Tuesday, February 27, 2007


It never fails. I don't get sick often, but when I do it's at the most inappropriate times.

I am sick. Thank god I don't have the stomach flu thing that my boss has or that Mel had, but this feverish/cough/cold/congestion thing is bad enough.

It makes work work very difficult. It makes thesis-writing very difficult. It makes lecturing very difficult.

I've never canceled class, but if I nearly did for today. I haven't graded all their essays, and I can barely talk so lecturing will be interesting. If I didn't have seven people coming to office hours to make up essays, I probably would have found a way to cancel things.

I have a thesis meeting with my director at noon...I'll be canceling that since I don't have anything to show him.

I'll see him in the morning (tomorrow) because it's observation day. That should be interesting. Later in that day I have to present my research as part of the CSU student research competition. That should also be interesting. Maybe I can mime it.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

on american bloomsbury

A gazillion years ago [Sunday the 18th], KathyR asked me a question: "What do you think of Susan Cheever's book about the Concord intellectuals?"

The book in question is American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work .

I told KathyR that my answer would not be worth the wait. Here it is: I haven't read it.

But, unlike the hundreds of other books out there that I haven't read solely because I have no time, I specifically chose not to read this one. See, I don't purposely read things I know will irritate the hell out of me. Seriously, I get anxious sometimes when my boss says, "I'm going to forward this email to you from [Client X] about [something stupid and not our fault that we'll have to fix, explained using bad grammar and vague references]." I say, "Will it irritate me? and she invariably says "yes" and I invariably say "just translate it and I'll write it down" and, bless her, most of the time she does. But alas, I digress (a lot).

Ok so back to Cheever's book: I know, I know, super bad scholar for taking the word of others over actually examining a text.

However, based on reviews I have read (and I've read many), the only reason I'd pick up this book would be for the same reason people stop and stare at trainwrecks, car accidents, etc. I'd be rubbernecking. If even a cursory glance at the book produces glaring factual errors, as has been reported by numerous reviewers, then I can imagine what someone like me would do with it—probably throw it across the room.

By "someone like me" I mean someone who has read a great deal of primary works/letters/journals by the folks listed After the Colon, especially RWE and HDT. Given my research assistance/indexing/general discussion around my prof's forthcoming book, Notes of Conversations: 1848-1875 by A. Bronson Alcott [edited with glossary, preface, and introduction], I know how lives and lineages were intertwined for real, not some wacky fantasy version of it. And hell, I'm just a beginner as far as studying these things go.

I've also read—and enjoyed—many of the historical/biographical/scholarly works referenced by reviewers who say "don't read Cheever's book, go read..."
- Emerson: The Mind on Fire
- Emerson Among the Eccentrics
- Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism
- Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind
- The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
- Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth Century Woman [Caroline Healey Dall]

Incidentally, the glossary entry in the Alcott book for Dall reads like this:
American teacher, writer, reformer; born Caroline Wells Healey in Boston, MA; educated by governesses & at Abbot's school for girls. Married Reverend Charles Henry Appleton Dall in 1844, who abandoned his wife and children in 1855 to become a missionary in India. Dall operated a nursery in North End of Boston for children of working women from 1837-42; wrote moral and religious essays for newspapers and periodicals; attended Margaret Fuller's conversations for women; teacher in Georgetown, DC from 1824-44; wrote for antislavery annual in Boston; became supporter of women's rights; lecturer on women in history, education, law, and the workplace; her works include The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law (1867) and Margaret and Her Friends (1895). Her son, William Healey Dall, was a naturalist who studied under Louis Agassiz.
I wasn't allowed to write "teh awesome" in a book for an academic press, go figure.

On that note, there are a ton of cool folks from that time who have interesting biographical snippets and even richer lives. I don't need to read some sensationalized/fictionalized story about relationships that may or may not have occurred—the real thing is plenty rich!

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[not metaphorical rain, actual wet rain]

I love the rain. Seriously. It would have been highly appropriate for me to go to UW in Seattle, but alas it was not meant to be.

When it rains, I sleep. If it doesn't rain, I sleep fitfully and not for very long. Last night, it rained and rained and rained and rained and I slept and slept and slept and slept. I went to couch at 7:30, ready to watch the Warriors vs. Grizzlies, and wasn't even awake for tipoff. Next thing I knew, it sounded like a flood outside and it was 4:46am. [I also have this habit of waking up exactly one minute before my alarm goes off.]

I woke up, the rain has slowed down, and it'll be a good day. It's Thursday, my 7:30am class is doing an in-class essay during which time I'll be able to grade some of the essays from the Wednesday essay. After Thursday comes Friday, a day filled only with work work, and then after Friday we have two complete days to work on my thesis. It's almost like Christmas!

Gah, how sad.

unrelated: I have not been rejected outright at grad school choice #1; my app made it through to round #2. Hooray! I don't suck at first glance!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I just finished grading the narrative essays in one of my sections, and the lowest grade was a B-. I don't inflate grades (at least those who review my grading say I don't), so out of 24 essays it seems really strange to have 9 A, 9 A-minus, 4 B-plus, 2 B, and 1 B-minus. But I went back over them again and I didn't disagree with myself. My other class had 1 A, 7 A-minus, 4 B-plus, 2 B, 1 B-minus, 1 C-plus, 1 C.

Bless the narrative essay, right? I guess everyone believed me when I said "you can all tell a story, so just go do it." Some are really good. One just cracks me up when I think back to various phrases in it (and it's good), others make me sad, others make me chuckle.

Something I encountered this time around was that several students, across both sections, asked "how long is too long?" The essay guidelines say 1000-1200 words, but I'm certainly not going to mark someone down for writing 1800 words (as long as it's not filler/extraneous stuff). Indeed, I would say the average word count for these essays was 1300 words.

One fellow asked if he could write fiction and I said sure, since I wouldn't know if the stories were true anyway. He came back with a 2800 word coming-of-age-in-medieval-times short story!

Who are all these creative kids, and what did they do with the disgruntled/"I hate English" youth of today?


Thursday, February 15, 2007

"i'm going to blog this"

I don't know if it was the early hour or the lack of coffee or what today in class, but one of my students said something and I found it so funny and/or sad (depends on your perspective) that I said "I'm going to blog this."

We were talking about describing the absence of something, creativity bursting forth from destruction and all that, and I was making a comparison to plowing fields before planting a crop. At least, that's what I was trying to use as a comparison until I noticed they were all looking at me like I have three heads (not unusual).

[for those of you who think this doesn't sound very freshman-composition-y, just go with it]

So I asked if anyone had a garden or did some farming or otherwise knew the general process of prepping and planting something. One fellow quickly piped up with several steps to planting a successful crop and when he was finished he immediately said, "I don't know how I know that" followed by "Oh wait, it's from a video game I play: Harvest Moon." Several others nodded in agreement.

Perplexed, I asked about it. Turns out it's like a farming Sims game. "Have you ever thought about, you know, gardening?" I asked. Of course they hadn't.

From there, the conversation degenerated into a tangent on Second Life, which was also interesting...not because they were all into it already but because they didn't know what I was talking about and thought it was the strangest thing they every heard (except for one fellow, intriguing and bright, who is "totally going to check it out.").

So yeah, I think it was the lack of coffee, but it cracked me up.



I'm now batting .500 in the state of Washington, and I'm cool with that. I am not cool/smart enough to go to Jane Dark's school.

But that's ok!

Yesterday's rejection via e-mail was not from my #1 choice, so matters have not yet been settled.

And no, I would not be this calm about things if the e-mail rejection was the first I heard from any school. As it is, though, I have that offer letter in hand so no worries that I'll go 0 for 6 in this crapshoot which will dictate the rest of my life.

Besides, the school that does want me is in a really cheap place to live, as opposed to the other school, so...winner!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

for valentine's day, I bring you...

robot love
[click to embiggen/play]

I first posted "Robot Love" (from gumey.com) in May of 2004. I still dig it.

And hey, it's vaguely love-related and thus on-topic for the day...


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dear Googler: do your own work!

Here's a recent search query which led a body to this blog: "summary of battle of the ants”

I do provide a handy link to the text of "Brute Neighbors" from Walden, but come on...the "ants" portion is all of 1200 words and this isn't exactly Henry David at his most abstruse.



One of my school chums had the day off from substituting in the public school system, so she decided to come to my class this morning and bring donuts for everyone. I'm never one to turn down free donuts, that's for sure, and I figured the students wouldn't mind a snack/breakfast. My class is at 7:30am, after all.

So today was one of those "intro to [mode]" day, which means that I do a lot of the talking unless I'm asking them for examples and what not. We're doing "description" right now. There was much writing on the board as we went through the five senses and made up ludicrous examples, and talked about objective and subjective descriptions, and figurative language, and blah blah blah. Like I said, much writing on the board and general talking-with-my-hands (as I am genetically predisposed to do, being Italian).

My school chum knows me from seminars (American short story seminar, theory seminar, Victorian seminar) and our weekly trips to various greasy spoons for pancakes at 10pm. In other words, she knows quiet, calm, overly tired Julie, not 7:30 in the morning teacher Julie.

When we left the classroom this morning the first thing she said to me was: "Dude, you teach like you're on crack!"

She was going for "lively," I believe, and not "insane and drug-addled," so I took it as a compliment.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

continuing the "i'm so boring" trend...

Let me tell you how excited I am by my brand new appliances: VERY EXCITED.

I am the proud owner of a new washer, dryer, range, and refrigerator. I get to use these sparkly white (and large!) things for five whole months (or so) until they become the property of someone else. Oh well, at least we'll have this time together.

Yesterday was a big waste of a day for me. Much like Jane Dark's wasted afternoon waiting for a technician, I spent a good six-hour chunk of time watching the plumber do his thing in the kitchen.

I wasn't really "watching" so much as I was sitting at my table next to the kitchen trying to do work but failing miserably at it. Oh well. At least now I have new shutoff valves for the washer, the kitchen sink faucet is in place, and the garbage disposal was installed with all the correct diswasher/air gap/whatever stuff hooked up. I certainly chose well in having the plumber deal with all this, because even he had to make three trips to the hardware store to get little pieces that weren't part of his truck's inventory. I would have been running around like a crazy person trying to figure shit out, and it if took him six hours, I imagine I'd still be dealing with it.

Bleh. But hey! If I get all my work done today, I'm going to cook something tonight on my new range. Cooking-related posts have been woefully absent from this blog.


Thursday, February 8, 2007


I got a phone call today from my undergrad institution. I have a real love/hate relationship with the place. On the one hand, I loved my faculty. On the other hand, well, let's just say that when I went there you could count the people-of-color on a hand an a half (there were 9 students of color out of 800 or so). My campus was like one big sorority full of white women who wore pearls to class with their sweatshirts and couldn't wait until Friday and the next mixer.

In other words, not my kind of place. [ok sure, not everyone was like that, but...most were]

Anyway...the phone rang and it had a 540 area code. Since I didn't apply to UVa, I knew it couldn't be someone from the English Dept. calling to offer me gobs of money (damn). It had to be someone from my undergrad institution.

"Hi, is this Julie? This is Buffy McTiffany from [school]!"

The chances of Buffy McTiffany actually remembering me are slim to none. If she knew me, she would know that indeed I do not want to come to the alumnae luncheon in San Jose next week.

And no, I do not feel badly about failing to send in my donation for the 15 year reunion happening This! Spring!

I do, however, feel really fucking old all of a sudden. I graduated from college FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Jeebus.

That's right. When I get the PhD four or so years from now, I'll be that 37-year-old on the market for the first time.

You spring chickens out there have nothing to worry about.

For a very brief moment, I thought about going to the alumnae luncheon just to mess with them, but then I remembered that I'm old and no longer so rebellious/immature. But I did consider it.


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

a bit of news

I will not go 0 for 6 with my PhD apps. Got a phone message today from #2 school...they think I'd be a great fit and would like to offer me a slot and 4 yrs of funding.

I agree with them. I would be a good fit there, and it's in an area much more suited to my temperament (read: not a big city).

Needless to say, I was not expecting a phone call from them today. In fact, I had just received the "your application is complete and we expect to make a decision in the next six to eight weeks" letter on Saturday, and here it is Tuesday and the lovely director of grad studies leaves a message on my cell.

I'm pretty stoked, but I'm also anxious about choice #1.


you know those pieces of underwear with the days of the week printed on them?

I need some.

I have lost ALL sense of time!

I might have to make sure I blog every day so that after I post I can see the day-stamp. What a loser!


Monday, February 5, 2007

before coffee

Note to self: hook up your kitchen sink and put your kitchen back together.

Apple juice is not an appropriate substitute for coffee or tea in the morning.

Excuse me while I go off to teach without having coffee in my system. I predict the most boring introduction to narration ever. Or...I'll get coffee and try to suck it down quickly and end up spilling it all over myself.

Of the latter, magic 8-ball says: "Outlook good."


Saturday, February 3, 2007

dealing with utter incoherence in compositions

Here's a question for all the composition instructors out there: how do you begin to work with a student whose main problem is incoherence? By that, I mean sentences that sound like they came from spammers. For instance, here's a bit of spam I pulled from my WordPress spam filter: "mastery champion Caputo vilification Safeco Auto Insurance." Now imagine sentences in a composition that aren't too far from that. (Of course I won't post the student's sentences on my blog, but if you want to see an example so that you can offer suggestions, please email me.)

I think I'm seeing a complete lack of understanding the prompt. The student fixated on all the keywords in the prompt and proceeded to write sentences (?) containing the words (misused). I'm at a loss as to how to approach this, besides writing "this is incoherent" on the paper. Because really, will the student know what "incoherent" means? Even if the student does know, the student certainly won't know what to do about it. So, I'd like to offer suggestions but I have none.

I'm wondering if what I'm seeing is indicative of some sort of learning disability, but I'm not well-versed in how such things manifest themselves in writing.



my kitchen countertop is so nice, i think i might cry

Not really, but it sure makes a difference. I ordered the new appliances yesterday, so sometime next week I should have a sparkling new stove, fridge, washer, and dryer. I'll get to put "all new appliances" in the sales listing! Somehing that will cost me ~$1500 will raise the price of the place certainly more than that. Good investment.

Anyway, so all I have left to do in the whole house are minor painting things plus one visit from Mr. Handyman to do things like replace some outlets (I don't mess with electricity), put up some shelving (I don't mess with things that need to be level), and install some new bi-fold doors on the laundry area (see above re: things needing to be level). The flooring guys need to do the flooring in the vanity/bathroom and the kitchen. But it's damn near done and I can stop obsessing about it!

By my calculations, I'll live in a nice place for about 4.5 months. Whoo hoo!

Today I'm off to do a bunch of grading so that tomorrow I can work on my thesis intro (10 pages or so)...it's due during my Tuesday meeting. I must also write a summary of my research so that lay people (profs outside the dept) can see that I did a bunch of it. How does one do that, really? In science, you can totally rock a research summary what with all those experiments and stuff. Me? How do I articulate that "I read a hell of a lot of primary material and secondary sources" is good research? It's sort of a rhetorical question.

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

excuse me, has anyone seen january?

Wow, January flew right on by, didn't it? I'd like at least one week of it back, I think.

Today is my first real teaching day of the semester. It's about damn time, don't you think? Both classes have taken their diagnostic essay, and I've glanced at them enough to know that, again, my students don't suck. All of their issues are perfectly normal issues to have in freshman composition and are correctable issues. I'm beginning to think that the people I've met here (fellow TAs, other people) who complain about their students just don't want to have students. Or, they think their students pop forth from high school fully-formed and ready to rock and roll in the comp classroom. Uh, no. That's why they're here, isn't it?


Looks like the TTh class has settled at 23 students, and the MW class will have 14. Pretty snazzy.

As expected, student responses to the "Printcrime" exercise were a lot more interesting than their diagnostic essays. I can clearly see who didn't read closely (about half) and who at least tried to answer all the questions even if it was "I don't know but it could be..." (all). So, it was a useful exercise.

Alright, I'm off in a few hours to lecture on the wonders of the narrative essay. Then it's back to the "real" job and then tonight I have to prep my kitchen for the countertop install guy who will be here tomorrow. I live a thrilling life, let me tell you.