Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Light Blogging

So where have I been?

(1) Grading midterms. Still, yes. I am the world's slowest grader, I believe. I hate grading students. Surely students are not like eggs, or sides of beef. Surely they cannot be graded as if they were. Yet here I am, trying to do just that. Grrr. Many of these midterms, though, are not as bad as I had feared, having graded the first few, though my Vic Lit students are showing a distressing tendancy to mix up Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. Still it is very slow going.

(2) Halloween. Here it comes, and all its attendant joy. We must carve pumpkins. We must buy candy. There are parties. We must get costumes. (The kid was a siren for the pre-Halloween festivities, with a fancy green gown, full of flowing green veils and lacy bits and sparkles, from the trunk of dress-up clothing given to her by her favorite aunts, also a hat from the same trunk, also Dr. Who high-tops with the costume, and went around telling everyone who mistakenly said, Oh, what a sweet princess!, I am NOT a princess, I am a SIREN, I lure members of the PATRIARCHY to their DEATHS, then followed this up with several high notes of lively melody. For the actual Halloween night she plans to be a dragon. Green and red.)

(3) The agent. My submission came back because the address I had was the old address. So I had to find the new address and send it off again. The agnst, you would not believe. Now I must fret and moan and whine and eat more Xanax.

(4) My alloparent, mr. delagar, is making a documentary, about a local artist. This is while he is writing his dissertation and teaching five classes and writing his novel and while I am working on the revisions of books 1-3, just in case the agent actually wants to take me on, and grading midterms, and teaching four classes with four different preps, and -- wait. Weren't we raising a kid in here somewhere? Where did she go?

Anyway. It's been crowded here lately. I might get some time to post more often soon. Who knows?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mend This World

Go over to Slacktivist and read all of this post -- this is just a bit of it:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.


And then get out in November and vote these evil, evil, evil bastards out of power.

Do it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What's a Blog, Again?

Why I Do What I Do

(A post for Reconstruction Journal:


I started my blog my accident, two years ago, when I was trying to comment on Pete’s blog. Pete used to run the Dark Window. I still miss Pete.

I keep on blogging because I keep having things to say. I forget which blog it was that said a blog was a little First Amendmant machine – Lawyers, Guns, and Money, maybe? – but this is so. Once upon a time in America to be heard by any audience at all you had to command a printing press, or a sizeable amount of money, or to be connected to someone who could get your words in print or over the airwaves or on film. Now, well, all you need is a computer. And some luck at getting linked, of course. (Where are all the feminist bloggers, huh?)

I blog because, here in the 21st century, America is not the utopian paradise it was supposed to be. Remember that? Do you remember that? We are supposed to be a more perfect union. I was reminding my freshmen of that this morning in class. No, I said to them: No, no, no, no. This is, in fact, America. We are, in fact, supposed to be created equal here. It is not, in fact, all right for us to treat some people as though they were somehow lesser beings – he’s not a citizen, so we can torture him? That’s an illegal immigrant, so I can do what I want? That’s not what we do here. This is America, I told them. That’s supposed to mean something! We are meant to have justice here! This is supposed to be the place where everyone is free and equal!

Right, one of them answered back. More perfect union, and all that.

And all that: that is why I blog.

Because “and all that” has not yet happened.

I am here to help bring that world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Kid and Lit Crit

So I'm making quesidillas for dinner last night (now that I have finished the draft of book five, I am actually cooking again. And cleaning out closets. And doing laundry. And amazing shit like that.) and the kid comes in, frowning.

"Why," she demands, "is the mother always dead?"

"What?" I ask.

"In all the Disney Movies. Finding Nemo. Bambi. Beauty and the Beast. Why is the mother always dead?"

"Ah. Well. I got one word for you, kid."

She gives me a look. "Patriarchy?"

I grin happily. "Patriarchy," I agree. "Even Winnie the Pooh, where there is one mother, Kanga, what's she do?"

"Nothing," the kid says, warily, because she hates it when I turn my critical lens on Winnie the Pooh, her archetypal text. "She says oh my."

"There you go. In the patriarchal world, the woman is absent, passive, or evil." I am warming up to my lecture now, as I put the quesidillas in the oven, about to go off on a rant on Saturday morning cartoons and how they reflect this patriarchal worldview, maybe with a side paragraph on tokenism, when the kid interrupts:

"What about Dory?"


"Dory. In Finding Nemo. She's not absent, passive, or evil. She's important. She speaks whale! She figures everything out! She always knows what to do! And she's a woman!"

Don't I love this child?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Advising Season Opens

It's advising season and students have been coming to me for advice.

I give it to them.

This is actually my favorite part of the job. I like students a deal better one on one than I do in large masses, so I like the chance to talk with them in my office, and to go over their progress with them, and here in the office, uncircumscribed by their peers, they are more who they are and less a construct of who they feel they ought to be, so I enjoy them more, too. And I like the mentoring bit. No, I say. Don't do that. Well, I say, have you thought of this? The things I wish someone had said to me, when I was nineteen.

On the other hand:

You know what I have had my bait of?

Students who wander into my office and inform me, as if I might sympathize, that they hate to read.

Pup, I say to them, you might consider that you are in the wrong field, then.

They stare at me in surprise.

No, they say, I want to do English. I just don't like to read.

Right: as Lydgate tells Rosamund, that's like saying you love to eat peaches, you just hate how they taste.

This field is nothing but reading. We don't make collages here. We don't drink tea and spent whole afternoons in garrets constructing perfect sonnets. We don't, no matter what Wordworth might have led you to believe, spend much of our time wandering the woods and fields admiring daffodils. We read. From time to time we write, yes. But then we read a lot more. And we do a truckload of committee work. And we read some more. And then we read some more. And then we advise students. And read some more. And teach. And read some more. And here is the truth: we like this. We like to read this much. We went into this profession because it was the only job we could find that would pay us to read this much.

So if you don't like to read this much, pup? If you wouldn't rather read than eat? (Heh -- I read while eating. I read while bathing. I read while I do laundry. I'm reading right now.) Do something else. Anything else.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Being the Man

So here is another reason I do not like midterms:

Students who cheat.

Fuck knows I understand that impulse.

Not that I ever did cheat -- oh, not me, not with my intellectual vanity. I was far too good to cheat, me. My giant brains always made me the smartest brat in the classroom and I knew everything and I never needed to cheat, hah, look at this, exams without a net, me, half the time I never even studied, why would I need to cheat, and I wouldn't have anyway, I would have taken an F before I cheated, cheating was for L-OSERS!

On the other hand, as I have noted, lifting small items from drugstores and bookstores? I had no problem with that when I was a kid. So obviously we are not talking moral issues here. It was pride, not ethics, that kept me in check, when I was seventeen and nineteen years old.

And I thieved novels from the chain bookstores because, well, it was easier than working for them, wasn't it? So I understand why my students are thieving their answers off of Wikipedia and Answers.com and Essaysforfree. Beats working for the knowledge, ain't it? So far as they can see, anyway.

I'm also uncertain of what my response should be. On the one hand, I'm the man. I'm the authority here. Obviously I should smack them hard, make them learn that theft of other's work is not the path to wisdom, yap yap yap, and we do not tolerate this in the academy, you know the drill.

On the other hand: I was never caught. I got over it. I grew out of my wicked ways. (I submit to you further that, in my experience, most people do.) If I had been caught -- at nineteen -- I am fairly certain my life would not have been improved by the punishment that would have been inflicted on me. I am almost certain, in fact, that my life would have been made far worse by the punishment the legal system would have inflicted upon me. I would not, I am saying, be where I am today. So isn't it better that I wasn't ever caught? That punishment was never inflicted upon me?

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Smacking students.

I'm not the legal system, heaven knows. I don't send them to prison. But the actions I take sometimes have serious consequences. Students do lose scholarships because I fail them for cheating in my class. They lose health insurance. Their parents kick them out. I can say, as I have said in the past, well, this is not my fault. This is the student's fault. She cheated. He cheated. He should have thought of that before he took his essay off of EssaysAreUs. I said I would do it if they took their answers from Wikipedia -- did she think I was joking? But the fact remains -- am I making the world better or worse by harming the students in this way?

I can also argue that the jury is still out on whether they are harmed or made better by being failed in my class. But Plato said no one is made better by being punished, and I am slowly starting to think he might be right. (Oh, when has Plato ever been wrong?)

So my question is, what should I do about students who cheat on exams? Continue to slam them hard -- fail them for the semester -- or choose a different path?

Maybe a more useful one?

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Kid Grows Up

And becomes a girl.

And I am not sure I am happy about this change.

She studies me critically while I comb my hair in the mornings now, while I dress. She inserts comments. She instructs me that it is time, for instance, that I shaved my legs, for heaven's sake, what am I waiting for, Hanukkah?

This morning, standing beside me in the bathroom while I cleaned my teeth, she said, "Mom."

Recently she has taken to that, too: Mom, not Mama. I disapprove, and not only because I did so like Mama: also because the "Mom" comes with a little tone to it. As in "Mom, I'm only telling you this for your own good." Did I mention she was getting mouthy lately?

I spat. "What, you?"

"There is fuzz under your arms," she said, severely.

"There is, in fact," I say.

"Why are you growing hair under your arms?"

I resist the urge to say, in Snarky Mama guise, Because I'm turning into a werewolf. So many fine moments are ruined by our inability to pay for nine more months of therapy. "Because it's winter. I don't shave in the winter. No one can see it in the winter except Daddy. And he likes it."

This is TMI, and she flinches away from it. She has entered latency, and S-E-X (which is how she refers to it, S-E-X) appalls her now. "AAAGH!" she says, when anything vaguely sex related comes on TV. "S-E-X! Call me when it's over!").*

"That looks funny on girls," she informs me instead, still very firmly. "Hair under the arm."

I eye her in the mirror. "First," I say, "I am not a girl. I am a woman. Second, what are you, the Junior Enforcer for the Patriarchy Brigade? Where's your Badge, miss?"

"Blah, blah, blah," she says, and runs away.

"Would you give it a rest with the patriarchy bit?" mr. delagar says from the bedroom.

"When I'm dead," I say, rinsing my toothbrush cheerily.

*I think many Far-Right Christian Wingers are still in latency, btw. As evidence I submit how hysterical they got about the season premiere of Battlestar Galatica, because it had -- gasp -- S-E-X in it! No! Not that! Go see Jimmy Akin's site, with the comments, for an example.


Oh me

I sent the query to the agent yesterday afternoon.

mr. delagar said I couldn't kill a chicken first and check its entrails b/c Jews didn't do that, it was forbidden by the Torah. You twerd, I told him, I was only messing anyway.

I ate some Xanax instead.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Right, then

Someone remind me.

What are we doing in Iraq again?



had a charmingly woeful day today -- kept forgetting everything. Forgot a student's conference at 8.15, so that he was sitting sadly waiting for me when I arrived at 8.30; forgot that I had promised to cover The Other Liberal Professor's midterm exam, so that I had to run (yes, I actually ran, exams clutched in one hand) across campus, five minutes late at that point, to get to the room -- AND I had the wrong room number, so it was lucky Mouse was in the class and met me on the way, though she did get to mock me unceasingly all morning, both for forgetting and because seeing me sprinting across campus amused her so highly.

Then I forgot I had an appointment to advise a student -- which was no deal, just boring for her, since she had to hang about and watch me run her transcript, instead of me having it done when she arrived -- but the REASON I forgot all this stuff was I had wholly and entirely forgotten today was Wednesday, apparently --

The day I volunteered to take the book fair at the kid's Montessori school.


And I had already sent mr. delagar home with the car.

(mr. delagar now teaches two classes, adjunct, at my university -- yay! -- so we carpool, which is fine, except for times like this, b/c mr. delagar is not known for answering his cell phone. Ever.)

He did this time, though, and came back to fetch me, and I made it to the book fair on time.

Can I say I love volunteering at book fairs? If there is any experience prettier than helping three and four and six and seven year olds pick out books, I can't think what it would be. They have their tiny envelopes with five dollar bills or a seven dollar check or (one girl -- yikes!) a twenty dollar bill inside, and I pace with them gravely up and down the book display and we discuss the merits of this text and that, it is just priceless. It makes me want to give up being a professor and go be a librarian.

Especially the three year olds. "I wike dwagons," one confided in me. "Do they have books about dwagons?"

"I believe we do," I said. "Step this way."

At the end of the day, the kid and I picked out books, and I'm afraid I indulged her a bit much. Oh, well. If we're not to spend our money on books, what would we spend it on? Rent?

I have just read an excellent book, btw -- Benighted, by Kit Whitfield. Though it is about werewolves, and I, like most of you no doubt, don't like books about werewolves, never mind that: this is one you'll like. Me, too. It's not a werewolf book, even if it is. Trust me here.

Also Lee Smith's new book is out, Agate Hill. I've started it. A bit slow at the start, but I love that Lee Smith, so.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Oh, do I hope this tactic does not catch on with my students:

The Kid: (From the back seat, as we are driving home): So is it because I am clever that I have thoughts in class like 'is this all there is? Endless days like this? Math and spelling and then silent reading and more math?'

Me (amused): Yes, I am afraid that is a function of cleverness. You are having what is known as an existential crisis. Most people don't get them at eight.

The Kid: I don't like existential crisises. Do I have to have them?

Me: Actually, the plural of crisis is crises. Let's practice that. 'Mama, I had several existential crises today.' Say it with me.

The Kid ( at the top of her lungs): I AM AN ECTOPLASMIC BLOB! I EAT PROFESSORS!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Conversation at the delagar Household

The kid (watching me anxiously as I dress this morning): Are you going in to school?

Me: No. Today I am staying home and drinking coffee and writing my book.

The kid (relieved, but wistful): I wish I could write a book.

Me: Who is stopping you? We bought you that notebook. Get cracking.

The kid: I can't WRITE neatly. (flings herself backwards on the bed): EVERYTHING I write is messy. When --

Me: Do you think I was born knowing how to write neatly?

The kid (she has heard this bit before): groan.

Me: How do you think I learned to write neatly?

The kid: (flings blanket over her head)

Me: By writing, that's how. You won't learn any younger, that's for sure.

The kid (rolls off the bed, covered with the blanket): I am a giant blob of ectoplasm.

Me: Hey! I'm ranting here!

The Kid: I eat professors. Aargh!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Doing the Right Thing

Mouse's post here


has made me think.

Acting right is important to me.

This wasn’t always the case. Like many another child, I was an uncivilized barbarian. I was raised in by authority figures who ruled by smacking kids around, so that was that: right and wrong were reckoned by whether or not you got hit. If you didn’t get hit, it must be right. I still remember the time my little brother was snoring so loudly – he had a cold – and I, furious at not being able to get to sleep (I suffered even as a child from vicious insomnia and it was, perhaps, two in the morning) went into his room and slugged him as hard as I could in the stomach. He ran wailing to my parents’ room. I cowered sullenly on the floor of his room, waiting for the beating I was sure would come. Nothing happened. My mother took him into bed with her. I remember thinking, very clearly, even at that age, the fuck? Then I climbed into his bed and went to sleep.

But around the age of twenty-three or so, after an adolescence spent in the sheerest anarchy – I had long since stopped even pretending to believe in the possibility of god (stopped saying agnostic, in other words, and now said atheist), told people I was an anarchist, shoplifted my cigarettes from the New Orleans drugstores, cut class, swore like a filthy guttersnipe (wait – I still do that – uh), drank and, oh, here’s the worst, refused to vote because it would make no difference anyway, well, I read this book, by Robert Parker.

Yes. A book by Robert Parker changed by life. Spenser the P.I. taught me to act right. Why? Not because Jesus said so. Or even Rabbi Hillel. Or Plato. No. Because you ought to. Just because you should. The existential world according to Spenser.

Why this worked, when Plato hadn’t, and God hadn’t, I can’t say. But I still remember sitting on the levee, smoking my cigarette, my Raleigh bicycle behind me, saying huh. That’s true, you know.

So I started acting right. Later, rereading Plato, learning about the Buddha and Rabbi Hillel, I found they all said the same thing Robert Parker did – that you should act right because it makes the world a better place and because you have to live in the world, don’t you, you idiot? Do you want to live in a better world or a worse world? Well, obviously, then, you should act right, shouldn’t you?

So don’t go around torturing people. Don’t go around polluting your own water. Be nice to your neighbors. Practice random acts of kindness. Recycle. Forgive your enemies.

It’s that last one I have so much trouble with. I suspect most of us do – it’s a human thing. Someone harms us, we want to harm back. (This doesn’t mean, mind you, that it’s a good thing, or a bad thing. That a thing is part of the human tool kit says nothing about whether it is useful or not. An example: Many of us like sweet foods. Another: Many of us like to do sex. A third: Heights and large shapes looming from the dark give some of us an adrenalin rush. These are all part of the human tool kit. So is the consumption of sweets, the act of doing a great deal of sex, and the fear of high places useful behavior? Is it useful behavior in 2006? Was it useful behavior in 10,000 BCE?) When someone harmed us in 10,000 BCE, was harming them back useful behavior? Was it useful behavior in the small group we lived in? Is it useful behavior now?

I like “useful” by the way, rather than “right” or “wrong” because I think that helps focus on why we ought to do things: not because some giant sky-bunny might approve or disapprove or cast us into a lake of fire, some millions of years in the future, but because the acts we do now will impact our lives, now. And yes, for years in the future.

Thus: is it useful to harm our neighbors? Or colleagues? Our children?

Well, no. Because this is the world we live in, and if we make it worse, then we have to live in a world we have harmed – in a world that we have made worse.

Practice forgiveness, Rabbi Hillel says, not because it’s sweet of you to forgive, but because this is the world you live in.

Do you want a better world? Build one then.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ah, Yes

I'd forgotten how funny this was.



Thanks, Scott!


My Funny Class

I've got an excellent Freshman Comp class this semester -- they can most of them write, and, not only that, even though it meets at 9:00 in the morning, they are all awake and alert and responsive almost all the time, which, for a composition class, can I just say? Yikes.

Anyway. We've started work on style and grammar issues, and today I put this sentence on the board, demonstrating the proper use of a semi-colon: "Mick likes to watch House; Earl prefers to spend his evenings reading."

"What's House?" one student asked. "Is that a movie?"

I cast my eye upon her in mock horror. "You don't know from House? Barbarian!"

"I watch House," my guy in the corner assured me. "Well, I watched it once. He's that smart-ass, right? I mean," he said, when the class busted up laughing. "The smart doctor?"

"Right," I agreed. "Some of you watch House?"

Nine or ten students raised their hands. The smart girl in the front row assured me, "I like it because he's so rude."

"Oh, yeah," I said. "He's totally dysfunctional. The kid and I watch it together. Dr. House is her imaginary friend now. He follows her around whacking people with his cane."

"So it's a medical show?" a kid in the back asked.

"Tuesday nights," I agreed. "Seven o'clock."

"Oh. I can't watch it then. Dancing With the Stars."

Midterm Time

Midterm time, and I'm depressed.

Usually I get depressed after I have given midterms, when I have solid evidence of what a lousy instructer I have been, but this season I have decided to get depressed ahead of time. I do like my job, as I've said. It's the best job for me, it's a job that needs doing, I love the work, I like the students, I like that moment in the classroom when I can feel connection sweeping from me to them and minds are lighting up everywhere, I even like it when they aren't getting it, and I step back and say to myself, all right now, what then? and find some other way to get to them. I love know how to do this job. I like being good at it.

It's just the exams. Boy, do the exams suck. I give the exams, and they take the exams, and the answers are so often so awful. Such sure evidence that nothing I have said in the classroom has made it into the land of their souls. I thought their minds were lighting up -- but no. The cave stayed dark. Or it is lit with someone else's light, I guess. Or, maybe (this is when I am most hopeful) they only can't communicate the light inside. (Don't I wish.)

Occasionally I consider doing away with exams. Why do they need to be examined? I rail. Start the revolution here! I declaim. No exams this term! It is an outmoded system! Down with the midterm! Down with the final! A's for All!


Don't I wish.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Um, ick?

Over at Ann's blog


She's got this post on "What song do you want played at your funeral?"

Am I the only one who thinks that's a truly whack question?

Because first, ick.

And second, why even have a funeral? Ick. Donate the organs, cremate the rest, have a sandwich, let's move on. Music with this? What's wrong with you people?

As I've previously noted, I am a feral child, so I might be wrong on this one -- but surely we ought to be spending this here life dealing with this here life? Not, well, scripting an event to be maximally certain that people will feel as bad as possible about our deaths, once we're gone?

Monday, October 02, 2006


Not that I am for sex with under-age subordinates of any sort, because I am not. Clearly, I am not. Let me come out as appalled by that at the start.

But -- yikes -- *this* is what is going to upset America?

Habeas corpus? Go on an take it away.

Torture? Yeah, that's cool.

(Gay) sex? No, no! That's EVIL!