found I only had enough filling for two layers, plus the "lid" layer", so rather than thirds, I divided the filling in half. If was just fine, and I recommend it this way. 5) My recommendation is now to divide the pan into 12-15 pieces. You can always have seconds.]

Butternut Squash "Lasagna"


For squash filling

1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted , loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel (as much as you can -- skins add bitterness), and coarsely chopped

For sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

For assembling lasagna

1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup grated Parmesan (3 oz)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (I like to use fresh pasta -- store-bought, of course)


Make filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep heavy skillet or wok over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make sauce while squash cools:
Cook garlic in butter in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

Assemble lasagne:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta strips, leaving small spaces between each. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta strips, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagnae in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

*In a 9 x 13" pan, you get eight "normal" servings, but it's so rich that I generally divide this into ten servings, but YMMV.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I never realized how beautiful these words would be.


This manuscript has much to offer and I recommend its publication...


Seriously. Those are some wonderful words, aren't they? There is, of course, a whole bucket o' caveats and addenda. But let's just take a couple of moments to bask.


Good? Good. Let's talk about those caveats and addenda. You can keep basking while I talk, if you wish. Why not? I am -- "background-basking" while I do other things.

Caveat #1: Note the sentence above ends with ellipeses. That's because the final part of the sentence says: "...with revisions." But hey, I expected this. There may have been, at some point in the recent history of the profession, a book that was published with no recommended revisions, but I've never heard of it.

Caveat #2: This is only the first of two readers' reports. Apparently #2 is still out. And until I have two recommendations, I don't have a clear path to a contract.

Still, this was a good report. The criticism was fair and constructive, and the reader even took the time to make some concrete suggestions for improvement. The two large criticisms were not completely unexpected, so I'm prepared to do them.

I think I'm a little in shock, after my experience with the Journal of Excellent Studies -- I somehow expect reviews to be harsh. So this is very nice.

I've got to go now: my neighbor is taking me up to the office in five minutes for the last day of classes before Thanksgiving weekend. Today I have to finish the half dozen papers that I didn't get through, and deal with a plagiarist, to boot. Still, I'm going to keep in background-bask mode all day. It's kind of nice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Plagiarist


Dear Plagiarist in my 100-level survey class,

I know you're a first-semester freshman, taking this class as part of a general education requirement for a major far, far different from my department. And I can see from your grades that you've been hanging in at the C+ level for most of the semester. But you know, moving from a C+ to a B- isn't all that difficult. I'd have been happy to give you the extra help that I provide for anyone who stops by my office and asks for it: I go over their drafts, help them develop strategies for studying for exams, and tips for getting the maximum participation points. Believe it or not, a couple of them have improved their grades dramatically by asking for help, and acting on my advice.

But instead, you went elsewhere for help. You paid, bribed, or cajoled someone to write your most recent paper for you. Or maybe they "loaned" you one that they had already written, onto which either one or the other of you slapped a new intro and conclusion as well as a few transition phrases that linked the whole thing up to the specific question I asked. So I have to give this person credit for having actually paid attention to the assignment. But the fact is that, according to the anti-plagiarism software that you know full well we run these essays through, over 50% of this material came verbatim from materials freely available on the web. The fact that you knew about this plagiarism software and still turned in a plagiarized essay makes me fairly sure that someone told you they were writing an original essay for this course. It's not. 18% came from a Geocities site. 9% came from Sparknotes. Another 7% from Gradesaver. And a few other miscellaneous sites. It was a patchwork, and whoever stitched it together actually took the trouble to hit the thesaurus button when the language looked too sophisticated for undergraduate writing. But still, nothing was hard to find.

I know you'll be upset -- probably very upset -- when I inform you that you are now going to receive an F for the course. I can only point you to the relevant section of the syllabus where it says that I'll do just that, regardless of the point value of the assignment in question. You'll probably decide I'm the person to be upset with: I'm heartless. I'm mean. I probably enjoy giving students Fs and ruining their lives -- and right before Thanksgiving, too. This will be your first and very natural reaction, because it's hard for any human being to face the fact that they fucked up. Hell, since this is your first semester in college, I may well be the first person who has introduced you to the equation of "actions => consequences." Trust me, you're not the only one learning it. Read the papers.

But I digress. Let me suggest some other targets for your anger. First, you might get a bit upset at the individual or company who sold you a paper that they themselves plagiarized. You trusted them, and maybe even paid them. And they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me.

Second: read that final sentence: they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me. What you are feeling now -- that sense of betrayal or even moral outrage? -- is what I feel every time I come across a plagiarized paper. So if you think the person who gave you this paper acted dishonestly, then examine your own behavior.

You will still rant and rage at me, in person, and/or behind my back. You may cry in my office when I make you sign the academic misconduct forms. I won't be moved, because I know that someone has got to be the first person to impose consequences. I wish it didn't have to be me, because it's uncomfortable. I wish your parents had done it, or your high school teachers, or that you just had an internal sense of right and wrong. I wish you didn't have to be learning this lesson so late, when there is so much more on the line than there would have been if someone had brought you up short the first time you pulled this in middle schoool. But they didn't, so I will.

Why am I being such a hardass? Why, when it would be so much easier to just give you a zero on the paper and let you fail under your own power (and you would, trust me -- I've seen your grades). The newspapers every day tell me what happens when people put self-interest over ethics. I may be forced to bail these fuckers out, but I will not be complicit in raising another generation to take their place. And dear plagiarist, that's just what I'd be doing if I let this slide.

So, if anything, blame me for being an idealist. Hell, you can even accuse me of taking out my rage at the big swindlers on a little one. You might be right about that last bit, and the rectitude of my behavior in that regard is certainly open to debate. But I hope that you might save a little, tiny bit of room to acknowledge your own culpability, and resolve to do better from here on. Yes, I actually hope that will happen. Because, believe it or not, this is not about punishment for its own sake. It's about holding the line on the fundamental proposition that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong.


Professor Notorious, Ph.D.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Changing Horses

Here's the backstory: just before I finished grad school, I published an article on a fairly sexy topic that I had stumbled across while researching my dissertation. Oddly enough, no one had really worked on it before, at least not that I had seen. It was exciting: I had a pre-Ph.D. publication in a fairly high-profile journal, and a second topic ready to go once I had turned the diss into a book. I put it in my job application letter in that "next project" paragraph, and figured that I had staked out my territory.

Funny thing about staking out your territory: it only works for so long. In the five years subsequent to the publication of that article, at least two other people begain work on the topic. Both are now much further into the topic than I am. Sure, I had a plan for which archives to visit and what questions to ask, but after a conversation I had today with a senior scholar in my field who knows the state of both of these people's research, it seems that I've once again got to shelve the project, wait for one or both of these projects to be published (another four years or so?), and then see if there's room for me to get back into it.

I'm not feeling bushwhacked or anything. I let the topic go cold, and it's little wonder that others got interested in it. But now I find myself needing to think about what to do next. I've written my sabbatical application and a couple other things as if I were going to take this project on, because my other possibilities are too early in development for me to speak or write intelligently about them at this point. But today I had to face facts that the thing that has always been in the back of my mind as the "next project" won't be, after all.

So, it seems like Shiny New Project may be the way to go. There are complications with this one, but more on that in a later post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good and Bad: The Last 48 Hours

Good: I finished my sabbatical application and got it turned in, with only a minor hitch

Good: I figured out an important bit on the major case document in Shiny New Project, and it's really exciting (to me), along the lines of Law and Order: Medieval Squad.

Good: I got the first stage of my tenure report back (one down; three to go!), and while it doesn't gush, it's positive.

Bad: The lymph nodes near the base of my neck have swollen up on one side, to the point where my collarbone is no longer visible. I look freakish, and it hurts to hiccup** because the muscles around the swollen place tense up. Plus, the next-to-last previous time this happened, it was the sign of something that landed me in the hospital for two days. So now, even in the absence of other symptoms, I'm paranoid, and starting to imagine (I hope!) other symptoms.

I'll keep you posted.

**Do you spell this "hiccup", or "hiccough"?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Cannot End Well

You know how the black supporting character is always the first one to die in the movie? And you just know this from the outset?

The murder case I'm working on has, as one of the supporting characters, a Jewish tailor. Somehow, I think he's going to be in trouble.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not sure if anyone's ever uttered these words before

Today, in conversation with my colleague in the office next door, I uttered the phrase (in all seriousness): "You should do Mormons. Mormons are hot."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

AHA, Anyone?

Any bloggers out there going to AHA this year? I know that Clio's Disciple will be there, because we're sharing a room. But anyone else? I'm thinking about a meetup.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oooh! Shiny! (A plea for someone to talk me back to reality)

So, my InAdWriMo counter hasn't budged, but I swear I'm working. Right now, I'm going through a case file that switches back and forth from Latin to vernacular. I'm getting about 80% of it on a quick read-through. But I discovered that what I thought was an 11-folio case is actually the tail end of a much longer case, 73 folia, which I also happen to have on hand, thanks to a dear friend of mine.

So, I'm going through the case, scratching out ideas for what direction to take this in. So far, the list is up to six. There's gender and litigation. There's history of emotions. There's poison and (attempted) murder. There are social networks (gendered, familial, and professional). And I'm only at folio 9. And I'm starting to think that there might be a book here. Not a monograph like the one I just finished, but a Return of Martin Guerre-type deep explication that might get assigned in courses and and be fun to research and write and actually make! me! some! money!

Of course, I'm sure that I'm not the first person to have thought of this. So what I'm asking for here is for those of you who have had similar fantasies to give me a dose of reality right now, before I get too carried away by the sheer shiny newness of it all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What are you good at?

In the past several months, I've been doing a lot of reading of other people's work, and of my own, and it got me thinking of how, while all academics do similar things, we all have a certain thing that we're very good at. I first noticed this in grad school seminars. There was that guy who could remember the arguments of seemingly every book he'd ever read. My best friend in grad school, Piper Ph.D., could immediately zero in on the logical flaw in any argument she read. Others could write beautifully, seemingly with very little effort. My dear ID can crank out ridiculous amounts of work in a very short time -- in the last stage of his dissertation writing, he managed to write 1,000 words a day, every day, for well over a month.

I am at times envious of all these people, and wouldn't we love to be the person who could do all of these things? But lately I've realized that my own skill area lies in pattern recognition -- I look at a draft of a writing project and I can see where the main argument should be, and how everything else should be organized. That is to say, I'm not the best writer, but I'm a fantastic re-writer, and it's a skill that has gotten better over time. I always love that Aha! moment when I see it.

So I thought I'd put this out there, and give people a chance to take a break from the feelings of inadequacy that too often plague us when it comes to our own work: What are you good at?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to Work

The election is over. ID is at a conference this weekend. I have some grading, but it just came in today, and it's a small stack. All this has coincided with the fact that my university has given us Veteran's day off. Combine that with a Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule (I know, I'm lucky), and I've got SIX WHOLE DAYS TO DO NOTHING BUT MY OWN RESEARCH. For the first time in months. Plus, almost all the books and articles I ordered a week ago have come in.

InAdWriMo, here I come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Today in my afternoon class, when everyone was jumpy for the earliest poll returns, I took ten minutes at the beginning of class to ask my students what their earliest political memory was. I got everything from Vietnam to Reagan being shot to 9/11.

Tonight, while listening to Obama's acceptance speech (including all those MLK echoes), I had to think that this is going to be that first political memory for many very young people around the country. And a watershed moment for us all, I hope.

That's it. I'm proud, I'm excited, I'm emotionally overwhelmed, but most of all, I'm hopeful.

(photo: NY Times)

Civic Duty

I've voted. For the good guys, of course. And against the bad ballot measures.** Had to wait 20 minutes, for the first time ever. Tonight I'm going to sit home in my TV-less apartment (the one time that I really miss it!) and listen to the returns on NPR.

Butterflies in my stomach already. This is going to be a long day. Glad I'm teaching through 5 pm, or else I'd be obsessing on polls & stuff all day. But if you want something to distract you, go and check out Clio's Disciple's nice post on "Voting, Medieval Style."

**I'm having this vague memory of someone doing a series of three generic poems, one of which was "generic poem number three: socially conscious generic poem" that had the line "Rise up, good people! Overthrow the bad people!" And now I'm going crazy trying to remember who did this. If this rings any bells, please let me know!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Excused Absences

In the last three hours, I've gotten three e-mails from students telling me they won't be in class tomorrow, for election-related reasons.

Undoubtedly one or more of them are scamming me (I am, after all, the one who kept bringing voter-registration cards to class, and the one who has been haranguing them at least once a week since then to vote). But I'm just going to accept that, and give them my cheerful blessing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election-Related, with two videos

This is an academic blog. But sometimes you gotta do something different.**

So here's the deal, in case anyone is interested: I'm voting for Obama. The last time I remember being undecided about this was around the time of the primaries in Fellowship City, when I was torn between him and Clinton (my original choice, Edwards, was off the ballot by then). I think Obama will make a great president. I'm not troubled by the whole "share the wealth" thing -- I tend to believe that wealth in this country has been redistributed already, and not in good ways. McCain's tax ideas, as far as I can tell, are modeled on Reagan's trickle-down policies, and I'm old enough to remember what a disaster that was for everyone but a privileged few.*** And the cultural and social policies of Republican administrations have been, in my opinion, a disaster.

What I'm really opposed to in general, and not just in times of elections, is mean-spiritedness. Like this. (via Bitch Ph.D.) I've been exasperated and angry about policies of politicians and parties that I've opposed, but this is pure bile. And directed at little children. When the woman in question asked how she felt about having sent little children away in tears, her response was "Oh, well." Yeah.

On the other hand, I have to admit that this was a pretty funny bit of satire, and I liked McCain fractionally better for having played along. Still not gonna vote for him, though.

**I'll never be as good at mixing academics, politics, and feminism as Historiann, so if you're not reading her blog already, get your ass over there. (link to be posted soon -- there appears to be a glitch over there.)

***In my pre-teen years, I remember riding a bus in my working-class neighborhood, and seeing that one down-at-the-heels corner bar had a sign up advertising "Reaganomics Hour."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Does a working bibliography count as words?

Today, I began my first attempt at International Academic Writing Month (see here for more info). As you can see by the newly empty counter, I've resolved to write 8,000 words this month. I'm including footnotes in that. Brand new article project. I have a few documents that didn't make it into the book that are pretty interesting, but I'm not sure if there's enough to make an article. But I'm going to find out this month.

My first task was to compile a bibliography on the subject of women doing violence to men. Two hours of searching turned up pretty much what I'd suspected: that there was plenty of work on men doing violence to women, but little the other way around,** especially wives physically attacking their husbands. This is both good (mineminemine!) and bad (dear god, will I have enough to go on here?).

In any case, I managed to compile a bibliography that is about 300 words long. It's not going into my word count, but it's a start.

**If you know different, please let me know!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just in time for Halloween: Zombie Abbesses!

From one of today's papers on the early medieval clergy:

"Sainthood, qualities of extraordinary virtue and manner of life or death, gave women an opportunity to enter a monastery and run it."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Care and Feeding of the RoC

Today over at Bitter-and-Sweet's, the topic of book MS revisions came up -- primarily because BSGirl is going to play NaRevWriMo, and invites others to join. Which I'm gonna, btw, just as soon as I figure out how.

But the topic soon turned to what I can only describe as "Reviewers on Crack" [hereafter RoC]. What happens when you get an unreasonable reviewer? I've submitted my book to Dream Editor (everyone says so), so I have high hopes that he'll pick people who are rigorous, but reasonable. But it's my nightmare that the MS will go to someone like the person who reviewed my Journal of Excellent Studies article (see here, and here for me trying to be as mature as possible). BSGirl had a similar experience, and her comments section flushed out many others.

Well, this is all very timely, because last week, not one but two close friends with books out for review drew a RoC at two separate major presses. Friend #1 got subspecies A of the RoC: mean, petty, and unhelpful. This reviewer actually used the words "voguish" and "feeble" (I'm reading it -- it's neither of those things). As Friend 1 said, "How is that a helpful criticism?" RoC subspecies A should be fed tea and Xanax before being allowed to pick up a pen. Or, since publishing house budgets might not pay for pharmaceuticals, they should be told what our mothers told us: "How would you feel if someone said that to you?"

Friend #2 got the other major subspecies of the RoC: Utterly Clueless. Friend 2 has written the first study of a region (call it "Erniestan"), running from Historical Period X through Historical period Y, and engaging with Important Phenomenon in a way that really, honestly does challenge current historical understanding. In other words, it's a new case study on one level, but it's one whose main purpose is to show how people have been looking at the big picture in entirely the wrong way. The report came back: why didn't my friend expand her study to include not just Erniestan, but also Bertia, Oscarland, and Snuffleupagopolis. And while she's at it, why not take it up to Historical Period Z (about doubling her time period, with tons and tons of new issues)? RoC subspecies B should be strapped to a chair and forced to read the unabridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- all 6 volumes of it -- to learn that just because you can say more doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

Other subspecies out there?

(UPDATE: Just in time for this post, Female Science Professor has a post up at her place about her own encounter with what I would describe as a RoC -- though she's grown-up enough not to put it quite that way.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Magic Johnsons"

I've recently started following the blog "Got Medieval?" -- a chronicle of medievalism in popular culture written by an advanced grad student in medieval literature. Good stuff all around, but his most recent post ("Negative Campaigning, Medieval Style") was fantastic. My favorite part (other than his coined phrase from which this post takes its title) was this bit of analysis:

"Not every medieval woman found taking an interest in a suddenly mobile phallus should be considered a witch."

You said it, sister.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

blogger comments: "WTF?!?" edition

Hey all --

this morning, I've tried to comment on two people's blogs, both on blogger. Apparently there's a new sign-in system that won't accept my blogger ID, and demands that I enter the secret code letters, but won't display them. And Blogger help pages seem to be unavailable.

Any ideas out there? I invite you to post comments in my comments section if you can. If not, maybe e-mail me at notoriousphd ~~ at ~~ mac ~~ dot ~~ com.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grading Jail: The File in the Cake

This semester, I'm fortunate to have a very light teaching load. That's because my Chair is a Good and Merciful Chair, who decided that the grants I brought in last year actually bought me out of a bit of my teaching this semester.** So I'm only teaching two undergrad classes (both ones I've taught before), plus one independent study for a grad student who showed up to work with me just as I left for Fellowship City.

This was very nice, as I had to function on teaching autopilot for the month of September while I worked on my book MS & tenure file, all while adjusting to post-fellowship re-entry.*** But while sailing through my classes, I completely forgot that the grading was piling up. So now, I find myself in Grading Jail. Thursday, I finished grading a stack of papers for my intro class, just as they were finishing their midterms. So net gain/loss: zero. Five minutes ago, however, I finished another stack of papers for my upper-division class, so I'm pushing ahead.

You know what has helped me? The proverbial file in the cake sent to bust me out of Grading Jail? It's simple: A timer. Yup: I now set a timer for grading (mine happens to be and "egg timer" downloaded from Mac widgets, which pops up a chicken at the end and says "time to check the grading!"). Each three- to four-page paper gets ten minutes, then I move on to the next one. I do a six-paper (one-hour) stack, then take a break. Three sessions like this (either back to back or spaced out during the day), and I can crank through almost 20 papers, writing fairly detailed comments all the while. It's fantastic.

UPDATE: I've managed to get through all the papers for my advanced class, and the larger papers for my intro class. I now have remaining a stack of short assignments for my intro class, and their midterms, which they took on Thursday. Next Thursday, advanced class sits for its midterm, so that's my deadline for getting the materials for intro class polished off. My goal is, by next Friday, to have only one stack of grading on my desk, and to possibly be completely busted out of Grading Jail by a week from Tuesday. At least I know what I'll be doing for the next week and a half...

**Actually, her repsonse when I contacted her in February to schedule my Fall Semester classes was, "You're teaching this fall? I thought you had three semesters?"

***The biggest challenge here was that I had forgotten about the stupidity: mostly administrators, but also some students. Sadly, I readjusted to this distressingly quickly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making the most of it, part II

(see the original post, here)

A couple of commenters on my most recent post posed an interesting question: What if your fellowship year is at your home institution? If you have to avoid your office in order to really be "on leave," how do you work?

Since I didn't have this experience, I turned to friend and colleague C., who had a non-residential fellowship the same year I did, so stayed close to home. She agreed that staying out of the fray was important, and offered a couple of common-sense tips.

In general, this kind of fellowship requires a lot more self-discipline. You've got to work in your usual environs (home office if you have one, coffee shops if that's your thing, whatever), but you have to break out of any normal rut you may be in. She told me that she did a few things. First, she set a schedule: a certain block of time in the morning was "work time" for her, and nothing interfered with that. Second, and most interesting to me, is that she set up little rituals to mark the transition into work time. For her, it was a morning cup of tea. For you, it may be a few physical stretches, turning on certain music, putting on a specific article of clothing. The important thing seems to be to make it something that you didn't do as a normal part of the work routine when you weren't on leave. This is not the rut; this is something new and different, a way of signaling to yourself that you will be productive for the next three hours, or whatever your schedule dictates.

As long as we're talking about simple tricks, I'd like to share one more that a colleague at Fellowship Institute shared with me: earplugs. She swore by these, even when she was working in her office with her door closed. She said that shutting out even small aural distractions somehow tricked her into shutting out other distractions, and turned her mind inward towards her work. I tried it, and let me tell you, she's right. Best four bucks I ever spent.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making the most of it

(NB: there is a follow-up post here, prompted by some commenters' questions.)

A commenter on yesterday's post requested that I share some tips for making the most of a fellowship year. Granted, this probably would have been more helpful a couple of months ago, but better late than never.

The suggestions below are going to take for granted what you already know you should be doing: work hard, research, write lots. But there are other things that you should consider, and these things will improve not only your year there, but also your work and personal life when you return to your normal job:

Cut yourself some slack, already. Seriously, you need to give yourself time to decompress from the years of frantic deadline pressure you've just been given a reprive from. Plus, you've probably just moved, and you have lots to do. Seriously, your first 2-3 weeks will involve getting your apartment set up, learning the ins and outs of your new neighborhood, getting your library card, etc. If you move in the summer, there may be fun community activities in your neighborhood or town. Check them out, and become a part of the place you're living. The next 2-3 weeks after that, if you're on a residential fellowship, are likely to be "social" weeks, having lunch or coffee with the other fellows, or making courtesy calls on local faculty, and all this will be hard to reconcile with a sustained work schedule. This is not to say that you won't be working during this time, but it's going to be light working – compiling bibliography, plotting out a work plan for the year, figuring out what resources the local library has. Give yourself permission to take things slowly, and let yourself ramp up to full work speed. The amount of time this will take will vary depending on the length of your fellowship, or your own personal degree of exhaustion. But you already know that you do better work when you're well-rested. So consider this both a reward for hard work already done, and an investment in the hard work you will do.

Go to the office. If you have an office, that is. I tend to be a coffee shop worker, so this was a difficult thing for me to get used to. But being at the office makes you think, "I'm at work. I should be working." During your normal academic life, office time is often a mix of teaching, grading, meeting with students, etc., so it's hard to think of office time as research or writing time. But here, that's what it is, and that's what you came here to do. Getting in the office/work habit will serve you well not only during your fellowship year, but when you come home and learn that your office can be a place where productive things happen. Plus, being in the office lets you build those personal and professional connections that make a fellowship year so wonderful. My presence there meant that other people knew I was there, and we talked to each other about our projects, and I made some great friends. (And in my case at least, my presence in the office provided an opportunity, one particularly cold night, for a certain Interesting Development to offer me a ride home, and to suggest that "we should do something sometime." I'd hate to have missed that.)

Don't go to the office. The "go to the office" rule applies only to people on residential fellowships -- that is, those where you're away from your home institution. But if your fellowship has you staying in the same place where you normally work, stay well away from your office. If your regular work colleagues (not to mention your students) see you around every day, it's hard for them to process the fact that you are, in fact, on leave. You will be asked to read files, serve on thesis committees, and do all those things that you need time off from. If you must go in to the office to work in this situation, do it at times when no one is likely to be around. Resist the temptation to participate in the work-related e-mail chatter that will come your way. Mentally separate if you cannot do so physically. Behave as if you really are in another part of the country, even if you're not.

Impose some deadlines. Giving yourself time is important, but it's easy for a fellowship year to trickle away. No matter how diligent you are, you will almost certainly get less done that you thought you would, and that's okay. But you will hate yourself if you reach the end of your fellowship year and you've barely accomplished anything. If you make a schedule of medium-term goals, especially if it's punctuated by external deadlines (like, say, scheduling a conference paper each semester that depends on the research that you plan to do), you'll be more likely to get stuff done.

Get ahead of the game. This is something that I was not able to do, that I wish I had. Plan your fellowship year so that you finish your project several months before the year is up, then get started on the next one. That way, when you have to go back to your regular job, you've got some momentum built up on the next project. Right now, I find myself sputtering and trying to get started again, and it's difficult.

Take some time for yourself. This is aside from the "ramping up" month at the beginning. When we're in our normal work lives, we tend to place non-work-related things at the very bottom of our priority list, and they often disappear. This year is a chance to reset that balance, and bring it in to your life after the fellowship. Number one on my list was getting eight hours of sleep almost every night, for a year. Can you imagine what this would do for your health, your mind, and your overall attitude? This one thing alone made me a happier person. But I also started taking weekly yoga classes, made friends with my next-door neighbor, went cross-country skiing, exercised semi-regularly, took a trip to Chicago just for fun. I wish I'd done more exploring of the local countryside, as my online friend Dr. S. did on her fellowship year in England. Become a whole person again, and resolve to try to maintain that, at least in part, when you come home.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Room to Breathe


This post marks one week (almost to the minute!) that I wrapped up the most work-intensive month in my life: I've sent off the manuscript, I've turned in my tenure file, and now my academic future is in the hands of other people. I could be nervous, but strangely, I'm not. Part of it is that I think I've done a decent job at both; part of it is that now that I've done all I can, there's nothing more to do.

And that's kind of the issue. Sure, I have stacks of grading this weekend, and an ambition to clean up my apartment and organize my office, but without the book and tenure file hanging over my head, I find myself waking up some mornings and wondering what it is I'm supposed to do with my day.

But you know, this was nice. Last weekend, Interesting Development came to visit for five days. We played tourist, we had Important Discussions, and generally just reaffirmed that we were still happy to be an important part of each others' lives. Best of all, I was able to relax with him with no feeling that I should be doing something else. I was right where I was supposed to be.

The work will surely pile up again, and there's an article idea that I'm kicking around that I want to start work on in a week or so. But the breathing space was a beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Let us now praise fabulous office staff.

An invitation to the comentariat to present their encomiums of truly wonderful staff members who save our bacon for far too little compensation.

We've all had to deal with bad office staff members. The one who loses everything, then blames you for it. The one who you need to bribe with little gifts to make sure that you get the thing you need in a timely manner. The one who always seems to be out of the office for two days. The one who snarls and sneers, but can't be fired.

Right. But what about the good ones? And the really great ones? Put yourself in the position I was in last Friday, less than 24 hours after I submitted my tenure file. I found 3 or 4 typos in the narrative. Not a disaster, but I'd like to put my best foot forward. And the "open period" to add to, subtract from, or make changes to your own file absolutely, positively ended on Thursday.

So, an office staff member would have had several alternatives when I showed up Friday (very few classes that day for us), 10 a.m., with revised narrative in hand:

1. Sneer and/or pretend unctuous sympathy, but refuse to make the change; possibly spend the next six months telling anyone who would listen (including department chair) about your impertinent request.

2. Apologize, but refuse to bend the rules, on the grounds that rules are rules.

3. Chuckle, say "oh, I think we could probably risk it," pull out a folder, and say "pop it in here with the other stuff I'll be putting in the files this afternoon."

C., the head office admin. in my department is a type 3 -- for this and almost all similar occasions. I will never stop loving her.

Please use the comments to contribute your praises of your own favorite office staff members. Then go tell them in person how great they are. Get them a gift card to the local coffee shop. Remember: they make about half what you do, but you couldn't do your job without them.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One more thing checked off the list

Turned in my tenure file today at 3 pm.

Now there's only a conference paper (tomorrow at 3) standing between me and a relaxing long weekend with Interesting Development, who arrives tomorrow night.

((begins to breathe again))

EDIT: ...aaaand... I just discovered the 3 typos in my narrative statement. I guess 3 in 12 single-spaced pages won't doom me, but still. Dang it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Consummatum est.

I just sent off my book MS (88,000 words) to first-choice publisher.

I am very tired now. And going to bed. Tomorrow I need to get the tenure file done. But right now, I'm happy. Tired, but happy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Procrastination finally pays off!

So, back in late July, when I was avoiding working on some chapter or other (or maybe it was the introduction), I started a file called "conclusion notes." These were just random fragments that I had run across that I thought would fit well in a conclusion. I can't remember when I last modified that file (probably in early August?), but I can tell you that I forgot all about it. Until tonight.

Let me tell you, I am grateful I have this thing. A couple of things are shaky, but a couple are, I think, pretty good. So I'm now just over 600 words into the creation of what may be charitably described as a "conclusion-shaped object." I'm gonna shoot for 1000-1200 as a nod toward a real conclusion, go over it again tomorrow, and send it off, with a note that I plan to expand it.

But now, I need bed.

(Oh yeah -- and I finished the edits on the chapters and bibliography around 8:00 tonight. I could open and check one more time tomorrow, but I'd probably just find another sentence that could be rewritten, another paragraph to be moved somewhere else... basically all the stuff I've been doing for the past ten days. But I'm smart enough to know that this could go on forever, and I don't want it to. So I refuse to give the thing "just one more read-through." There will be plenty of opportunity for revisions in the coming months, I'm sure.)

Of professors and politicians

First of all, thanks to all of you who offered comments on my last post -- it's really helped me clarify what I need to do.

Now, while I do it, here are two posts (one serious, the other silly, but with a serious message) from academics about how acting as smart as you are might be a detriment if you're running for president.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Inconclusive: A question for the commentariat

Hey there, to all y'all who have sent off book MSS to be reviewed: Did you ever hear of sending one off without a completed conclusion? I'm pressed to consider this option, given time constraints that forced me to prioritize revisions over new writing. I'd rather not do it, and if pressed, I could knock out 1,000 words of a projected 2,000-word conclusion, but they'd likely be very rough. But I've heard from more than one person that they managed to get a contract, with one of the revision provisions being that they write a (satisfying) conclusion. Then again, none of these people have been medievalists, so I'm wondering if it's field-specific.

Anyone ever heard of this? Done this?

Thanks for any and all replies.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Small Triumphs

Yesterday, I found out that the recent acceptance of my article was actually quite an accomplishment.

Today, for the first time in ten months, I buttoned my work pants.

I'll take my triumphs where I find them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


As a part of my research for putting together my tenure file, I've been tracking down acceptance rates for the journals in which I've been published. Turns out that the acceptance rate at Journal of Excellent Studies is seven percent.


So now, I no longer feel a crushing sense of inferiority about my writing when I contemplate how long it took for JES to agree to publish this piece. And I'll take any little bit of validation I can right now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The final week

I'm sending off my book manuscript to the publisher in a week.

I've gotten some good feedback from one of my senior readers, though some of the things she wants are things I just can't do. Detailed comments are a mixed blessing: on the one hand, you want real concrete suggestions to improve your work. That's what sending it out for review is all about, after all. But now, as I face a one-week deadline, I was feeling that all I wanted was someone to tell me "It looks good. Time to send it off. They'll have areas you need to improve, but it's where it should be for this stage. Send it."

That's right: I just want someone to read the MS and tell me that it's good. Pathetic. But guess what? Another senior reader, who saw a much rougher portion of the MS several months back, already said just that, more or less. So I went back today and re-read those old e-mails, and I felt a little better.

Now, senior reviewer one is no dumb bunny. If she has questions or suggestions, then surely one or more of the press' reviewers will have the same issues. I need to be prepared for that. But senior reader two is a smart cookie, too, and wouldn't tell me that something was good if it sucked. I know them both well enough to know that they both have my best interests at heart. So here's my startling conclusion: they're both right. The MS is not perfect (nor will it become so in the next week), but it's not going to embarass me when I send it off next Monday.

I'm hanging on to that right now.

And in the meantime, I continue revising.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It was 12:45 a.m...

...and waves of book- and tenure-related anxiety had been washing over me for over an hour as I lay in bed, trying in vain to sleep. So I did the only (non-chemical) thing that I knew might help: I got up, turned on my computer, and worked.

It's now 1:35 a.m. I'm going to try bed again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Grading

Yes, I am going to do my follow-up Digital Divide post (though I was scooped by this CHE post). But I'm scrambling to finish 800 things right now. Among them is my first stack of grading. I'm down to the last paper in the pile, and came across this gem:

"Genesis began with one human and his women."


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tales from the Digital Divide, part I*

Sometimes my good friend NotNurseRatched makes me feel like a Luddite. Not on purpose, of course; the woman simply rarely met a new gadget or app she didn't like. But she blogs about their use in an educational context that makes me wonder whether I'm hopelessly out of touch for not beaming my lectures into Mac-manufactured chips implanted into my students' brains. (Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but check out a sample post).**

However, she's made me think about where I stand with relation to the digital divide. Usually, this phrase refers to the disadvantage that results from socioeconomic factors that impede some people's access to new (digital) technology. But there can be all sorts of digital divides, and which side you are on depends on which divide you are talking about. A bit of my own technological history follows:

I came of age just when computers were making the transition from huge things that filled a room and recorded info on binary punch cards and large reels of magnetic tape, to something you might have in your home. In high school, we had a Commodore 64 (pictured above), which as far as I could tell, was a fancy typewriter that you could play some games on. In college, I learned about this new thing called a "web browser" (Mosaic, if that helps date me), but never bothered to use it. A year after college, I asked a much more tech-savvy friend to explain the basics of this "Internet" thing to me. She told me about the department of defense, then her roommate showed me AOL*** chatrooms and fisting videos. Then I bought a laptop and went to grad school.

Everybody with me? It's the mid-90s, I have a B.A., a laptop, and a knowledge of technology that extends to typing papers, sending e-mail via Pine, and applications for the defense and porn industries. About the same time, my current crop of students (the so-called digital natives) are entering kindergarten.

I "came of age" academically speaking just as computers and the internet were starting to take off as research tools. Thank god for that. When I began grad school, my university had a rudimentary online catalog, but if you wanted to find out what other libraries had, you needed to consult the... What was it? Union Catalog? Those big green volumes? Either that, or convince someone to do an OCLC search for you, and that cost money per search, so good luck convincing them to do so. Think of paying a buck every time you hit the "search" button on WorldCat. By the time I was ABD, we had worldcat, the International Medieval Bibliography on disk (though not yet online), and I was involved in a web-based project of my own. By the time I had graduated, I had developed my own rudimentary and vaguely searchable databases (two for bibliography, one for documents, one for legal citations) using Filemaker pro. And four years ago, most of my archives started allowing researchers to take digital photographs of the documents.

So, how technologically backward am I, compared to my students and my colleagues, older and younger? Save that for part II...

*Today's "more footnotes than usual" are provided in honor of the late David Foster Wallace.

**For a contrasting view, see
this recent CHE essay, which specifically references some of the tech that NNR uses in class every day.

***According to the friend I was having this conversation with at the time, "All online services suck, but AOL does so with style and enthusiasm."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Notorious Heads South

A bit of silence, while I detour from job city and its worries. Yesterday, I took two flights, one long and one short, and arrived in a small city located below the IHOP/Waffle House line, where I am spending the weekend visiting ID, who I haven't seen for a couple of months. So far, I have only two thing to report: 1) we seem to still like each other a great deal; and 2) it's damn hot here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Farewell, dear iPod

Today, my iPod gave up the ghost.

It was probably about time. The current 'pod (my second) was a gift from my then-boyfriend, meant to replace one that had been stolen while on a research trip (the iPod, not the boyfriend). It served me well, lasting two years longer than the relationship itself -- though the inscription on the back was awkward to explain, post-breakup, to people who saw it and asked about it.

The inconvenient part is that the device crapped out just as I was two weeks into my biking-to-work. It's a four-mile ride, with a hill at the end, so the music helped (though probably made the ride less safe). My plan is to replace it with a nifty and smaller Nano, but I can't afford it this month, and I've already got too much on the credit card.

So now, I guess I'll have to sing on my ride to amuse myself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

First Tenure-Related Nightmare

Last night, I had the following dream: I was on a city street, and ran into a colleague of mine, who was carrying a kitschy plastic punchbowl, molded to look like cut crystal, and two matching melon-ballers. "They're for [colleague X]," she explained, and I thought "Of course, because [colleague X] is gay, so it's a friendly joke on the stereotype about gay men and melon ballers."** She was also carrying a plate with some broccoli and other vegetables, with different sauces, which she described to me in detail.

Later in the dream, we were both getting ready to leave the house that we had arrived at to go off for the evening's activities, and she asked, "Where is your plate?" "I was supposed to have a plate of broccoli, too?" Turns out that I was: that all attendees at the evening's function were supposed to submit a plate of broccoli with 2-3 different sauces of our own devising. These were the minimum requirements; we would be evaluated on the tastiness and creativity of our submissions. So I ran out to the sauce store, berating myself for not having put together something homemade, because surely the evening's arbiters would see through my store-bought sauce and give me low marks, but the store was closed anyway. And then I woke up.

I think I must be more worried about tenure review than I'm aware of.

**There is no such stereotype, as far as I know, but in my dream, it made perfect sense, and colleague X was expected to appreciate the joke.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On Teaching: An Open Letter to My Younger Brother

Michael (my brother, for those of you who haven't yet caught on) brought up a question in the comments on the previous post: what do you do, anyway? Kid brother knows that I'm a professor, and that that includes both teaching and research. But the kind of teaching that we do here is different than what he's training to do (4th grade). So even though most of my readers are academics, I thought I'd answer his question in blogular format. Commentariat, feel free to modify this as necessary.

Dear Michael,

For those at the college/university level in general, the "teaching" part of our job (which is generally 40-60% of our workload overall) consists of three main thngs: 1) course development and preparation; 2) delivery; and 3) evaluation.

Course development and preparation is just that. First, you come up with an idea for a course. Some of this may be preset for you: for example, my Western Civ. course was already in the catalog when I was hired. On the other hand, you may propose entirely new courses based on your own interests: gender, or monasticism, or Tudor-Stuart England, or whatever. The balance between these two varies widely from one university to the next. But whether it's an old course or a new one, you need to come up with your own syllabus (that is, the order of lectures, discussions, and assignments), determine which books will be assigned, order them, panic when the bookstore forgets two of your five texts… Oh, and write lectures and plan discussions. In general, we have much more freedom in course development than K-12 teachers.

Delivery: Get up in front of a class and lecture. Don't choke, or at least don't do it during the first two weeks. In my opinion (and some may disagree), lecturing is relatively easy. It's leading discussions that's hard. When I lecture, I have more or less complete control of what's going to happen. When I lead a discussion, there's a chance that many of the students won't have read, or will be too shy to speak up even if they had – there are any number of things that can go wrong that I can't control for. In any case, depending on your institution, you will be teaching anywhere from two to five courses a semester (though some of those may be repeats). I generally teach three courses a semester, all different, but some of which I will have taught in previous semesters. This means that I have the choice to recycle some, all, or none of my lectures from one year to the next. I generally go with the "some" option, to keep myself from getting stale, without overworking myself. (The jokes, however, are all of ancient vintage.)

Evaluation: Grading. And grading. Only in rare cases will a class in the humanities have a multiple-choice test as an assignment. We are heavily writing-based, which means that grading takes a long time. It's my least favorite part of the job. It's also the part that takes the longest, both in the doing, and in the dealing with student angst afterwards. I'm fair, but I'm pretty tough.

But brother dear, shall I tell you my absolute favoritest reason to be teaching at a university, rather than at the K-12 level? It's not the pay: in many places, high school teachers make more money than professors, and without the obligation to spend summers researching and writing. It's simple: FERPA. More precisely, a small codicil in the Buckley Amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that says that, once a student is 18, their educators are forbidden to discuss any matter of the student's schoolwork or grades with anyone else without that student's written permission. FERPA : helicopter parents :: garlic : vampires. You will understand this once you start teaching in your own classroom.

Good luck, kiddo.

Friday, September 5, 2008

First Week of Classes

I haven't been blogging this week, because it's been the first week of classes, and I've been busy all day, then exhausted by the time I get home. But here's my RBOC**-style wrap-up:

  • My classes seem pretty good. Early Medieval has only 20 people, and I have a critical mass of them interested in participating. My other class is a bit rougher: for some reason, it's a prerequisite for a required course in the Fashion Design and Merchandising major.
  • I've done something new in my Medieval class: I've ditched the textbook. So far, it seems to be going okay.
  • Yesterday, I wore the beautiful boots pictured here. They are lovely (go ahead: admire how fabulous I look in them), but it was the first time in over a year that I'd worn heels for more than three hours, and spent most of the day on my feet. Ugh.
  • I'm going to try doing something that my most productive friends have recommended: don't prep for class except on class days. This means getting to the office at 8 for an 11 a.m. class, and counting on the usual lack of visits during my office hours before my 3:30 class.
  • New fun! Tenure file! Due in less than a month! So, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to the office at 8 to begin prep, teach/office hours from 11-5, then stay in the office from 5-7:30 or so working on the file.
  • A good friend of mine from grad school is seriously ill. I'm angry about this, but I don't know whose shins to kick in this regard, which makes me even angrier.
  • Can I keep riding my bike to campus? It's good daily exercise (4 miles each way), but the promised shower and locker has not materialized. Did I mention that I'm one of those people who sweats more than average? And that the otherwise very nice route to campus ends with a very steep two-block hill?
  • The windows in my office have developed more cracks, and one piece has fallen out entirely. This has necessitated having a plexiglass "patch" put on. They can't replace the window, because there's asbestos involved. Oh, goody.
  • In general, my spirits are up, but I feel busy.

**Why do my bullets look fine in preview, but look like dorky little stylized flowers when I publish the post?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Edition: Coffee Shop Rules

So, labor day is upon us, which for me this year means that actual labor resumes tomorrow. This, after a year on leave.

But I thought I'd blog on another subject today, one near and dear to my heart: working in coffee shops. This is something that I've done since grad school, and I'm in the habit now. It's nice, because it allows me to work and be social at the same time (though probably less productive at the first than I should be); it's essential because my home "office" is a corner of my 10 x 12' living room, and my work office is shared.


There are rules to this kind of working, rules that I've noticed because of the frequency with which people violate them. So, as a self-proclaimed expert on the subject, I here present...

Notorious Ph.D.'s Guide to Etiquette
for Working in Coffee Shops

1. Order something. Never forget that this is a place of business. If you're there for more than an hour, order something else. Repeat as necessary.

2. TIP GENEROUSLY. I cannot emphasize this enough. Think of that dollar you shove in the tip jar as the rent you pay on your table. When you order something else (see rule #1), tip again. If you're there over a shift change, don't neglect to show the second shift some love.

3. Share your table. We all like some room to spread out, but if you're at a table for four, you don't get the whole thing to yourself, especially if you're there for a long time, or if it's crowded.

4. If you need to share someone else's table, ask first. Don't just plop yourself and your twelve pounds of books down at an occupied table. That person may be expecting someone, or maybe not, but it's just rude to assume you're welcome. Most people will say yes to a request to share, so what does a little common courtesy cost you?

5. Don't be a pest. If you're sharing a table with someone else who's working, don't assume they are open to chatter. Exchange a few pleasantries, and by all means introduce yourself if you've shared with them before. If you're sharing a table, and a person you know comes up to say hi, suggest taking the conversation a few feet away from the table, so the other person can work. This goes double for cell phone calls. In general, assume that the other person is there to work.

5a. Do not assume that they're there because they want to date you. They probably don't. Nor do the employees of the coffee shop. Even if they smile at you.

6. Get some work done. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Antoher Lesson in the Fabulous World of First Book Publication

Last night, I took a big step: I wrote to the kind and helpful editor of one of two equally fabulous presses that showed interest in my book, and told them that I was giving right of first refusal to the other. I had told him that I would be sending things off early in the fall semester, in time for tenure review, and so would have a decision around a month ago. And about a week and a half ago, he sent me a polite but unmistakable nudge. So, I spent half an hour drafting a letter that expressed the genuine difficulty I had had in making a choice, and a reason that I was going with the other press that could not be read as "they're better than you."**

So, here's what I learned, and I hope you all can benefit from it: DON'T TIP YOUR HAND TOO EARLY. When I spoke a month ago with two senior people with much publishing experience, they both told me that I should tell Second Press that I was still working, that I would be in touch soon, blah blah blah, and buy time for me to get a definite answer from First Press. That way, if I had to go to Second Press, they wouldn't be aware that they were getting a MS that another publisher had already rejected. Second Press is high-profile, and they don't need anyone's sloppy seconds. Unfortunately, I had already been too up-front with both presses about when the MS would be done, and when I would absolutely, positively send it out. So delaying for the extra three months that it would take to work its way through the review process of my by-a-nose first-choice press would have been seen as the transparent tactic it was. And that would not have made me look good.

On the one hand, I feel good about being honest. It's established a level of credibility and professionalism with this editor, and that will keep doors open for future projects. On the other hand, it's pretty firmly closed the door with this press for this project, which is too bad, because if First Press doesn't give me a contract, I go to Third Press, which, while good, is not in the same league as Second Press.

**That's actually true: the two presses are more or less equal in stature in the field and quality of product. Everyone I consulted with confirmed my opinion on this. They also, like me, were unanimous in giving a hair's-breadth edge to First Press, probably because its acquisitions editor has such a good reputation in the field.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

ID was right.

An update on last night's post about the missing books

So, today I came home to find a box on my doorstep. A media mail box, shipped on August 7, before any of my other boxes. Guess what was inside?

So, I'll make my admission public. Interesting Development was right about two things:

1) The order that boxes are shipped in have no bearing on the order they arrive in; and
2) My "panic first, think later" strategy for coping with minor crises may need revision.

Friday, August 22, 2008


So, it seems that all my boxes have arrived. A couple of them looked like bears had been at them somewhere in transit: ripped open and taped back shut. But it was only yesterday that I realized what was missing. First, a couple of exercise and yoga DVDs. Okay, that's too bad, but I hardly used them anyway. But here's the real kicker: the only actual books that were missing from my media mail box were four small paperback dicitonaries (Spanish, German, French, and Latin), and my friggin' copy of Lewis and Short!


(For those of you who are not medievalists, "Lewis and Short" is shorthand for one of two canonical Latin dictionaries. Over two thousand pages long, and very expensive. Ouch.)

So, somewhere out there, there's a postal employee doing both yoga and Latin. Bastard.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fellowship Fifteen

This morning, for the first time in a little over a year, I stepped on a scale.  And it's official: over the course of my fellowship year, I gained about fifteen pounds.

Now, to be fair, it's possible that some of this was from the summer before I left Job City.  But most of it was surely due to Fellowship City's long winter, and my proximity to a place that made possibly the best scones I've ever had.

Two years ago, one of my colleagues came back from her fellowship year visibly fitter.  Apparently, she exercised three to four times a week in addition to nearly finishing her book manuscript.  Jeez.

Fortunately, I have a new secret weapon: A month ago, I went ahead and put much more on the credit card than I should have, and bought a new bike.  It is light, shifts like a dream, fits me perfectly, and is an absolute joy to ride.  In three days, I've put over 30 miles in it.  It's likely that some of the novelty will wear off.  But I'm about 20 minutes from getting on it again and riding the 4 miles to campus.

Fifteen pounds.  Yeesh.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Just a short post to say that I'm alive, and back in Job City. All but two of my boxes have arrived so far, and those should be coming soon. After a couple days of tweaking, both my office and my apartment are in decent shape, though not everything is put away yet. I've been ruthless at throwing stuff away. I've had a couple of conversations about tenure review. And, in my biggest reality check: today I met with a new grad student.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has begun.