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.