Saturday, June 30, 2007
I got a set of proofs recently for a small, fairly straightforward project, though, and although I usually like to compare them with the originals, the originals were among those vanished papers. There may be a paper version deep in the bowels of a file cabinet somewhere, but instead, I just read them through and made the few corrections based on the how the text read.
From editor friends of mine, I've heard of contributors to journals or collections who 'll go to the barricades in defense of their own wording. I'll do that, too, if there's something major. (The "major" test is this: would I squirm with embarrassment if this article came out under my name with that sentence construction or word choice?) Sometimes the editors introduce errors that lead to a fury of "stet" markings. Mostly, though, I figure that if it sounds like my language and isn't factually incorrect, it's all right with me.
I hate to think where this places me on the scale of "proof Puritan" to "proof slut," though. What do the rest of you do?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
From her answers to the Associated Press:
"In a large-scale tragedy, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc. we see that the law of attraction [this is her trademarked term for a centuries-old concept used by generations of earlier hucksters] responds to people being at the wrong place at the wrong time because their dominant thoughts were on the same frequency of such events."
See how easy that is? No meteorological events, no weather patterns, no failure of government planning, no terrorism--just bad thoughts on the part of the victims, who are entirely to blame for what happened to them.
Am I wrong in seeing this as a logical extension of certain other "visionary" principles?
From Ron Suskind's "Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush" in the New York Times in 2004:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
One of the things that I took for granted growing up was that wishful thinking or personal beliefs were not the same thing as reality. It's more than a little unnerving to see that this is no longer accepted as a principle on which everyone agrees. Part of the point of teaching is that students get to test their beliefs, which they consider realities, against the convictions of others. The dimwitted demagogues referred to above, though, demand that their convictions be regarded as truth.
Okay, here's an anecdote that expresses a little of what I mean:
The American transcendentalist Margaret Fuller once said, “I accept the universe.” When Thomas Carlyle heard this, however, his comment was this: `Gad! she’d better!’”
I'm with Carlyle on this one.
Monday, June 25, 2007
“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “altar of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”
So if this hierarchical model doesn’t reach today’s students, what will?
James Paul Gee, a linguist who is the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul, argued that librarians need to adapt their techniques to digital natives. A digital native would never read an instruction manual with a new game before simply trying the game out, Gee said. Similarly, students shouldn’t be expected to read long explanations of tools they may use before they start experimenting with them.
On a more serious note, it's true that most students would rather deal with technology for an hour than ask a reference librarian something that would get them where they want to be in five minutes. From the article: "Even then, he said, librarians shouldn’t say that they are providing formal training, but should say things like 'let me show you a short cut,' the kind of language students use with one another all the time."
Sometimes students are intimidated by the process, but sometimes there are other reasons. Although about 95% of the reference librarians I've encountered have been more than helpful, I've met a few who were so irritatingly condescending (a la the "priest at altar" model) that I steered clear of them: "This is the library catalogue online, you see? You can put in your search terms here, and then you can narrow your search by adding words." Sometimes, too, as the article says, they want to lecture about the history and nature of the resource before helping anyone to use it.
Oh, and "dead as Elvis"? He's totally alive.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
If I'm honest about it, though, the real reward for some of this is just plain praise. I was really pleased when a number of the students this summer took the time to say (in turning in their last project) "thanks--your comments really helped" or "I learned a lot" or "I really enjoyed the class." Maybe I'm naive; a cynic might say that they're trying to ingratiate themselves so that a softened-up, benevolent Dr. Undine will go easy on the grading. Since all the grading is pretty straightforward, however, and (in an online class) there's no wiggle room for "participation," I'd like to think that they were sincere.
The same holds true for reviewing. Although there's a pro forma quality to thanking the reviewers in the acknowledgments part of a book, when an editor this week took the time to thank me for my comments and pointed out the ways in which they'd be helpful for the author, it made my day. Eventually I'll fill out the forms and collect my check (or books), but right now, I'm still basking in being paid in praise.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
- Government announces that passports will be mandatory next January for travel to Canada and Mexico and that some new kind will be mandatory this summer.
- People with travel plans in the works dutifully apply for passports.
- Government is shocked--shocked!--to see that people are applying for passports in record numbers. From the Washington Post: "'We simply did not anticipate Americans' willingness to comply so quickly with the new laws,' Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said in a written statement to a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee." Apparently more than 110,000 passport applications are "piled in closets, the supervisor's office, and the break room."
If you tell people they can't go out of the country if they don't comply, why would you be surprised if they try to comply? That's like being a McDonald's manager and saying "Who knew that people would show up for lunch and that there'd be a noon rush?"
[Edited to add: I forgot the big one! Summer school is over and the grades are in--whoopee!]
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I completely love this extension. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/433.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Exactly right. When I emerged from the cocoon of feeling too sick to work earlier this week, I thought, "all right, now I'll be productive." I have deadline-driven writing to do, but my brain is still in lazy sickness mode: it's hard to sit at the desk, let alone to work or to make my brain think about what it ought to be thinking about. What I apparently can do, very well, is to sit in a trance and think about the work I'm not getting done.
About the best I can manage now is what I call "peri-writing." It's not really writing, or even pre-writing, but it's the work that surrounds writing. This involves huge amounts of time (in between reading a manuscript sent to me for review) spent looking up things I ought to read, making notes of things I should look at, and so forth. The manuscript review is part of this, because I can then say to myself, "hey, this person isn't as lazy as you are, and here's a manuscript to prove it. Get moving!"
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I don't mean just The Sopranos, although that's been the focus of a media frenzy for the past few days. I mean any well-written television program that inspires the kind of response that viewers have had to shows recently--Buffy and the rest of Joss Whedon's creations, or maybe Lost (which I haven't seen) and some others.
As I read the media frenzy (which was excellent procrastination fodder, by the way), I came across the following items:
What I'm seeing, though, as a person who teaches about interpreting texts is . . . a huge interest in interpreting texts.
Everyone has an idea about the ending (see some theories at the New York Times, and everyone passionately wants to share those interpretations. Isn't that what we dream about as classroom teachers?
On interactive boards, people talked about symbolism and the meaning of the number three. They evoked Dante's Inferno to explain what David Chase was up to this season. They explored imagery, the length of shots, and point of view. They brought up allusions to literature, to the Bible, to music, to Italian legends about cats, and to previous episodes in the series. Every glance and gesture had meaning, and determining that meaning became the order of the day.
And, when some people got too far off base, others would correct them: "Where's the evidence for that?" Do you hear that? That's the sound of "Where's your support for that in the text?" When someone posted a particularly analytical or insightful comment, others praised it. Those with a greater range of allusions chimed in with the information and were thanked.
Finally, the final episode made these interpreters of texts deal with uncertainty. Multiple interpretations, undecidability, fragmentary glimpses of an ultimately elusive meaning, the wish to posit an author/authority function that frustratingly won't respond--hmm, have any classroom instructors dealt with that in modernist/postmodernist works before?
I don't say that we have to teach The Sopranos, though there are a lot of critical essays on this and on Buffy already. What we ought to take away from this, though, is that there is a hunger for interpreting texts, if it's the right text and the motivation is there. Supplying those is our job.
Monday, June 11, 2007
It's a lot like a face-to-face class in some ways. Some are cheerful and personable in their interactions ("Hi Professor Lastname" "Have a nice weekend") and some are less so, sending the attached materials but leaving the message blank. A couple are petulant. In the first week, one of them wrote to say, "Hey Undine. You set this up in a confusing way." In my coldest tones, I explained that I was sorry he felt that way (see non-apology apology, the art of) but that everyone else had managed to figure out how the class was organized, especially since the organization was explained in three e-mail messages and the syllabus, which I suggested he review. He had settled down by the next week.
I guess the amazing part to me is that from a collection of names on a roster a few weeks ago, they've become real students to me. I know they were real students before, of course, but I mean students with real voices. You know the way that you can sometimes see a student after a few years and maybe remember a paper that he wrote or a comment that she made yet not remember the student's name? That kind of student voice.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
So, what's the short version? Grad school isn't a Vincent Price chamber of horrors. Keep your own counsel, take pleasure in and sustenance from the good friends you'll make, do your work, and believe that you can do it.
technorati tag: grad-compendium
Rich man can has girl.
Bngli: i can has dance?
l12: i can has dance too?
DarC: no u ugly go way
MrC0lnz: l12 i can has heart?
l12: no gway
Chrltt: u can has me
MrC0lnz: K BRB
Wikm: IM IN UR TOWN SEDUCIN UR DAUTERS
lyd14: o hai
DarC: i can has heart?
l12: no gway u rude
l12: IM IN UR PEMBERLEY ADMIRIN UR STUFF
l12: OMG thought u were AFK!!1!
Monday, June 04, 2007
Another more common distraction at home and at work is the availability of the Internet. I am a regular reader of at least 30 blogs and more than a dozen newspapers. And I am constantly browsing for new book recommendations on Amazon.com and searching for books on sale at several other sites like Daedalus, Labyrinth, and Edward R. Hamilton. That feels like the moral equivalent of work, even though it is really procrastination.
All of those activities, combined with my addiction to e-mail, means that I receive a continuous flow of custom-tailored information that is almost always more interesting to me than what I am writing.
. . . .
So for all its lack of amenities, my third office in the barn offers fewer temptations to avoid writing. I have no Internet connection, and there's no one here to speak to besides myself. So far, my productivity has improved significantly, even though my desk is a door on two sawhorses, and I am sitting on a box.
In other words, the writing space he's now chosen makes it easier to write, an idea that fuels some of my most persistent fantasies about writing (that it's easier in a coffee shop, for example). I write in my study at home or sometimes in a library; it's hard to write in my office on campus for the reasons Benton mentions.
I have been known to harbor what is known in my family as a "writing house" fantasy. This fantasy encompasses everything from a tiny house placed in the backyard to something along the lines of Mark Twain's study in Elmira. Sometimes I dream of building one of these on the side of a mountain that's about 10 minutes from here (on land I couldn't afford anyway, of course). In my dreams it might look like Michael Pollan's writing house, or it might be something more fanciful.
Curse you, Thomas Hart Benton! Now I am in full writing house fantasy mode, when all I really need to do to be productive is turn off my Internet connection.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
I apparently have an avatar working for the New York Times, or maybe just someone who watches how I work.
“The longer you work, the less efficient you are,” said Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting firm in Norwell, Mass. He says workers are like athletes in that they are most efficient in concentrated bursts. Elite athletes “play a set of tennis, a down of football or an inning of baseball and have a pause in between,” he says. Working energy, like physical energy, “is best used in spurts where we work hard on a few focused activities and then take a brief respite,” he says.
And those respites look an awful lot like wasting time.
It has taken me years to make tentative peace with my stops and starts during work. Every morning I vow to become a morning person, starting full speed out of the gate. And every morning I daydream, shuffle papers, read e-mail messages and visit blogs, and somehow it is time for lunch. Then, at about 2 p.m., a sense of urgency kicks in, and I write steadily, until about 5 or 6, when I revert to the little-of-this, some-of-that style of the morning.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007
Theory reading and Proust.. Are they kidding?
The weightiest material I've been able to manage this week is the New York Times online and some blogs. Even that reading fails, though, when you're up and feverish at night. At those moments, television is your best friend.
Since I am usually asleep within seconds, I did not know what insomniacs must have known for years about television in the middle of the night: that dreams of perfection and wealth can be yours if only you follow the instructions of those who have shows at 2:30 a.m. Here is some of what I learned:
I don't take Nyquil unless I'm desperate because it inspires Hunter S. Thompson-esque dreams and leaves me exhausted the next day, but I'm beginning to wonder if lying there and watching tv when you have a fever doesn't have much the same effect.