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.