Saturday, December 30, 2006

update on the home improvement

I have done a lot, but I haven't actually finished anything. That's ok—my list is a lot shorter and several appointments are scheduled for finishing the other things. For instance, on Wednesday Mr. Handyman will come out and rip out the large vanity (in the vanity area) and replace it with the one sitting in the room all ready to go. I would have done the ripping out myself, but I can't undo the plumbing (I'm strong, but I don't have good gripping power with my hands). Also, since I need the pipes hooked up in the other vanity (in the bathroom) I figured what the hell, have the person do it all. I have the faucet all installed and working (yay me) but the pipes don't line up and I can't figure out the correct size/connectors so I gave up. The following week, the shower/tub thing will be refinished (it's cheaper and easier than busting it out of the room and replacing it). The following week or so, the kitchen guy will replace the countertops and drop in a new sink. He's also going to bust out some cabinets in my laundry closet and replace them with shelves.

Remarkably, I'll still have money left over (thanks, Dad!) and will have the flooring done in the vanity area, bathroom, and kitchen. At that point, all that will really remain is touch-up painting and...

I'm getting a new range! I love to cook, and my oven is crap and the stovetop has those stupid electric coils and drip pans. So, for six months or so I'll live in a fine condo with hardwood floors and new, shiny things and a brand-new stove.

And then I'll sell it and move to some grad student apartment.

But here's the thing—I'm certainly not going to mind living in a less-nice place. I'm not a big "stuff" person—if you walked in my house right now you'd be surprised to know I've lived here for just-shy-of five years. I'm sort of a minimalist—not quite in the sense of that Absolutely Fabulous episode with the white room with white accessories, but close enough.

Getting a mortgage and a condo was an achievement, and a necessary one for tax purposes. Selling it will be necessary to fund the next stage in my life—I have to pay off my car, credit cards, and an old tax bill so that I have zero revolving monthly debts else this whole full-time student thing won't be possible. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do that. I would also like to thank the state lottery of Pennsylvania and its check to my father a few years back, and then of course my father for forgiving a ton of money I owed him.

In brief, I'm one of the luckiest people around not only to have a house, but to improve it, sell it, and move willy-nilly through the steps of doing whatever the heck I want to do in life. Happy birthday to me!


a trip to the dump

Part of home improvement is demolition, and being the somewhat-good person that I am I did not sneak my demolished base cabinets and countertops into the dumpsters here at my condo complex. Instead, I asked my buddy Jim if he was experienced in the ways of the dump (actually the "Fremont Landfill" but whatever). Turns out that not only is he experienced in the ways of the dump and has a pickup truck, but he also still has a driver's license with a Fremont address and thus could actually get into the dump. Apparently this particular dump is limited to people who live in one of three particular cities, none of which are mine.

No, I don't know where the other dumps are. After going to this one, I don't want to know where the others are.

It was a pretty tight operation, especially for people in a small truck with just a few large items to toss onto the enormous pile of waste. We paid our $11.95, drove up a long, winding road to the current top of the pile, parked the truck, and tossed large items on the enormous pile of waste.

The photo in this post doesn't begin to do justice to the enormous number of seagulls patrolling the dump. Those suckers own the dump. We lowly humans are just the purveyors of fine dining for them, apparently, and they come at you in waves of seagull aggression. Freaky. I was too dumbstruck by the whole dump experience to haul out the cameraphone and snap some pictures.

One part of me was completely disgusted by the enormous pile of waste we humans have produced, but the other part of me was particularly pleased that at least it was confined to this area. Also, this particular dump has been recognized by the EPA for some sort of environmental goodness, so there's that...


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

it's home improvement week

I know I said I'd start on my thesis, but I really have to deal with a lot of the remaining home improvement stuff while our company is technically closed this week.

I started in the bathroom. It needs a new vanity, medicine cabinet, light, flooring, and a shower/tub thing. I ripped out the old vanity, medicine cabinet, light, and flooring. I gave the walls a once-over with paint (they'll get another coat tomorrow). I bought a new medicine cabinet and light to replace when the second coat of paint is dry.

Then I learned the hard way where my water shut-off isn't for that bathroom.

The plumber will be here in a few hours to do something minor—but which requires the water to be shutoff from elsewhere and I don't have the tool—and then I'll continue on my merry way...

I'll get the new vanity and sink tomorrow and install it. The flooring and shower/tub will be dealt with by others.

On Friday (I think), I'll rip out the other vanity (I have a vanity area between the bedroom and bathroom) and replace it. But another person and a truck is involved for that bit of fun, as is taking all this stuff to the dump.

I really do not enjoy the home improvement thing. I know a lot of people do. I am not one of them. But doing what one can is a lot cheaper than having others do it, so when there's time it's best just to suck it up and do it.

After the bathroom/vanity is done I need to finish painting some areas in the living room/hall closet. Then all that will remain is the kitchen countertop and flooring. The bonus there is that I'll get a new range, so for six months or so I'll be able to cook on a nice stovetop/in a nice oven.


Friday, December 22, 2006

my thesis, doodle version

Since I'll start working on my thesis in earnest in approximately six hours (end of the work day and in fact end of work work until January 2nd), I thought it would be a good idea to document the argument of my thesis in case I forget it along the way.

I felt a doodle would work :

my MA thesis

[click to embiggen]

Here's to hoping my writing skillz are better than my doodling skills...


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

end o' the semester

It's officially the end of the semester, as I handed in my final seminar paper this morning. Yes, grades are due tomorrow, and yes, our professor gave us every possible moment to finish the papers. Ok, sure...he thought grades were due next week, but who are we to argue?

All that remains for me at SJSU is my thesis, which I believe I will begin in earnest on the 25th. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything that day, our company is officially closed from the 23rd through the 1st, and gosh darn it there's a lot of work to be done between now and the end of February, which is when my readers need to see a draft of the whole darn thing.

All the while I'll be working and teaching a section of compostion, and waiting not-so-patiently for (fat) envelopes from graduate schools. I scored well enough on the GRE subject test for the schools to which I am applying (and hey, even for some others!), although my study-group buddy Jim scored three percentile points higher than I did, the bastard. I kid. He's not a bastard.

But if you read his post you'll find he's probably going to abandon academia. For that, he's a bastard. He's one of the good ones! Go convince him that law school is not cool. Not cool! English: cool. Law school: not cool. Go tell him.

[I don't really think law school is uncool.]


Sunday, December 17, 2006

rape of the lock, sixteen candles, it's all the same

Last night, my kick-ass study group got together for a non-studying event. We had fun, because we're all fun people.

One of our study group members teaches high school English, including AP English. As you can imagine, she has some great student stories. Anyway, she was lamenting the fact that the AP kids are pretty dense. She had assigned "The Rape of the Lock" and students were grumbling along the lines of "what's the big deal, he cut off a lock of hair?" She went around and around with them, trying to get them to understand, and their wee high school brains just couldn't get it.

So she said "Look. You know the movie Sixteen Candles?"

"Yes," they said.

"You know the part when Farmer Ted held up the underwear and charged admission for all the little geek guys to see it?"

"Yes," they said.

"It's like that."

"Ohhhhhhhhhhh....." [general murmurings of understanding]

At which point they proceeded to all discuss "The Rape of the Lock," now understanding the big deal.

The moral of the story? Use Anthony Michael Hall whenever possible in your lectures.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

in which I write lovingly of my students

[sorry, this is a little long]

The last day of class was ages ago (Dec 6th) and I turned in my grades on the 12th. In a brief interlude in which I extol the virtues of technology, let me say that my mad Excel skillz really made grading a breeze. So there's that.

But back to my students. I couldn't have asked for a better bunch of students for my first class. I had a range of abilities, sure, but not an unwieldy range. In fact, I was concerned about how to address issues of grammar because there were not widespread grammatical problems. Everyone started at a good grammatical place (or an easily fixed grammatical place) and their biggest issues were in thoughtfulness and organization.

That is, everyone could write reasonably well (some could write very well) but were seemingly terrified to do so.

Before I go on, let me provide some context (in the form of generalizations, forgive me). My school: large regional institution that is part of a system (CSU) living in the shadow of its sibling (UC system), a large number of students transfer in from community college, those who are here for all four years are typically in highly-structured programs such as engineering (computer, civil), nursing, sciences, etc. If a student goes to a CSU, they're already labeled (whether it is true or not) as not being part of the top 12.5% of college graduates (they go to UCs). A large number of our students are generation 1.5 students. To that end, a lot of our students have been told they're not good enough, not smart enough, or have been shuffled through the overcrowded educational system without personal attention (unless they were troublemakers). What happens when a typical teenager receives no affirmation of their ability? They believe they have none, and then self-fulfilling prophecies take over and they end up in remedial/basic writing/call it what you will courses.

By the time we get them in 1A—if we get them at all, because a lot of students take 1A/1B at community colleges because it's "easier," although they then fail the WST (writing skills test required before junior year that allows them to take upper-division general ed courses) at a rate of 66% instead of the 2% who take 1A/1B here—they either lack confidence in their writing (or even their intelligence) or have already decided they don't care to learn to write. Given this generalization of the students at our school, the goals of 1A/1B are not as advanced as those of freshman writing courses at other institutions. The final essay in 1A is an argumentation essay; in 1B students work on "research papers."

We get them through 1A using modes-based pedagogy, and we musn't show them any "literature." There's an insitutional policy against having "literature" on our syllabi. I have "literature" in quotes because I'm not really sure what that means. In general, it means "don't teach sonnets to students in 1A," and sure, I'm ok with that. But there are plenty of pieces in our reader that are literary without being poetry or fiction.

In short: 1A is much like a basic writing course elsewhere, we do a lot of personal writing, and we musn't introduce them to scary things like literature.

So what did I find myself doing? Cheerleading. The simple act of picking out positive things in students' personal writing so as to show them that they had thoughts in their heads and the ability to express themselves had far greater results than picking out the deductive and inductive arguments in "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

That is not to say my students didn't get any book-learnin', as they certainly did. On the last day of class we had an impromptu "exam" in which I wrote a bunch of terms on the board and they had to pick one and explain it before I let them go get their donut/cake/bagel from the party table. It was, pardon the pun, a piece of cake to them, and I think they were as surprised as I was with all they ended up knowing about types of writing, tools for writing, and the writing process.

Did everyone end up with an A? Of course not. Only three students did. The average number of absences in my class was just under two, and six students had perfect attendance. People wanted to be there and commented on how much fun class was, even if it was 7:30 in the morning and they didn't like any/all of the readings. Heck, I didn't like all of the readings. I will be breaking the "no literature!" rule in the Spring as I will swap out a few of the readings with excerpts I think better address the particular mode/I like more.

Sorry, I forgot that I was writing lovingly about my students.

On the last day I had them write something about what they liked best/didn't like/thought they learned/etc and in their responses I learned far more students than I originally thought had previously been in the remedial sequence of courses. Many of them said their original goal for the class was to learn what it was all about so when they had to take it a second time they'd be able to pass. Wow. It's a good thing I talked about aiming high and self-fulfilling prophecies and such, earlier in the semester (actually, one of my students quoted me saying this in his final exam, and the reader pointed it out to was both funny and embarrassing). Some of my best writers were those tagged as remedial. In my comments to them as I sent the email with their grades, I emphasized they should remove all traces of that tag from their brains because nothing about their thought processes or their writing requires remediation and in fact they are as capable and prepared as any other student. I'm not anti-remedial in any way, but I am anti- whatever test put them on a path that set them back an entire year in their studies and confirmed what they already (incorrectly) thought about themselves. But that's probably another post for another day.

Many of my students said I was their best English teacher ever, which I of course do not believe, but I will concede that perhaps I was the first to actually pay attention to them and provide them with an atmoshere conducive to success. That I can do, and if I learned anything from my first batch of students, it's that it's really important to do so. I vow never to forget that.

I could tell you something personal/specific to every single one of my students. In fact, I will.

One feels about herself because she got a butterfly tattoo (she likes butterflies) and all her friends told her that makes her a ho. One is still reforming himself from life in a gang, in one of our crappier neighborhoods, and wrote a final exam that tied for the highest in the class. One student has a mother who was a schoolteacher in their native country but can't find skilled work here, who has instilled the need for higher ed into her daughter, who is just so stoked to have made it to college that you can't help but be cheerful along with her. One who has begun school after a two-year tour in Iraq, who has a wicked sense of humor and a love of UFC and Borat. One who wants to be a pharmacist and help all the elderly folks in his community, to honor his grandfather who died when he was in high school. One who has been working on her own graphic novels for years, and who develops and draws and describes a whole cast of characters. One who has strong opinions about immigrants' rights and other political issues, but doesn't yet have the verbal ability to get all that stuff out on paper; she was not the "chosen one" in her family, and I think she suffers because of it. One whose father is a quadriplegic and has a lot of responsibilities outside of school; that she can even make it to class is a plus for her. One whose father has mapped his life out for him, but he doesn't agree; every day is a struggle between what he's told to do and what he thinks he wants to do...and I hope one day he chooses wisely. One who overestimates his argumentation skills, but is certainly funny and smart and kept class lively. One whose family had to move for financial reasons, who now lives in an area not so safe and full of distractions for a budding student, which she has to negotiate daily. One whose family left a relatively palatial home in another country for "opportunities" in America, which currently includes stuffing the family into a wee apartment in a crappy part of town, with parents working multiple jobs so that their children can go to school here; the student longs for something he can call "home" and knows it isn't here. One who struggled to make it through high school because he was "the smart one" at a school where gang life was valued, not intelligence. One who hides his enjoyment of things sentimental and literary because it's "not cool," but he doesn't do a good job hiding it and he knows it and it's ok. One who is thoughtful and funny and smart, whose father started out as a gardener and built for himself a landscaping business and moved his family to a better part of town. One who wants to be a nurse, and teases me about my inability to refer to science matters (I once referred to "those things with -tons"). One who should have been able to skip 1A but for some reason didn't, who did every single extra-credit assignment not because she needed it but because they were reader responses to actual literature; I hope she becomes an English major. One who realized that his issues had nothing to do with his writing skills or intelligence, but everything to do with his own time management; once he realized that, he was golden. One who wants to be a nurse and provide obstetric services to women in third-world countries. One who apologized for not contributing "smart things" to classroom discussion because once (out of twenty or so times) he wasn't exactly correct; I quickly informed him that it's ok to be wrong, because sometimes the best discussions come out of incorrect blurtings, and sheesh, go a little easier on yourself! One who hated all the readings because she couldn't identify with a single one of them, but loved the class anyway and was there every day. One who had incredible difficulties getting started and writing the required amount, but everything he did manage to write was grammatically correct and sometimes insightful; his favorite reading in the class was an extra-credit reading...the fellow thought "A Modest Proposal" was just the bomb, although he couldn't quite get all the words together to say why. Finally, the quiet fellow who sat in the back, who wants to be a computer engineer, who loves soccer more than anything in the world, who wrote his descriptive essay about a friend who was gunned down in their neighborhood, who was told by other students in a summer program at a private high school that he wasn't good enough or smart enough because he spoke Spanish, who said that he hopes one day to write poems in both languages.

I adore them all.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

best final exam doodle EVER

This one is from Dr. Free-Ride but I get to use it in a post too since I was grading with her.

For a full explanation of the wonders that is this doodle (by student Anne K.):

Read her post.

Come on, it's a dinosaur and a unicorn. It's awesome!


Thursday, December 14, 2006 this thing on?

Look! A new blog.

Just needed a change.

This one will be solely about grad school and literature stuff. No technology.

Although I still have my job in high-tech, and will until the first day of whatever PhD program I begin in Fall '07, I'm trying as hard as I possibly can to disentangle myself entirely from that life.