Monday, October 20, 2014

Pedantry or self-preservation?

It's grading season--wait, it's always grading season, isn't it?--and as the papers come flooding in, it's inevitable that we'll get some of these:
--papers with no page numbers
--electronic papers called things like "myroughdraft.doc" or the ever-popular "paper1.doc."
--papers with no Works Cited
--papers with no names
--papers with Works Cited in a separate file
--papers in some odd format that can't be opened
--Works Cited in some peculiar numbered list, which we don't use in MLA

Now, on the papers themselves, we're used to explaining, or not explaining if you believe in minimal marking, when there's a comma splice or a fragment or a missing apostrophe. I am sometimes told I'm the first person ever to point these out to the student, which, if true, is kind of sad and inspiring at the same time (as in they're better off to learn about it now).  Along with commenting on the contents, which is the more important part, it's part of our jobs to note these.  We grade holistically, so we're not dinging them for points all the time.

But those format things in the list above used to make me bang my head on the desk.  Why would they not follow the guidelines that I'd given to them? I'm writing a final comment, and I have to number the pages myself to say "On p. 4"--why, oh why, is it up to me?

Then I got smart.  The papers are still graded holistically, but here's a test: does it make more work for me if Stu Dent didn't complete the format things? Then Stu Dent gets a gentle reminder on the first paper, and after that, it's -1 for those things. It's not enough of a penalty to hurt them, but it's enough to get their attention--and it seems to work.

Some would call it pedantry.  I call it the "you make me work to do something you were supposed to do, you pay" rule, or self-preservation.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Test post

The Mac OS updated itself today, and in addition to making all the icons look like international traffic signs, it's messing with things like Firefox and Chrome.

I log in, but it says I'm not logged in when I try to comment on other blogs, sort of like this duet from Annie Get Your Gun. Watch it if you are brave and can watch Betty Hutton without screaming.

"No, you can't."

"Yes, I can."

"No, you can't."

And so on.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writers on Writing: Winston Churchill

I want to reply to Historiann's challenge, but first a post about writing.

From The Guardian, a window into Winston Churchill's methods of writing, with comments:
Downstairs there is a room with green lamps hanging from the ceiling, and maps on the wall, and a telephone exchange: and here Churchill kept his researchers – about six of them at once, junior Oxford dons, research fellows, some of them destined for high academic honours. There they were, filleting, devilling, rootling around in books and documents in search of stuff that might be of use.
Comment: Would you want this?  It's the Doris Kearns Goodwin way of writing (teams of researchers finding material that you fashion into text) and it works well for her and others.  But would you have as good a sense of the primary texts if you had outsourced, so to speak, the initial reading of them? 

I'd like to try a research assistant, since I'm sure it would help. If nothing else, I could set a research assistant to changing all the @#$%^& in-text citations to endnotes in Chicago 16 style.  (I have experimented with Endnote's Chicago 16 setting & don't see any way to do this automatically.)

After dictating to a squadron of scribes all night, Churchill would have text. Oh, boy, would he have text--more, Boris Johnson, the author, tells us than Dickens and Shakespeare combined:
The sheaves of typewritten paper he would then correct and amend by hand – and we have innumerable examples of his cursive blue-inked marginalia – and the results would be typeset as they would appear on the page; and even that was not the end.
He would fiddle with the text. He would switch clauses around for emphasis, he would swap one epithet for another and, in general, he would take the utmost delight in the process of polishing his efforts; and then he would send the whole lot off to be typeset again.
Why did he write? Partly for money, but also for this:
His creative-depressive personality meant that writing (or painting, or bricklaying) was a way of keeping the “black dog” of depression at bay. He wrote for that sensation of release that comes with laying 200 bricks and writing 2,000 words a day.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The End Matter

I'm close enough to the end, or I'm deluding myself I'm close enough to the end, of this manuscript to start compiling the Works Cited in an actual document rather than Endnote as I work through the footnotes. In looking at the press's guidelines today, guess what citation format I'm supposed to use.

MLA? No.

Chicago 14? No.

Chicago 15? No.

APA? Bite your tongue.

Chicago 16?  Yes indeed, the only one that I had not, until today, shelled out $42 to purchase. Now, if I ever leave academe, I will have enough hefty Chicago/MLA Style books to serve as doorstops for every door in the house.

This made me think of one of my favorite essays, whose title I've shamelessly stolen, Louis Menand's "The End Matter."  Among other gems, there's this one:
To begin with, the designers of Word apparently believe that the conventional method of endnote numbering is with lowercase Roman numerals—i, ii, iii, etc. When was the last time you read anything that adhered to this style? It would lead to sentences like:
In the Gramscian paradigm, the “intellectual”lxxxvii is, by definition, always already a liminal status.lxxxviii
If I weren't laughing so hard, I would cry, because every single time I rename or resave a file, my footnotes revert from Arabic numerals to the Word default for endnotes, something that looks like ASCII run amok.

And I have been looking into the mysteries of compiling master documents in Word, of which only two pieces of advice found online are remarkably consistent:

1) If compiled improperly, master document can turn your chapters into word salad.
2) Sometimes it turns your chapters into word salad just for the sheer joy of destruction.

I still have a lot to do, conference papers to write, and so on, but the fact that I'm getting this close to the end matter makes me think that this will not be the Key to All Mythologies but an actual book.

And now, for a treat, I'm going to read "The End Matter" one more time.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Clap your hands if you believe

I'm not writing here much lately because, in looking at CHE and IHE and ChronicleVitae, I feel as though I've seen these issues before, some of them a lot of times, and written about many of them (ditto).

But one that I'd like to see more specific data about is a trend whereby the PhD and inventive variants are promoted as good bets for working in various unnamed industries or libraries. Aren't librarians having trouble finding work? What kinds of industries? What kinds of foundation work?  The articles I've seen tout 3 or so success stories as the wave of the future, but what are the facts?

Sometimes the Ph.D. is promoted as an enrichment degree so valuable even if you don't get a job, you'll be glad you spent 10 years doing it, which might be true if you are independently wealthy or retired.

Sometimes they even propose expanding or creating new degrees that don't have the expectation of university teaching at the end of it, as in the recent kerfuffle at Cornell.  The descriptions of what exactly graduates would do are both uplifting and stunningly vague, as though even those proposing the degree don't have much of a concept beyond mad critical thinking and research skilz--good in themselves, but how about specifics?

Sometimes, it's not only an enrichment but something you owe it to the world to treat as a calling:
To sustain scholarly inquiry, we need scholars around the country and world engaged in research and capable of critically assessing each other’s work. We need to ensure that humanities graduates at all levels — in K-12 schools, museums, local societies, media, universities, and government — have the space and time to engage in scholarship and be part of the conversation.
Well, yes. Yes, we do need scholars.  Let me add the important corollary that scholars need to eat, and have health insurance, and maybe a place to live and a car to drive, even if you're not counting expensive, frivolous extras like having children.

The article goes on to say we need to address supply and demand:
On the demand side, we must expand the number of tenure-line positions in the humanities across the nation and resist the deprofessionalization of teachers and professors.
Well, done and done, then!

I should not be so cynical about this, but it is crazymaking to read something like this--"we must expand"--when none of this, none, zip, nada is in the power of ordinary academics to do.  We can try, but we do not control the money. Let me repeat: We do not control the money. We have little say over how it is spent, how salaries or research funds are allocated, and did I mention having no control whatever over allocations from the state or Board of Regents or whoever determines the university's budget?  For most of us, simply retaining a line when someone retires instead of having it snatched back by central administration is cause for feasting and dancing around a sacred idol.

When I was little and saw Peter Pan, there was a scene where Tinkerbell was dying and we all had to clap our hands and believe if we wanted to make her well.  Without more facts, these articles seem to me to be saying "clap your hands if you believe, and you will make it so."  I wish these confident assertions were true, but I want some investigative reporting rather than opinion pieces to tell me how they might be.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dear Ms. Undine answers self-evident questions

Dear Ms. Undine,

Ms. Mentor calls October "exploding head month" because of all the grant applications due then.  A whole lot of local ones are due next week. How can I deal with applications that want to know how much money I need to spend on June 10, 2015 when I can barely get through the stuff I need to do for next Tuesday?

Signed, Future Shock

Dear Future,
Here are some possibilities:
1. Start last year.
2. Start tomorrow for next year.
3. Seriously, practice a little time management.
4. Comfort yourself in the knowledge that with grant support so tight (NEH: 6%) you are likely only to be bragging fodder for its glossy brochures anyway: "We got 10 zillion applications and only funded 5! Look how selective we are! Yay for us!"

Dear Ms. Undine,

Clay Shirky, a famous person on the Internet, has pronounced laptops a distraction in the classroom and restricted their use, something I figured out and did a long time ago.  Now the fanboys who have called me a Luddite and blamed me for not liking the Shiny Things are falling all over themselves pronouncing the Wisdom of Clay.  Why is this so?


Not Ned Ludd

Dear Not Ned,

Because you are not famous on the Internet, and because, I fear, you are not a guy and hence to fanboys do not have the mental equipment to think intelligently about Shiny Things. Think of yourself as the secret Queen of the Internet who predicts all things but whose power would be diminished if anyone listened to you.  In other words, get over it.

Dear Ms. Undine,

Out of idle curiosity, I looked at the MLA Job List and discovered that there are only 5 jobs in the country, 3 in something resembling my specialty, at the associate or full level!


This is a job market?

Dear This,

Unless you have spent the last 30 years in silent meditation and prayer, surely this cannot be a surprise to you.  Ms. Mentor had a column about this recently, which if the CHE had a search feature instead of a Ouija Board, I would seek out and link to.  Surely you can find better things to do with your idle curiosity, like putting your books in some kind of order, or writing something, or taking a walk around the block, or, better still, helping your students and junior colleagues to get prepared for their job applications. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Was there ever a time of idealism in college?

Dean Dad has an interesting post about artists and the advice being given to them:
But where some variation of “follow your dreams” would have gone when I was in college, I heard “learn a trade” and “get good at living on very little money.”
He continues:
What I didn’t see, though, was youthful idealism.  I didn’t see what I used to think of as teenage bravado.  I saw some very young people who had been forced by circumstance to act in ways that used to be the province of their elders.  I saw young adults, rather than teenagers. 
In many ways, that’s great.  Given the very real economic obstacles many young students face, a certain gritty realism is appropriate.  And if memory serves, teenage bravado can be wearing in its own right.
But that “bulletproof” teenage stage -- that, in retrospect, relies on a base of economic security -- serves a purpose.
Dean Dad's take on this is interesting, for he sees it as a generational issue, whereas I see it as a class issue.

Although I went to college in a time that was supposed to be somewhat idealistic, the people I knew at public universities never went through a "bulletproof" stage of economic security where they thought "follow your dreams" was good advice. Idealism costs money, either immediately or in the future, and they knew it. 

That's not to say that people weren't idealistic, or that they didn't do the same stupid things that college students have always done, but they understood the "gritty realism" of the consequences. The idea that you could throw yourself on the economy like a trampoline and bounce back wasn't part of the equation.

Private universities or elite publics--sure.  My friends who came from upper-middle-class professional backgrounds knew they could do whatever they wanted. If they made money in the summer working for their parents' friends, it went toward backpacking in Europe and not toward next year's expenses.  It's not that one was wrong and the other right, but they were different experiences.

I've been thinking about this because of reading other Mid-Century Males, Jack Kerouac and other Beats in particular.  Kerouac didn't want to be tied down, which may be the understatement of the decade, but whenever he got the urge to travel, which was most of the time, he had two things going for him: (1) plentiful manufacturing or service jobs that he could get easily and then leave and (2) like Allen Ginsberg, a family that, though not wealthy, would scrape up the money for bail for him when he got in trouble with the law.

The same seems to be true for the following decade, the 1960s, as I mentioned in a post about a year ago in talking about Sara Davidson's Loose Change:
What I actually took away was that people in those days could quit, drop out, or do any damn thing they felt like doing, and there would be someone or something to pick them up afterwards: plentiful jobs, more jobs than there were applicants, seemingly;  a network that would allow the main character, with just a phone call from one of her parents, to go to Europe and work as a translator in Italy; and a generous system of social service benefits that wouldn't let them fall into poverty.  They could change the world--or at least the upper-middle-class white women in the book could--because the world was going to support them financially no matter what they did.  I realize that that's probably not true, but it has a truthiness to it and seems true, given what Davidson describes.
  I think Dean Dad is right, but only partially so.  The idealism gap, if you can call it that, was always there for some students, but now it's hitting the class that used to be told "follow your bliss," and that's what speaks to the troubling reality that he's talking about.