Friday, October 26, 2007

Rejected Halloween Costumes

Finally having decided upon a costume, here are the top rejected ideas I came up with:

1. Groundskeeper Willie
2. One of the Flood
3. Winnie the Pooh (too difficult and costly to assemble)
4. Pillsbury Dough Boy
5. Eric and/or Kevin
6. One of the two singers of "D*** in a Box" (Easy costume to assemble, though. Step one, cut a hole in a box...)
7. The Sea Captain (I hate the sea, and everything in it.)
8. Stephen Colbert

Also, I asked my students what I should go as. Here are some of the choice responses:
-Power Ranger (red)
-Kevin Youkilis (a baseball player, apparently)
-A ninja
-Justin Timberlake and K-Fed (combined)
-J.D. from "Scrubs" (oddly enough a costume I considered myself beforehand)
-Underwear model (this one really disturbs me)
-An M&M
-Peter Pan
-Captain Planet (He's our hero. Gonna take pollution down to zero.)
-Team Ramrod, from Supertroopers
-Belle from Beauty and the Beast (apparently this would work because I "have high cheek bones")
-Benjy Compson (something else I considered)
-Shredded Cheese

So there you go. If you're still looking for a costume, feel free to poach from either list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Open Letter

To: Old Woman in Red Car
From: Pedestrian with Open Umbrella

Dear madam,

The State of Wisconsin's Department of Motor Vehicles would like to inform you that the large red octagonal sign posted at the intersection of East Gorham and Carroll Streets is what is commonly referred to as a "Stop Sign." We realize they may not have had these devices back when you acquired your license during the days of the Model T, so we of the DMV would like to clarify. These signs, prolific amongst the many streets and intersections of non-stoplighted America, generally indicate you should bring your vehicle to a full and complete stop at the white line perpendicular to the road.

We would further like to clarify that these signs are particularly worth noting during inclement weather, as we in Madison suffered upon the afternoon of Monday, 22 October, 2007. When the streets are particularly slick from rain, sleet, or snow, it is vitally important that you pay attention to all traffic signs and signals, particularly around heavily-trafficked pedestrian areas.

In short, this means that when you see a "Stop Sign" on a rainy day and there is a pedestrian walking through the intersection already, stop your fucking car. The sign, while liberally interpreted by many drivers, does not mean you can roll through an intersection without even slowing down, you stupid bitch. Nor does it mean you should gesticulate accusingly at said pedestrian, especially when he was deft enough to dodge your ugly-ass vehicle's prominent bumper, thus saving himself from massive reconstructive leg surgery and you from slightly dinging your bumper (not to mention paying for said surgery). Your wild accusatory hand gestures signify only that you can't read a goddamn stop sign, and that you have no business being on the road in the first place, you decrepit old hag.

In the grand and noble spirt of the DMV, we would like to conclude by cursing your very existence and wishing you wreck your car around an innocuous tree or lamp post, thus sparing the world the very real dangers of you operating a powered ton of metal. You filthy whore.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Theorizing that One Could Time Travel Within His Own Lifetime...

...Benjy Compson stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator, and vanished.

Ok, not really.

But I did compare the non-linearity of Benjy's time in The Sound and the Fury to Dr. Sam Beckett's journey through time last Friday in section. The blank stares of my first section were a cutting reminder of just how little they know about the television of my youth ('88-'92 was not that long ago, folks. Learn your cultural history.). But then my second section massively redeemed itself through the few nods of recognition I saw. Though to be fair, both sections were more familiar with Quantum Leap than with Journeyman, so they all get props.

And, to be even more fair, there was an episode of QL where Sam leapt into the body of a mentally challenged man-child. And another episode where his own internal linearity of time was disrupted due to excessive electroshock therapy in an insane asylum. ($5 says Nittany Lion remembers both of these episodes.) So I think there's a future in my comparison; a new hourlong serial adventure-drama in which Benjy travels through various periods of history, setting right what once went wrong. His only guide on this journey would be Luster, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Benjy can see and hear, who taunts him repeatedly by whispering "Caddy Caddy Caddy" before giving him a jimson weed, and laughing uproariously as Benjy starts to cry in front of a bunch of strangers. During sweeps, he could try to save his brother Quentin, and end up leaping into the body of Shreve.

I think I'm on to something here. Time to call the networks. Does Compson Leap do anything for anyone?

Not much else to report at this point. Finished grading (yay!), went to my five year reunion (good friends! free food! Settlers of Catan! Northwestern wins in double overtime! Superbad!), been working ever since I got back. Oh, and Pushing Daisies continues to rock. Last week had Kristen Chenoweth singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" in sheer moment of whee!-ness, and this week had pirate metaphors (which were apt) and a swashbuckling swordfight straight out of an Errol Flynn movie in a funeral home against an angry Asian man who spoke with a southern accent and was a Civil War re-enactor (including an excellent curtain-rip descent and the best justification for swordsmanship prowess ever: "I wanted to be a jedi!"). Seriously, if you're not watching this show yet, check it out.

At least until my Compson Leap pilot hits next fall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Spousal Hire and the Agony of Being Dubs

And now for another entry in my ever-continuing series "Posts That, If Read by the Wrong People, Could Get Me in Trouble or Possibly Fired."

As I've mentioned before, this semester I'm teaching for someone I'm calling Spousal Hire. At first, it was just an amusing bastardization of academia, something to while away the time while I did my own work, a kind of "Don't Let This Happen to You" guide for educators.

Now, however, my heart is full of hatred; gone is all kindness and charity from my mind, and my soul knows no pity except for the deterioration of my own brain cells. Twice a week, my mind is filled with error, inanity, and the ever-mounting horror that my students might actually think this is what an English class should look like. And I am torn, torn by conflicting emotions. Half of me wants to throw down my books in disgust and storm out of the lecture hall. The other half of me just wants to smash SH's face in. With a brick. Or, barring that, a jagged rock. But preferably a brick.

Back at the beginning of the semester, I handed out a guide to close reading for my students. Looking it over the night before, I realized I had to edit out the first sentence. That sentence? "As we have been practicing in lecture and discussion, the way we are accessing the texts in this class is through the practice of close-reading." Because, dear reader, it simply wasn't true. In fact, looking back, I'm fairly certain that we've never modeled close reading in lecture. Discussion, sure, but not lecture. You see, there are two typical SH lecture models:

Model One: The Intro Model
This model is appropriate for introducing a new text, or a new artistic movement. It will largely involve 40 minutes of historical context (often wrong or inappropriate), vague generalizations about artistic and aesthetic movements (sometimes wrong), and the examination of various pieces of visual artwork that may or may not actually apply to the historical period we are introducing. With the last ten minutes, we will discuss biographical information about the author, and maybe introduce one or two key topics that we will never actually explore.

Model Two: The Continuation Model
This model applies to every non-intro lecture. Here, we will offer generalizations about the text, often of an intellectual rigor akin to Sparknotes. These will very rarely ever be in the form of an arguable point; instead, they will be blanket statements and observations that might serve as the intriguing foundations of argument, if they were to be explored further. And, in the rare occasions that these are interesting claims, they will never be matched with evidence from the text to make these points clear. To be sure, SH does bring in the text quite often. Most of the time, this involves the reading of large chunks of text at once, or the quick hopping from quote to quote, rarely in service of any kind of point. Also included in this model are further historical digressions, repetition of previous historical or aesthetic discussions, and other aesthetic concepts that, while true and important, are seldom connected to the text in any meaningful way. Almost as if trying to prove that SH did indeed go to grad school and can talk the talk with the rest of us.

At first I found this rather charming. Then came last Thursday, when be began our discussion of Shmigh Shmodernism (I am altering the terms slightly so my students won't find these by googling them in order to learn what the heck we've been talking about). For this class, the students were assigned some of the most difficult Schmodernist poetry, including "The Schlove Schong of J. Schalfred Shprufshok," "The Shwaste Shland," four poems by Shrobert Schrost, two poems by Shamy Showell, two poems by Schwallace Shtevens, three Schedward Shrobinson poems, and four sh. sh. shcummings poems. All of that, in one day. One day. I'll say it again, because it infuriates me so. One day. I wouldn't wish that on my worst foe.

And what did we do in that one day? Well, see Model One. And how much time did we spend on any of the poetry itself? Six minutes.

Six minutes. Six mind-boggling, biography-filled, sparknotes-quoting minutes to understand perhaps the singlemost famous and one of the most complex poems of the 20th century. Which, of course, led me to playing massive triage in section, trying desperately to teach the WL to my uncomprehending students. I often lament the limits of the time we have to teach in section, but then I rationalize it by saying the important things are what we cover in lecture. But now, I feel like they aren't getting anything but my sections. And since I actually care that my students learn something, I am full of rage at the gross bastardization of their education. Seriously. I leave every class full of rage. And amusement, of course. But mostly rage.

Some things I've learned in lecture so far:
-It's bad to be a professor and leave your cell phone on. It's worse to not turn it off and just let it keep ringing during your lecture.
-You can give three lectures on Naturalism and its importance in American Literature, without ever mentioning Theodore Dreiser.
-The Renaissance was a period from about 1400-1650. This was going on simultaneously in Europe and America.
-The Romance, as an aesthetic literary genre, most often involves the successful marriage of two lovers. It's modern counterpart is the romantic comedy.
-In 1918, Russia and other nations underwent Communist revolutions.
-Fighting these Communists was one of the aims of America in World War I.
-The Immigration Act of 1924 had something to do with Shmigh Shmodernism. As it has so very much to do with the plight of immigrants.
-The American Civil War began in 1862.
-In 1937, the Nazi's invaded Spain during World War II.
-Always spell-check your outline and compare it with the text, lest you repeatedly misspell the name of one of the key characters.
-Don't misquote Macbeth. Particularly when the title of your text comes from that quote. "Signifying nothing", not "meaning nothing."
-It is embarassing when a student stumps you with a question about the plot of the text.
-It is even worse when you misremember a key scene of the novel and misinterpret it in front of the entire lecture.
-It's quite funny when a student interrupts your long and pointless historical digression to ask you a question about the plot.
-It's hilarious for the TA when a student, in office hours, claims that the text is more complicated than the instructor's interpretation of it.
-If you're six weeks into the semester and your TAs still haven't gotten their desk copies, you might want to check into that.
-When scheduling the first paper, it is always a bad thing to offer the student only one choice of texts to write on. It's even worse for the TA, because then he or she has to grade between 37-80 papers on the same text.
-It's even worse when you only offer one possible prompt to write on, thus ensuring 37-80 papers on the same topic.
-It's even worse when this prompt is poorly written and confusing.
-It's even worse when you couple all of these things with a lecture that contains no close reading and no argument, because then your TAs will have to read 37-80 papers on the same topic, the same text, and all with no argument or close reading.

So pray for Dubs, gentle readers. Tomorrow we continue our three-lecture exploration of Shfaulkner's The Schound and the Shury. In lecture one we didn't even open the book. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pushing Daisies

Mad props to the Lady in Black for her recommendation of "Pushing Daisies," easily the best tv I've seen in a while and my new first season favorite. It's sweet, clever, kinda weird, and altogether charming. If you can, catch the pilot online or if it gets repeated before next week. Definitely worth the watch.

Promise to post about Spousal Hire tomorrow. Would have tonight, but I didn't want to deprive you all of the fun I'm going to have tomorrow in lecture, when in one day we introduce high modernism and somehow discuss Eliot (Prufrock and Waste Land), Lowell, Frost, cummings, Robinson, and Stevens. It should be a hoot.