Summer Reruns

While you semester folks are either finished or nearly finished with the term, I am slogging through week 7 of an 11 week quarter, with those damned miles to go before I, literally, sleep.  So still teaching, still grading, still advising, still committee-meeting, still interviewing candidates (yeah, late, I know, and I have oh so much to say about that—someday), still writing an essay due in 3 weeks, still training for my half marathon (which is the day after graduation—I believe it shall be my annual celebratory big run!).

So, while I’m scanning the blogosphere daily, and commenting when so moved and in between student conferences, this blog will be quiet for a bit. 

Feel free to read some old posts. If WordPress’s stats thingy is correct, the most popular ones are these:

Blogging as Performance Art

Tonight’s episode of House was of interest to bloggers:  the patient of the week is a “raw” blogger who believes that sharing the intimate details (well, most of them, BMs excluded it seems), of her life is a way to form connections.  Her boyfriend gets that, but also accuses her of forgetting the original reason she started her (somewhat?) popular blog: he claims, in the heat of an argument, that she is more into the performance before her “fans” than any connection she wanted to form.

My response was instantaneous and ahead of any rational thought: d’uh! Of course. Of course blogging is about performance as much as it is about connection.

Isn’t it?

World Enough and Time

If I had world enough and time, I’d be blogging about…

  • the exceptionally decent writing assignments I am spending my weekend reading, sporadically, commenting upon, and evaluating…Did I suddenly TEACH better, or are students just a bit more prepared? motivated? 
  • the odd trend in student e-mails that temper the usual excuses and “just to let you knows” with affirmations of my fabulousness, such as   “I’m going to be handing in my essay late because my computer died. And I want you to know that you’re awesome!” and “My essay will be late, just wanted to let you know. And I really LOVE your class.” What’s with that?
  • Joyce Carol Oates, whose novels, stories, interviews I’ve been immersed in for weeks. She’s a fascinating woman. I’m in the midst of reading what at least one reviewer called her “angry lesbian” novel, Solstice (published in 1985). I wonder why there were so many misreadings of this disturbing story about an odd friendship between women: an instinctive attack on a writer who disdains the “woman writer” label?
  • the early 1960s-dress up party I’m attending in a few weeks. I can’t decide if I want to dress like Jackie O, or one of her more bohemian peers. Luckily, there’s Rusty Zipper, a wonderfully rich site for inexpensive vintage clothes…or, should I do what my mother says and wear a cardigan sweater backwards, with pearls, and one of my new pencil skirts instead?
  • the hairdo that goes with the outfit: the Jackie O flip or the Babs poof (see below)? Or is Bab’s poof too late 60s? (Ah, another excuse to watch Mad Men!).Streisandhairdo
  • and, finally, the big one: the earliest damned snowfall since I’ve lived in this town (with downed trees, no electricity for hours this morning, and it’s STILL snowing)…

But, alas, I can’t blog about any of these potentially fruitful ideas right now. I need to shovel some snow, dig out the flashlight and candles before the next power outage (tree branches are literally cracking and falling throughout the neighborhood), and finish reading student essays.


1. To the odd recent overabundance of male midlife crisis novels: 

  • Spending by Mary Gordon. No longer a new novel, but the first one I’ve found in my stack that provided just what I needed. The Times reviewer concedes that the sex scenes are “prettily written” (!), but they are truly erotic. And the novel appeals not just to the physical, but to the emotional and psychic desires of a middle aged woman (writer, artist, intellectual)  reader, too. 

2. To the heat of the day:

  • 7am runs along the river (with, finally, a lightweight water bottle that is easy to carry).  I had no idea how much I see that early: interesting couples (who probably don’t want people to know they are couples); groups of mothers and strollers (try that on a single track trail); runners in their pjs (really–they are not in running clothes); lots of dogs (off leash of course); oh, yes, and deer, rabbits, fish, osprey….

3. To lugging the laptop to do work elsewhere:

  • A 10.1″ HP Netbook.  Ok, so some of my antidotes are a bit consumerist, but really, the netbook is light, fits in my purse, and at least the version I have has a keyboard that is 90% full sized, so I can really type on it.  I’m using Open Office on it, not storing anything important on it (so no Quicken), and it’s much faster than my 4 year old laptop.  It’s been a treat walking downtown to one of the many local coffee or tea houses; and I can’t wait to try flying with it once conference season begins this fall….

4. To a messy, dusty, disorganized, full of 10-year-old files,  office:

  • Being forced to pack everything for the big move (in 3 weeks!) to my NEW, larger office.  I’m going lite: trying to get rid of paper files that I rarely look at, and all those versions of the Norton and Heath anthologies that I have (because I don’t want to lose the NOTES I have in each version).  All being discarded.  My blue recycle bin overfloweth (much to the custodial staff’s displeasure).  New office: a bit further up the hill on campus, but it has THREE windows, on two walls.  Hanging plants may actually survive…(thus, this is also an antidote to claustrophobia and lack of oxygen during the school year).

5. To the high cost of student textbooks:

  • On the quarter system, we currently have 3 quarter-length required writing courses (soon to be downgraded to two, but that requires an entire blog whine to write about).  Students rarely take the same professor for all three courses since professors rarely get the same time block or teach all three courses fall, winter, spring.  As a result, students end up buying three textbooks for the year—and it’s nearly impossible for an instructor to make full use of an entire textbook in 10 weeks. So, this year I found 2 texts I”m using for Composition I and II: Faigley’s Backpack Writing 2nd, ed., (Longman, 2010)  and Graff/Birkenstein’s They Say, I Say (Norton 2006) (other instructors use both texts, so I am hoping that at least some students will benefit). Of course, I’m now totally revising my syllabi (or should be: see below).

6. To the need to balance solitude time with social time:

  • I don’t have an antidote to this, yet (unless I actually replace all social face to face contact with Facebook since most of my friends are there, too). I’m really quite social–I LIKE seeing friends regularly. I love when they drop in or call for a get together. But then, the next day after a long run (something I obsessively never give up) I regret the lost hours of reading and writing. 

7. To peri menopausal/hormonal sleep disorders:

  • I do NOT sleep well, and when I do, I toss and turn. I regularly get up after midnight and read on the futon.  This, as you all can imagine,is somewhat disruptive to our wedded bliss.  Hubby and I (who are not large people–sort of on the smaller size at 5’3″ and small framed for me  and thin despite the beer belly 5′ 10″ for him) are considering getting a king sized bed.  I have great reservations about this for a variety of reasons: a. our bedroom barely fits the Queen sized bed, so the dresser will probably have to go somewhere (where?) else, and b. the floor heating vent is in such an odd location that it would have to be moved to fit a king sized bed, and c. it seems so damned decadent. 
  • Does anyone else have a king sized bed? Wanna try to convince me that it’s going to actually allow us to sleep together all night long?  Or should I just wait another 5 years or so until menopause arrives and passes?

8. To life’s little things:

  • Blogging about them here or on FB.

Monday Meanderings

accessories_boa_80_redIs it summer yet?  The calendar says so, but the weather?  Not so much.

NPR essay submitted: now the wait to hear from the editor (I’ve been practicing my radio voice)

Summer school teaching online: new graduate students. Generally a pleasure to work with, although each June I must remember that they are only gradually realizing that they are once again students (John Irving reference anyone?).

Office move this August: I’ve started to go through my stuff.  I have a lot of books from the 90s (now in the hallway with a handcrafted “free” sign on them).  And several interesting finds:

  • A fuzzy red scarf, something that a 1920s stripper would wear (can’t be from a drunken faculty party since we are a “dry” campus, so from where?). 
  • Oooh, and a bumper sticker a colleague gave me years ago after I received a student evaluation that complained about my sarcasm (I’ve since learned to smile and let out a very short giggle after a sarcastic remark–it’s remarkably effective): “Sarcasm: Just One More Service I Offer”sarcasm
  • Dittos. Yes, I found actual dittoed handouts.  I think they still smell.

Multiple Blogiality Disorder

Last December I gave a lecture on Oprah’s Book Club, and based on my emphatically positive spin on the Oprah Effect, I was recruited by an eager colleague to assist in starting a faculty and staff blog: a public space for our rapidly growing institution to remind each other who we are and what we do.

We’ve been active for a few months now: our small blog task force has reached out to those faculty and staff members who we think might have something interesting to write about (and who might actually want to take time out of their busy daily lives to do so).

Based on the blog stats, people are reading these postings (with truly novel takes on subjects such as post- modernity, social networking,  soap and chemistry, and “generation me”).   One faculty member “outed” herself as an anonymous blogger of mostly mother and teaching related reflections when she agreed to cross post on our college blog. Another faculty member who posted is also a blogger, but not an anonymous one: she links to both blogs on Facebook, and enjoys the cross pollination of the various public forums.

This week, for the college blog, we are encouraging faculty and staff to submit their summer reading lists.  I am getting some interesting titles, but not as many as I’d hoped.

Despite a slow start, it’s been rewarding starting this new blog—which has yet to really find its footing.  Is the college blog a public relations tool of sorts (not that the PR folks are selling it in any way), or is it just another form of a “Water Cooler” that we have on our internal e-mail system? Right now, it seems to be the latter, but what is most interesting is that because I am one of the public faces of this new blog, I am often confused as the writer of many of the postings—folks stop by on campus to thank me for my interesting posts about Facebook or teaching, and I have to stop and remember that they mean my colleagues’ posts on the college blog (not Annie Em’s posts on those same subjects).

It’s a little unnerving.

This blog, too, is still trying to find its niche: partly educational, partly self reflection, partly a pastiche of links that amuse me.  But that’s ok.  I’ll keep writing and see where it goes.  While I don’t have the talent to write stories like TK,  or the charm to blog on life like Inky, or the wit of Acadamnit, I enjoy the process of writing a blog posting.  Tenured Radical (a rather well-known blogger) has a thoughtful recent 400th posting where she reflects upon her rather satisfying “career” as a blogger, a public intellectual of the 21st century.

That’s a marvelous goal, to be a public intellectual.

One of my students this term came to chat with me about that: he wants to be a public intellectual when he grows up (he’s 22) and asked me what he should major in!  I was truly at a loss. What would you have said?

Since he was sitting there in my soon to be small, old office, waiting for me to give him advice, I ultimately said something, though it probably sounded like a rambling list to the poor guy:  I said that it didn’t matter what he majored in, as long as he took a variety of classes, challenging classes, too.  I said it was probably more important that he write and participate in conversations as often as possible.  That he travel and become involved in the world around him. I gave him a list of titles of books by writers I consider to be public intellectuals, and encouraged him to take classes with professors on campus who I think would be possible mentors for him.

And then I said I hoped we could chat again someday after spring term when my brain was not quite as mushy.

I hope he does stop by to chat next week after he hands in his research paper (an approach on a topic that is, of course, original and challenging).  Maybe I’ll tell him to start a blog.

Summertime Blogging

The Academic Blogosphere (the blogging world in which I live) seems to go on semi-hiatus once classes end—or at least once they end for you semester system schools. We on the quarter system are still plugging away for 2 more weeks. Interestingly, I’ve found few community college instructors who are bloggers (as is also true with the academic novel—there are few that focus on community college faculty and students—another interesting gap to explore).

But I’m finding that the relatively light blog-reading the last few days has allowed me to get more done. I’m also less writerly these days myself: I have a list of blog ideas, but little time or inclination to pursue them right now. Instead I’m doing the usual end of term/start of summer chores:

  • Reading research paper drafts—in fact, this activity should take every waking moment of the next week despite the high attrition in those classes. Most intriguing fact from this term’s papers: I have THREE papers on “evil” and one intriguing paper on women who choose to be exotic dancers.
  • Reading my online literature class’s weekly postings—this week, they are on Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, two of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to reading their postings. Yet, unlike the research paper classes, this class has no attrition, so I have 40 postings and responses to look forward to….so far, they seem to be getting O’Connor’s wicked sense of humor (and, as always, critiquing the hapless grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”). So far, no one has taken me up on my prompt asking for an analysis of why “Everything That Rises Must Converge” appeared in the season finale of “Lost”.
  • Fine tuning the big speech I’m giving this weekend. I have the meat and bones nicely organized, but now I need to work on wording and delivery, and I should time myself, I suppose. Anyone know how long 1700 words should take to read in a New York-velocity accent?
  • Choosing textbooks for fall—yes, it’s ridiculously early to even think of such a thing, but I’m already a month late on my fall book orders.
  • Planning the summer vacation—this summer, it’s hubby’s turn to plan our vacation in August (itinerary, hotels, etc etc), but I suspect he’ll need a little pushing. Yes, I’m obviously the pushy one in this relationship….
  • Gearing up to teach two back to back online classes this summer—luckily, both are graduate level, small classes, focused on researched writing.
  • Training for two half ½ marathons in June
  • Assorted social gatherings every weekend for the next few weeks (funny how mostly introverted faculty start becoming social and extroverted as the term winds down). One gathering is a “Pure Romance” event: think Tupperware-type party with dildos and edible panties.
  • Still reading “light and uplifting” fiction each week in the endless task of finding a community read book. Has anyone read The Help by Kathryn Stockett? That was has been added to the list. Right now I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: a beautiful novel, not unlike Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs in terms of structure (each chapter focuses on a different character in this small Maine town), but so far, I wouldn’t call it “light” fiction.

I suspect in a few weeks, once the grades are submitted, the speech is done, and the gatherings are over that I will be able to do a few meaty blog postings. Till then, I’ll probably just do hit or miss links to interesting stories and sites, which I hope are at least mildly amusing (well, they are amusing to me, and perhaps that’s all that counts in the Daily Me world?).

Faceblogging: The Daily Us

One theme that has come up in the blogosphere lately is that Facebook (aka FB) has, as Dr. Virago so pithily put it, “killed the blogosphere star.”  Now, I’m no blogosphere star like others who’ve blamed their FBing for their missing bloggings, i.e. Orange Tangerine, or another, who, despite dozens of pleas from dozens of bloggy fans, refuses to join FB.  But I do agree that there are times when FB gives me more pleasure than blogging, and vice versa.

Facebook includes those of my RL (real life) friends who actually want to be on Facebook (and certainly many do not), as well as old classmates and boyfriends, a few now former students, a former Big Blue Marble pen pal,  some family members-including my mom, and, interestingly, my pastor from church (who tends to use FB as a place to draft his sermons in twitter form-which greatly amuses me).  On FB I get a snapshot of how or what those various people are doing each week.  Lately, they’ve been taking quizzes so now I know who the REAL New Yorkers are, and which TV mom they are most like.  Sometimes, someone will post something of interest, like a clip from the Daily Show that I missed, but usually I’m the poster/sharer of information-that’s when the blogger side of me spills into FB: I tend to be the one who “shares” articles on my Profile on subjects ranging from 40somethings who use Facebook to Taylor Mali’s Utube poetry. When I do that, it’s a sign I need to return to my blog.

Unlike FB, my blog is anonymous: I haven’t shared my blog with any of my FB friends on purpose.  For many bloggers, our blogs are our anonymous spaces where we interact with other anonymous faces (though we are often all in similar fields, such as writing or academia, so in the real life-RL-we might actually be friendly to each other).  That anonymity is, at least for me, part of the pleasure of blogging vs. FB:  I want to see if those who do not know and like me in RL are interested in reading my random thoughts.  Yes, there is the risk of being “caught” by those who know me, but I suppose that’s adds a sort of exhibitionist pleasure to the whole endeavor.  Wordpress allows me to see how strangers find my blog through search terms, and that gives me some clue about who might be stumbling onto my blog accidentally (the most popular search terms relate to Cutty from House, titles of novels I mention, and, interestingly, “annieem”: I’m sort of curious about that one since it means that someone is specifically googling my pseudonym.  Let me tell you right now: I’m NOT the dog or craft lady Annieem).

Not that all bloggers are anonymous (obviously, for some, blogging is another way to get their ideas out there, and perhaps to help sell their books), but for others, it’s a way of testing new ideas, or venting about students and teaching, or just making connections with those who do not have to listen to us.  We form a community, of sorts, one where I know that no matter how inane my posting, that sometimes I’ll get a sweet comment or two from those who remind me that I’m not totally writing to a dark hole.

There’s an interesting article in this week’s New Yorker about humans as social animals: “Hell Hole” by Atul Gawande asks, and answers, the question of whether or not forced solitary confinement is torture.  Of course it is: he quotes Terry Anderson, who was a hostage, mostly in solitary confinement, for seven years: “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.  We humans physically deteriorate when we are deprived of social contact with another human.

We humans also get too caught up in our own heads without contact with others, though perhaps, when we have the choice, we prefer social contact with the best companions rather than the worst. Nicholas Kristoff calls this “The Daily Me” : since the web allows us to  self select the news and information and ideas we read, we often choose what  best reflects what we already believe. His focus is more on the potential political polarization that could occur nationally as a result of this, but his solution is something I force my composition students to do as a matter of course: “So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.”  For one essay, my students must objectively report on various perspectives on an issue, and then for the next essay, they get to choose a position and “spar” with the others.  They, naturally, struggle with this, and more often than not change their perspective to something more moderate than what they began with: truly knowing and understanding what the opposition thinks helps us clarify our own thinking.

We anonymous bloggers, however, are probably more interested in the comments from our like-minded community members than in sparring, unlike those bloggers who love a good online fight (see, once again, here or even here-it’s the comment section where the “discussion” happens, of course).  But even when there is debate/discussion the blogger usually “wins” the fight, and the interloper is chastised by the rest of the like-minded community (or the comment itself is deleted, though I suspect that happens mostly to spam-right?).  Ezra Klein has categorized the sorts of postings that lead to more comments/debate: politics, low culture, and a high level of snark.

Of course on FB there is little sparring since the purpose is not to debate ideas (though there may be a link to a political group you’ve joined, or a link to the latest low culture gossip, it’s just a link, an invitation to spar),  but to share pieces of ourselves with others.  If there is snarkiness, it’s a shared sense of snark since you are writing to friends after all.  And sometimes I just want that affirmation that there are others out there who know what I did today (even if it was just taking a walk on a windy, but sunny, Sunday afternoon), or who share my sense of what is amusing in the world, while other times I want more idea development, feedback or advice-and it doesn’t matter if any readers know who I am based on 25 random things, or what I did today.

Of course, anyone who is still reading this now nearly 1200 word blog posting is probably part of my Daily Us.  I’m not interested in sparring (though I do enjoy reading such debates), and I’m not always interested in snarky writing about students and teaching (though I do so love reading such snark), so my bloggings will probably continue to be rambling thoughts like this, or requests for book titles (I’m still waiting for more funny short stories or novels you’ve read)….


This is Joey in the dryer.


It seems that Fridays have been catblogging days since, oh, 2004 according to this NY Times article and this more recent Salon posting (that includes lots of fun links to kitties, and places the catblogging in our current-day media-saturated doggy context).

Here is Peekaboo with a nameless deer. Alas, Peekaboo died last year: she was quite the social animal.


As a relatively new blogger, I clearly missed the good old Caturdays period, so please allow me to make up for lost time.

Happy Friday!

Sunday Night Musings

When I first started graduate school,  I immediately started having panic attacks. It was clearly not ideal timing, but something about taking classes and teaching (since my en route Ph.D. program “allowed” us to teach our own composition classes at the same time we were taking classes) gave me both the space and the elevated stress level to suddenly act out against my life-long horror of Sunday nights.

I had the space, since unlike the 9-5 jobs I had for the years between undergraduate and graduate school teaching 2 composition classes and taking 2-3 graduate classes gave me more “free” time.  And you can guess why, as a new instructor, I had the elevated stress levels. I loved teaching immediately (almost more, to be honest, than my graduate seminars), and I felt fairly confident in my graduate program, but the stress of living in utter poverty in addition to the change in career probably were beyond the stress of any other transitional period in my life.

So, like any good New Yorker I found myself a therapist (one with a Ph.D., thank you very much) and he proceded to bore me with the usual Freudian blah blah blah about my life (I had no trouble applying such an analysis to literary characters, but hearing it applied to my own life made me dismiss psychoanalytic literary criticism quite quickly–perhaps too quickly, but that’s for another posting). 

He did make two comments (in addition to explaining how to get bumped to first class on airlines–though his advice on that aged quickly as the airline industry changed) that I never forgot (and it’s been 20 years):

1. He said that because of my struggles with my childhood (blah blah) I would probably not be able to finish the Ph.D. program (well, I did, in record time–though, admittedly, I’m not quite sure how much of that was reverse psychology); and

2. He said that although panic attacks on Sunday nights are not uncommon for many people, perhaps I have panic attacks on Sunday nights because that’s when I was sent to the “babysitter” for the week (long story).

Well, that was an observation worthy of his $80.00 an hour though I still stopped seeing him soon afterwards. 

My panic attacks eventually subsided though Sunday nights are still a bit fraught with emotion (despite knowing both the obvious and the personal reasons for feeling stressed on Sunday nights).  Tonight, I’m almost done grading final papers (admittedly, I could be done if I weren’t typing this, but I did need a break), and although I should be thrilled that I’m almost done grading and finishing up fall term, I’m feeling relentlessly stressed.   I have no where I need to be tomorrow,  and actually few appointments at all this week, allowing me to at least begin to clean up my office and prep for winter term.  But those emotions are still there and just typing them out is very useful (and you don’t need that Ph.D. in psychology to understand why). It’s also cold (frigid, actually) and snowy today, no sun and basically the start of what promises to be a long winter.  And yes, I’m sure it’s just having the space of not teaching that reminds me, that yes, seasonal affective disorder on top of a personal history of Sunday night blues have ganged up to make you feel lousy right now.

Or at least I did until I typed all of that out;-)

View from my bedroom window on a snowy day in December.

View from my bedroom window on a snowy day in December.