Call for Blogs

This fall, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Autobiography course, a course I pushed through curriculum last year after we did a year-long survey of students to find out classes might interest them.  Our thought was to add spice to our standard survey and introduction to literature offerings to take advantage of the increase in enrollment (and, not incidentally, get back the many students who were using Art History and Communication courses to fulfill their general education Humanities’ requirement). 

[In case you’re interested, the most requested course idea was The Bible as Literature, but the one faculty member in our department willing and able to teach such a course, put it off another year, understandably,  after a few over the top fundamentalist students acted out on campus last year (remember my colleague’s student who would bring a cross and rosary beads to class, praying with them as s/he lectured?) ]

So, autobiography.  It’s been a challenge creating this 10-week course for non-majors, since there is so much I want to do, but I don’t want to terrify them–I want them to enjoy the immersion in this contradictory genre. 

Here’s what I have planned, and yes, it’s ambitious:  After an initial discussion of exactly what autobiography IS, we’ll start with an historical overview and an introduction to some of the theoretical debates and different modes of the genre. Students will read excerpts from several historical autobiographies, two full-length childhood-centered contemporary memoirs, a graphic memoir (Persepolis and excerpts from Maus and Fun Home), and about a dozen excerpts from other contemporary memoirs on subjects ranging from addiction to religion (I know, a risk).  We’ll also spend time on other modes of autobiography such as audio/video, diaries and letters, and blogs. [One final project choice is, indeed, for students to keep a blog all term.]

Here’s where I hope you all come in.  I need me some blogs. Yes, I read dozens of blogs each week, all neatly alphabetized in my Google Reader, but they are all, you know, about academics.  I know that Roxie’s typist is having her students read her own blog for her course this fall on blogging (which I can’t wait to read about), but no, I won’t be offering up this particular blog for their reading pleasure. Besides, I want them to discover blogs that are personal (so not just politics or celebrity gossip) but also of interest to them.

Have any ideas for blogs that are autobiographical in nature and that might appeal to our non-traditional students, ages 16-65? Is there an index of sorts I could direct students to? Please let me know in the comments.

Kindle Update: My new chocolate Kindle cover has a paperback book inside it now since it looked so sad, so lonely.  Estimated delivery of the new Kindle itself  is now mid-late September.

Love Pray Eat

That’s right. I changed the order after reading Roger Ebert’s review the other day, a review that concludes like so:

The audience I joined was perhaps 80 percent female. I heard some sniffles and glimpsed some tears, and no wonder. “Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue, and it mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.”

I haven’t seen the film, though I will, probably sometime next year on Netflix.  But I have read the book, twice. The first time I read it as a beach read when it came out in paperback in 2007 or so, mostly because of the Italy chapters (I was planning a trip to Italy), which I still like the best because of the descriptions of Rome, Venice and the yummy food (I, too, went on a quest for the perfect gelato, though if I ate as much as Gilbert ate, I, too, would have gained instead of lost weight. Yes, I lost weight in Italy–all that walking everywhere). 

The second time I read it was last week: I’m teaching a Memoir course this fall, and I’m anticipating at least a few students will ask me why I didn’t include Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on the syllabus.  (One student  already has emailed me about the book, interestingly.)

It reads better the second time, mostly because I’m already over the “she’s so full of herself” response that many readers have to the self she presents us (beautiful, talented woman with a book contract gets to travel the world and eventually meet Felipe, who seems to be a combination of the Old Spice Guy and Antonio Bandaras).

Or, maybe this time, just two weeks before I’m required on campus and the whirlwind of academic life begins again, I was just more willing to enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent  months reading dozens of autobiographies and memoirs in preparation for this class, and this one was one of the few (Under the Tuscan Sun comes close) that was such pure fantasy.   The Italian twins (one shy and scholarly; one more stereotypical Italian). The all-knowing yet still dripping in sarcasm Richard from Texas.  The Australian hotty who thinks e-mail is too impersonal. And, of course, Felipe, the Brazilian gem merchant who spends hours physically pleasuring our Elizabeth.  Add the lovingly detailed food of Italy, skim the Pray sections, pausing only when Richard’s name is mentioned, and leap to the sex in Bali and this is a great end-of-summer read.

In keeping with the romance/fantasy plot structure of the story (not that there’s anything wrong with that), our Elizabeth remains celibate for most of the book, with moments of sensual release through food in Italy, yoga and meditation in India, and finally, after months of such foreplay, including an aside on the sudden ineffectiveness of her usual masturbatory fantasies involving firemen or Bill Clinton, sex with our Antonio Bandaras/Old Spice man in Indonesia.

On NPR last week, I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she discussed her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage*, and while her marriage to Felipe (aka Antonio) sounds sweet, she had no problem admitting that he is, on a daily basis, quite boringly consistent.   

I’m guessing few students will ask me to add that one to the reading list.

*Time magazine’s Mary Pols has an interesting comparative analysis between Gilbert’s and Julie Powell’s (of Julia and Julia) books on marriage, preferring the more self destructive Powell to the tedious Gilbert–Powell’s is called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession).

Tenure: The Movie

Hubby and I watched the indie movie Tenure (2009) the other night.

Haven’t seen it? I hadn’t heard of it, until I read about it at Post Academic. And since summer is the season for academic fiction generally (as Ink blogs), I immediately added it to my Netflix queue.

Though it’s not a great movie, the trailer doesn’t do it justice:

Luke Wilson plays a schlemiel-like man, but an engaging English professor at what is described as a second tier college (filmed at Bryn Mawr,  a beautiful campus, fyi).  The plot is fairly unrealistic for the most part: there’s the Anthropology professor who is a Big Foot specialist, denied tenure early fall term, then Luke, the English professor,  goes up for tenure spring term, at the same time the Chair (nary an administrator in sight) hires a Yale graduate who begins spring term and is immediately put in competition with Luke Wilson’s character, Charlie Thurber.  (Thurber is at his 2nd or 3rd college, and has yet to earn tenure; on top of that, his father is a retired Princeton English professor who knows full well his son’s failures as an academic.) The new chick from Yale (played by Gretchen Mol) is beloved by the Chair because she publishes (Luke gets many rejection letters), but she’s a lousy teacher, unlike Charlie.

Naturally, they begin to fall for each other, and Gretchen  asks Charlie for some teaching advice, and here’s the rub:

  • “Remember, you’re the smartest person in the room.”
  • “Stop preparing so much and just wing it.”

The first line is ridiculous: the scenes when he is teaching make it quite clear that he respects his students’ own intelligence and that he does not at all treat them as if he even thinks he is the smartest person in the room. Yeah, he may KNOW more than they do, but smarter? I’ve never felt that way, and I’m not sure I want to. I love when I get brilliant students who make me rethink ideas or see them in new ways.  Besides, Prof. Yalie may actually be the smartest person in the room, but since she is a pitiful teacher, that “reminder” is useless.

The  second piece of advice may be, admittedly, useful to Prof. Yalie who spends hours preparing but who just freezes when in front of the room trying to engage the students.  So, I’ll go with that as initial advice to her, specifically. But I think preparation allows one to just “wing it” well: I know that most students can figure out quite clearly the difference between a professor who “wings it” because s/he isn’t prepared, versus one who is flexible and allows a good discussion to take off despite any “lesson plan”.

But I quibble. If you are one of those who spends summers re-reading academic novels, this movie i perfect for a summer evening.

Dear Annie Em

A terrible thing happened to me this term.

I am a tenured, teaching-award winning full professor with generally above average teaching evaluations.

A student left an anonymous message on the voice mail of A Big Wig (someone whose name no one could tell me, but  I assume it is the college president) complaining that not only did I not return an essay to hir in a timely fashion, but that I taught class drunk one night.

Let me just say that while I do love a good ginger martini, I do NOT teach drunk. Not even tipsy.

Here’s the chain of events: the Big Wig forwarded the voice mail to the 2nd Big Wig in Command, who forwarded the voice mail to the mid-level Big Wig, who talked to  the very low-level Big Wig and told hir not to take notes  (all this I discovered later).  Ultimately both the mid and low level Big Wigs were charged with visiting this particular class to 1. try to figure out who the student was, and to 2. obviously, check to see that I do not teach drunk. The plan was to NOT tell me about this anonymous phone call until after the term was over.

I took the visits in stride since they were part of a preplanned observation schedule. Nothing unusual.

However,  the low level Big Wig decided to inform me of the situation right before hir visit to my class.  Out of some perceived friendship?  Out of the very very very mistaken belief that I may actually HAVE been drunk in class and in order to warn me of the uppity ups interest in this case? Who knows.

I immediately contacted both mid level and 2nd in command big wigs to demand more details and an explanation. And, not incidentally, to make sure that an anonymous phone call’s allegations did not end up in my file ( I may want emeritus status someday in the very far future, with its free email account, right?). I was assured that anonymous phone calls are not taken seriously, normally, but that since a VERY Big Wig got the voice mail, something had to be “done” but that NO, it would not be in my file.

The upshot: the student was discovered based on voice mail analysis done by the mid level Big Wig, and although no one approached said student, s/he dropped the day after the visit to my class by said Big Wig, despite getting an “A” on the essay that I returned exactly 7 days after it was submitted.  And, Second in Command Big Wig assured me that this would never appear in my file.

So, case solved, right?

My question is, since I’ve been obsessing over this, do I try to discover who received the initial phone message and chat with hir?  If it is the president, or some other Big Wig, I have to work with hir for years to come. As it is, I get nervous every time I see hir. Or, should I just chalk this up to a bad year and forgetaboutit?

Signed,

Weekend Drinker ONLY

*********

Dear Weekend Drinker ONLY,

My advice is to forgetaboutit. First, what if the Big Wig is NOT the president?  But, even if it were, does the President even remember the situation? Know who you are? Yes,  I see you are an award winning full professor, but really, the President may be getting lots of complaints about professors from students these customer-service education days.

However, maybe you should go check your file?

Annie Em

Poems and Wishful Thinking

Tomorrow is Poets.org’s annual Poem in Your Pocket Day. The goal is to print copies of your favorite poem and give them out to random people you see tomorrow.

So, random people of the Blogosphere, here is the poem I shall share with you this year (last year, I just gave a list of my favorite poems, so I didn’t exactly follow the rules, but since this year seems to be the year of the annoying series of unfortunate events*, I’m going to follow the letter of the law this time–wishful thinker that I am:

“Washing the Elephant” by Barbara Ras (published in the New Yorker on March 15, 2010).

* And it’s working! As I was typing this very sentence two students came to see me and both thanked me for being such a good teacher! I’m positively glowing right now, can you tell?

Literary Studies, Gen Ed Style

Since most of my teaching load consists of various levels of composition, when I do teach a literature class (at least once a quarter) it often feels like a treat, though since my lit classes are writing intensive a la Dr. Crazy’s, it’s certainly not less work. 

I usually teach the American Lit Survey class, where there are at least some potential English majors/teachers and many of the students have some practice in literary analysis.  But this term is quite different.  No English majors, and only a few of them have taken a literature course in college–almost all with me.  The rest vaguely recalled being asked to read some novels in high school—the names of which they couldn’t recall. Others read widely on their own, but they were just as unfamiliar with the terms “plot” and “setting” as the others. 

Most are non-Humanities majors: nursing, biology, criminal justice and psychology top the list. A few said they had no major yet but they might be interested in teaching Kindergarden someday.  One student has a B.S. but wants to do an M.A. in Education with a Language Arts focus and needs some literature classes now.  At least half of the students have not taken first year composition yet (thus my presentation “reviewing” essay writing is happening tonight), and 1/3 are unfamiliar with using computers (including accessing material in Blackboard). I gave a presentation on that after the first class, at 8pm after starting my work day at 8am (perhaps  not unlike THEIR days, I know).

So it’s a challenging class, not unusual at a communitycollege, but unlike most of the lit classes I’ve been teaching lately.

And perhaps that’s why this class has an odd vibe to it, one that has been keeping me up at night:

  • One student wrote on the first day in response to my question Why Do We Read Literature?: “We read literature because it is a dying art.”
  • Another student, a woman in her 50s, came up to me after class and told me that she has been in seclusion in her house for 5 years after her family was murdered, but her therapist convinced her to get out and try a college class. She chose mine because, you know, chatting about literature is so therapeutic and all.
  • After the first class, what seemed to be a lively lecture/discussion about literature, women writers, food fiction, etc etc., and then a brief overview of all of the writing assignments during the term, 10 students dropped the course by the next morning. However, 10 more added by noon the next day.  Community College students are generally under time constraints so they usually aren’t course “shoppers”–so yes, this was odd. It’s a night class, so I’m running on empty and caffeine, which basically means I’m quite hyper.  This works well with many students, who see hyperness as a form of passion and as somewhat entertaining.  For others, it’s probably scary.

Not everything is odd, however.  There are several students I know from last quarter, ones who are comfortable with me, and who have expressed that comfort by being active participants from the start.  At least 1/3 of the students are over 40, which adds immeasurably to class discussion. There are three men (out of 35) in the class, and they seem engaged. There is one late 50s woman who has a passion for romance novels (a la Nora Roberts) and wants to do her final project on her (and in this class, that works).  I’m relieved that many of them seem excited by the open final project (a paper and a poster session on a woman writer or on a food-related subject–with food, of course, at the final).

So despite the insomnia (I basically rewrote my lecture for tonight last night in my head between 3-4am), this class may prove to be  an exciting challenge, forcing me to grow.  That’s how I’m looking at it now, at noon, after my 3rd cup of tea.

Student (Mis)Behavior

ProfHacker has a beautifully timed posting today on Disruptive Student Behavior (*Too Much Skin Edition*).  We are given two scenarios (the peekaboo butt crack, and the 1970s style (is it back??) tube top/mini skirt look).

The question posted is: what would you do, if a bit too much skin seemed to disrupt the class?

Despite living in a climate that rarely allows for tube tops, I do, alas, get a the occasional butt cracks and a few women with cleavage that certainly begs to be showed off (in, say, Stars), but both instances are relatively rare, and not disruptive (at least, no notable disruption—I can’t speak for other types).

What I’ve noticed this week are other types of disruptions, and since it’s only week 1 of the term, this makes me a little nervous:

  • One student, who is named after a famous philosopher (not kidding: first and last name), sits in the front row of a small, 26 seat classroom, and alternatively sleeps/snores, or text messages with his hand between his legs in what can only be described as a very, very suggestive manner.
  • Another student stormed into the classroom late, and while I was in the midst of one of my riveting lectures, interrupted with a breathlessly told run-on story about his car troubles and how he hoped that unlike his other professors I would not stereotype him as the always late student because it was the ONLY time he has been late to class ever, etc etc. The other students merely stared at him in silence.   Once I got over my shock, it took me a while to ask him to please save his tale for after class.
  • One student stormed into my office this morning, visibly angry that I asked the class to print the first short story from Blackboard: she said she couldn’t afford to print the “book” and how could I ask her to do so?  (Meanwhile, she was carrying an iphone, and several very expensive textbooks, including the 3 novels for my class–so part of me did assume she may have felt overextended, but still…..).  When I told her the total cost of printing the story in the campus computer lab would be $3.0o and that I would gladly give her the money, she just stormed out without a word.

Of course, the first week hasn’t been entirely filled with misbehaviors.  My classes seemed engaged already, and eager to dive into the work of the term. My women writers’ class is crowded, but lively, and there are actually 3 men in the class this time around).

And good news: my application for the NEH Workshop was accepted, so I’ll get to be a “student” this summer myself: what sort of misbehavior do NEH participants do, I wonder?