Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wishing you peace and joy and happiness in 2021

This isn't a traditional year-end post. There aren't any lists of accomplishments, because it feels as though I didn't do anything (certainly in terms of writing).  I'm grateful to have had a roof over my head and the luxury of working from home.

There's nothing ranked, like the best movies I saw or anything like that. In fact, I'm tired of rankings, evaluations, criticizing, and negativity in general. It's no fun even to read a snarky review. I've always hated the thing where actors go on a show and trash a movie that they just made (you made it, didn't you? and got paid? so shut up), and now it's like that with a lot of things. 

My feeling is this: Someone tried. Someone put in an effort. Someone did something. If you want to be one of the cool kids about it and criticize, knock yourself out. I'm not a cool kid, never was, and am not joining that particular competition at this stage of my life. 

Instead, I'm celebrating what little I did do, which is the bare minimum that we all did; those of you with kids or elderly parents are doing far more. I cooked and baked; the last time I had a meal out was February (except for a takeout salad in June). Except for masked trips to the grocery store every couple of weeks, I stayed home, even when all of Facebook was winging or driving its way somewhere this summer. When fall came and it was like the spring all over again, I got up every day,  put one foot in front of the other, fired up the Zoom camera, and reached out to students. 

It's going to be a while before we're all vaccinated and the world returns to some form of normal (October is my guess), but we've at least got a good chance at it now. In the meantime, in with the new year, same as the old year, for now--but maybe with some more peace and joy and happiness, too.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Update to the previous: Joseph Epstein doubles down on the condescension, gathers a doofus follower

 Briefly, because I don't want to give this much more house room: 

Some critic at the National Review, AKA a man with a lot of opinions and little information, took Dr. Jill Biden to task for her dissertation. Did he play the Yale card? Yes, of course he did. Did I not say it's the National Review, home of William S. Buckley, author of God and Man at Yale? 

Anyway, it didn't go well:

 And then The Chronicle of Higher Education, which I gave up reading (and subscribing to! I actually subscribed for a number of years) a while back for good reasons, has given him leave to explain his views, and folks, it's not pretty:

  • Conservative tut-tutting about kids these days? Check.

  • Ditto about grade inflation AND misogyny AND a racist theory to boot: "Those evaluations helped lead to rampant grade inflation (“somehow the grade of C jumped up to B”). “At the school where I taught, a proudly left-wing teacher was said to give black students automatic A’s as an act of reparation." Check.

  • Too much political correctness ruining the university? Check. 

  • And I refer you to my previous post about the ubi sunt lament that extremely privileged white men like to indulge in about the good old days. I think I should sue him for plagiarism, don't you? "Don’t get him started on college presidents today. Back in Epstein’s time, that office was occupied by scholars of stature like Robert F. Goheen at Princeton or Alfred Whitney Griswold at Yale. Now he can only dimly recall that “the president of Harvard is a woman, or was a woman until recently.” I can only assume he thinks that is some kind of sick burn. 

    The thing I don't  understand is why everyone is giving him house room, AKA responding to him on Twitter, FB and everywhere else after he's done the sh*t-stirring that he obviously set out to do. We corrected him, but like a certain person in the White House, he just feeds on it and sows more chaos. We should be ignoring him--but then again, what am I doing but giving this attention? 

    < Apparently one of his books is called Narcissus Leaves the Pool. No, kiddo. Narcissus is still at the pool, gazing at his own reflection and terrified that others might be able to gain a place at it.  


Monday, December 14, 2020

That's DR. Undine to you, Joseph Epstein

 This may be a blogtime first for the number of days between posts--sorry. This is a catching up and promising to do better post. 

First of all, how about that old rich white guy's screed against women academics using the titles they've earned and not knowing their places? I don't need to link to it, but there's a nice takedown here:

If you didn't see it (it's linked to at the takedown link), the basic argument is this: 

1. He, a B.A., is better educated 

Narrator: He's not

2. And more worthy of respect, even though he doesn't know the difference between an honorary and an earned degree

Narrator: Ditto

3. Than Dr. Jill Biden, who earned her Ed.D. and wrote a dissertation of "dubious value"

Narrator: A: No. and B: Is he qualified to judge?

4. And that she, "kiddo, Jill"--should shut up, stop using "Dr.," and get back in the kitchen, where she belongs.  And also, get off his lawn.

Narrator: Accurate summary. 

* note on "kiddo"--you know who uses "kiddo" all the time, according to Joyce Maynard? J. D. Salinger, about whom some of you here have expressed, um, strong and wonderful opinions. I think we've found out exactly what kind of person Holden Caulfield all growed up would turn out to be. 

Instead of apologizing, the WSJ doubled down and called women's outrage "cancel culture." Draw your own conclusions about that. 

But really, Epstein's screed is just another in the WSJ's series of "who is destroying our sacred white education?" series. 

Now we know the answer:  The wimmenz! The middle-class wimmenz!

As I wrote back in 2013--you can call me Cassandra--this is just one of their attacks on contemporary education: 

First of all, I think this is the same article they run every month under a different title and by-line. It goes something like this:

When I was at beautiful Ivy or Oxbridge back in the olden days, I had an extremely famous professor (this time: Frank Kermode) who inspired me with the timeless truths of the humanities curriculum. 
Alas, there were few such professors then, and there are none today. That pesky GI bill opened education to the masses, and now students want grades instead of reading literature for timeless truths. Literature has been sullied by the grade-grubbing paws of these students. Where is the pure love of literature of yesteryear?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Mom of the World, or Shouting into the Void

 If you're a mom, or a teacher, or have a certain kind of organizational brain, you're used to this: 

Mom version: 

Day 1. "Mom, where are my socks?"

"In the drawer where they always are." (Or in my case, in the laundry basket where I hadn't folded them.)

"Oh, okay." 

Day 2. "Mom, where are my socks?" etc. 

But you put up with it because they're kids and learning.


Teacher version: 

"How many sources do we need for this paper?" (after you've already said "as many or as few as you need" in class many times.)

"As many or as few as you need. If you're supporting a point . . . " (and you can do this from memory, I'm sure.) 

You answer patiently because they're students AND you have learned that some draconian teacher in their past has probably terrified them by saying "this specific number, no more and no less." They need that reassurance that, unlike a real colleague I had one time, I am not going to dock them points for putting one space rather than two after a period back when that was a thing. 


But what about grown-ups? 

Person A to Person B & C (me):"Where did we put this file? Who has it? What did we say about X? Isn't that a problem?"

Person C (me): "The file is here. Here is the system I set up so we could all keep track of these files together. Here is what we decided about X, and here is why we thought it was a problem." 

Person B: "I don't remember what we decided, Person A, but I think X is a problem because [what I as Person C just said without crediting me]." 

Person A: "Thank you, Person B, for your vast insights and wisdom."

Person C (me): "Hello! I'm talking here."

In short, apparently I am the Mom of the World, organizing things and shouting into a void that is not responsive. As with other responsibilities where this has happened, the world will not change, but I can stop being its Mom.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Midpoint while teaching & writing in cyberspace

 We're halfway through the semester, and so far the Great Online Experiment is going--as well as can be expected?  In The Invisible Woman, her biography of Dickens's mistress, Ellen Ternan, Claire Tomalin says that's the phrase always used for women after childbirth, and while that is so not me, it seems to fit. Given "these challenging times" in which everyone "hopes you are well," we're doing what we can, I guess. 

  • As mentioned previously, I feel oddly closer to and more relaxed with my students teaching this way. Is it because of the informality baked into the whole Zoom teaching process? Because I have actual books at home that I can use to illustrate points? That I spend more time checking in on how they're doing? I can't tell. What I can tell is that I'm really happy to see them on class days, happier than I have been for a while.
  • They seem to be--adjusting? I offered to meet with them (masked, distanced, etc.) in person and have traveled to campus for that purpose, but only one person took me up on the offer. Or are they more resigned than adjusted? 
  • Of course they don't have to keep their cameras on, and I've told them so. But they do, which is really helpful and makes a huge difference.
  • I'm still getting asked admin questions from time to time, and I am responsible about answering and referring without giving my opinion. Whose circus is it? Whose monkeys? Not mine. And I really do think that a change in perspective in the position will ultimately benefit everyone, despite the absolute perfection of my judgment in all things :).
  • It's still very hard to write, but some glimmerings are starting to emerge of some ideas.
  • WordPress has decided to become more horrible even than in its last "new & improved" update. Now it hides ALL the things I need to access, makes it harder to start a page, sends you to a bunch of clicks when all you want to do is add a file, and is generally behaving in an exasperating and time-consuming fashion. Did WordPress decide that we have too much time on our hands? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Has it really been a month?

 Time expands and contracts at a different rate now, as I'm definitely not the first to notice. Here are some random bullets until I can write a real post:

  • We're teaching online (synchronously) and I am so far enjoying it. That's heresy, I know, but I feel much more relaxed with the students and much, I don't know, better and more connected to them. I asked the students whether they wanted recorded lectures or live ones, and they voted for live; in a humanities discipline, there's a lot of Q & A that goes on in the midst of a class, so it probably works better for this class. Not having a long commute is really helping, too. I'm really enjoying the students, and I love being able to show them books without having to lug them a long distance. I bought a document camera, and it's great for this. 
  • I had promised the students that I'd be on campus for in-person check-ins sometime, but our campus, like some others, is Covid Central right now, so maybe I'll postpone that. The powers that be don't want us on campus; they wisely want us to stay put, so who am I to argue? 
  • It still took many, many--too many--hours to scan, upload, and prepare the classes, like maybe 50+ hours over the course of a couple of weeks. That's without recording any lectures! 
  • But I did quit my admin job, as you all so wisely advised, or rather I let my contract run out though I'd thought about continuing. After spending pretty much all my time last spring and this summer on administration, it's a relief to take a deep breath. My colleagues were gracious about it, and I had definitely done enough and left things in good shape.
  • As if to fill up the void, let's see: family drama surrounding my mother's estate takes a fair chunk of my week every week, and having the landscape try to kill us with fire, deadly smoke, and of course the ever-present pestilence is really distracting. Let's not even talk about the political situation, which is terrifying.
  • I don't know how people are managing to write. I can barely keep up with the reading in the courses I'm teaching, and yes, I understand it's worse for the students and am cutting them all kinds of breaks. 
 Happy first day of fall!


Friday, August 21, 2020

More pictures

I have a syllabus to do (don't we all right now?), but here are a few more pictures from the little house. As you can see, the furniture gets moved around quite a bit, except for the bookcases. 

What looks like a blue studio couch is actually the chair, which folds out like a Transformer.
Here's the chair in chair form. The unit on the wall is an Amana heat pump for heat & AC.
You can see the bookcases against the wall. The windows on that side are small, like the one over the desk, just enough to give a cross breeze.