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.

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?).

On Teaching an Online Introduction to Fiction Class: Where are the Funny Short Stories?

mali_product_likeThis spring, I am once again teaching an entirely online Introduction to Literature (Fiction) course.  This is my fifth time teaching the course online, so, while I do shake up the reading selections each time, I have a lot of material already prepared.  I focus on short stories and novellas when I teach this class online:  the students already have to read all of my lectures (though I keep them brief), as well as participate in class discussion (and with 40 students, that’s a lot more reading to do).  I’ve added a few new novellas this year, and new stories, so that means my spring break will be spent creating new, what I call “mini-lectures”—including links. 

In many ways creating online course content is parallel to blogging…but that’s another blog post.

I also include film clips (thank you, UTube) and audio (thank you NPR, Selected Shorts and the FREE Internet) to break things up.  Here are a few links that seem to resonate with students:

  • Early in the term we listen to Azar Nafisi’s  “This I Believe” essay “I Believe in Empathy” as a prompt to discuss some of the reasons why humans read literature. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    I believe in empathy. I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination and our desire for rapport, we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens.

  • Also early in the term we discuss Billy Collins’ humorous poem, “Introduction to Poetry”: This term, they can listen to Garrison Keillor’s reading of the poem.  The poem provides a light hearted way to address the ever present “what is the correct meaning/moral of the story” question.  Here’s an excerpt:

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


Now, please take this moment to go watch and listen to Taylor Mali—really, go NOW.  We need to laugh like that. Keeps us young.

When you’re done laughing, send me suggestions for other links, or, to short stories that make you laugh.  Have you ever gone through the standard Intro to Fiction textbook? How many stories really make you laugh so hard you cried? 

Funny stories wanted.