A brief chronicle of my new life in Michigan, focusing on the fact that I live in a converted factory loft building with several hundered other "young professionals." Yeah, it's a yuppie dorm.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


This whole summer thing is weird. For as long as I can remember, I've either been working full time, or (like last year) working and writing a dissertation. This year, I know I'm supposed to be working on my "research agenda" -- and I am, sort of. But mostly, I'm relaxing. And becoming a bit bored, really.

Therefore - I henceforth resolve to devise some summer goals to get me to actually accomplish something.

1. Go to the UP (Upper peninsula) with my parents this weekend. (Already planned! Some goals have to be easy...)

2. Formulate a Research Agenda. Essentially - what do I want to try to publish in the next 4-5 years?

3. Teach a class for six weeks, beginning at the end of June (my only real commitment this summer).

4. Review Old English. I'm going to be teaching a graduate class in OE language and literature a year from this fall. It's been quite a few years since I've actually dealt with OE on a linguistic level (not just skimming through texts for content). So, I'm going to make my way through Sweet's reader again, and force myself to really understand the declensions and the conjugations--and get my vocabulary its previously robust level.

More goals to come, when I think of them...

In reference to Goal 4: I'm going to include a tag line of "lines translated" to keep myself on track (a la Lemming...)

Lines Translated: 21

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Heard Through the Wall

This evening, at about 6:00 pm, on the phone:

"I spent over $300 last night...I didn't get home until 5:30 this morning; I've been crashed on the couch until about an hour ago...I've never been so drunk in my life; one receipt is for $170; I think we must have done eight or ten shots there at least..."

I am officially living next door to a Drunken Frat Boy. (No offense intended to those in or formerly in fraternities. I'm rudely stereotyping from too many years hanging around college campuses.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Teaching Portfolio - Day 1

This morning was the beginning of the "Teaching Portfolio Training." I think I'll come out of it with something good; however, I think that's because I'm in a group (of three) that had an attitude of: "OK, we've got to do this thing. So we want format! We want guidance! And we'll ask annoying questions until we get it!" I don't know if I got the impression of a lack of specific information because it wasn't forthcoming, or because we started in with the questions so quickly. And I never did get a good sense of format.

But I did get the suggestion that, for teaching portfolios at least, a good pedagogical trick is to hand out questions at the end of any given class, essentially asking "Did you learn x?" (posed more sophisticatedly, of course) Then, you compile them, count the "yes" answers, and voila: "evidence" of student learning. On the one hand, definitely more outcome based. On the other, easily rigged and somewhat hokey. Only one level of teaching is specific, outcome-based, etc. But I suppose there are other ways of proving students' abilities to think critically, write more analytically, that sort of thing.

Having to be "reflective about my teaching" always makes me cynical. Yes, I think that teachers should reflect, improve, re-evaluate technique, etc. So should most people in their given professions. But how many doctors and lawyers have to come up with original and unique "statements of philosophy" for what they do? Maybe because it's because society seems to pretty much understand what doctors and lawyers do, but never seems to understand what teachers do. Think about it--of the many television shows that highlight people working at their profession (ER, Law and Order, CSI) few show teachers. And the ones that have (Boston Public is the only one that springs to mind) rarely show teachers teaching. Wait - there's that one law school show-- Paper Chase. John Houseman (was that him?) did actually seem to teach in that show. Teachers: scary, inscrutable or just boring?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Office, Rearranged

After printing off a bunch of stuff for my "Teaching Portfolio" how-to workshop that will take up most of the upcoming week, I decided to rearrange my at-work office. When I started there, I just left all the furniture pretty much where it was; the only alterations were adding more shelving when I found the shelves under the desk. In this set-up, I had a desk with drawers against the far wall, and a table with my computer set up on it against the wall by the door. Essentially, if I was working, my back was always to one of my two workspaces. I found that I was always at the (smaller) computer table, and the desk with drawers became a dumping spot for random junk. I needed an ergonomic makeover in my office. Not to mention a good dusting (as I discovered when I started moving things around).

Since I'm left-handed, I like L-shaped workspaces where my secondary workspace stretches out to the left of me, rather than to the right of me. I once rented an apartment based on being able to set up an office space this way. I also don't like working with my back to a door, or my computer screen visible from the door. Since I leave my door open when I'm in there (so as to be inviting to students and colleagues, of course...) I don't want everything I'm working on (or goofing off on) to be visible to passers-by. Therefore, I moved everything around, so it looks something like this:

New Floor Plan, Office

The bookshelves on the left are pretty much floor to ceiling, the ones on the wall over the desk and by the door are at shoulder height and up. Therefore, there's room in the corner on the door wall for a good-size reading chair and little table, I'm hoping. Shopping in second-hand furniture stores will commence; until then, I've got a stand-in school-provided chair.

The other very nice thing about this set-up is that the file cabinet, which is a five-footish high, four drawer thing, provides a nice buffer between me and the door. My computer screen is not at all visible to anyone at the door; I, however, am. While working at my desk-with-drawers still puts me with my back to the door, I'll more likely use it as a vast, left-side workspace while I'm at the computer. Now I just need a longer ethernet cord that doesn't cut across the office, a comfy chair, and a lot of book rearranging and paper filing from last semester. And more artwork/stuff on walls. Got to cover up the cinderblock any way possible!

Back Home

Well, I just got back from two weeks in Bloomington, where I have a much more active social life. Or perhaps, my social life just never left Bloomington, and it gets squeezed into a much more compressed time. In any case, I didn't get to see everybody, but I very much enjoyed the time I did spend with people there.

Back at the Yuppie Dorm, I've got new neighbors to the west. The previous tenant was a middle-aged guy who lived alone; the most I ever heard from him was a coffee grinder (usually at precisely the same time every morning). The new neighbor (or neighbors; I still haven't determined if there's more than one officially living there) is much more in the young, frat-guy demographic. I have several inches of soundproofing between my office and their living room, and I could still hear practically every word they were booming before they left for the bars at about 10 o'clock last night. I'm really hoping that sort of activity/gathering is relegated to the weekends. At one point, I was on the phone, and I couldn't hear the person I was talking to because they were talking so loudly.

Or maybe I'm just really grumpy because I've got a cold in May. Colds are not fun at any point, but in May, they just make me more miserable by contrast.

Friday, May 06, 2005

In the Middle of Kalamazoo

Figuratively speaking, or I should probably say chronologically speaking. "Kalamazoo" to any medievalist, is not a place. It is a concept, a "congress"; it is four days of giving and listening to papers, looking at many, many books, and generally seeing people, "networking," and so forth. This year is weird; I'm driving down each day rather than staying there (spatially speaking, Kalamazoo is only about an hour from me.)

Anyway - it's (chronologically speaking) 8 am; I'm heading down with a colleague at 10 am; which gives me roughly two hours to work on my paper this morning. I don't give it until Saturday morning, so I have tonight, too.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A happy ending? Please, no.

This is so wrong. (From "Customized Classics"). My comments in (italics).

'Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's classic drama of passionate love—now released as a unique personalized romance with YOU playing the part of the famous lovers. A novel wedding, romantic or anniversary gift. Picture the thrill of classic lines personalized with you in them:
"Oh Brad, Brad.
Wherefore art thou Brad?"
"But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Helen is the sun."
(Obviously, iambic pentameter is not a pressing issue for Customized Classics.)
What's more, if you choose the Happy Ending Version a new scene is added with an unexpected plot twist — the lovers live happily ever after! (Just what every tragedy needs!) A short scene is added after Act V Scene III. It turns out the apothecary's poison didn't work (OK, that's believable. Shakespeare himself used that out in Cymbeline) and Romeo survives, and Juliet's stabbing of herself merely made her pass out. (Was it just a flesh wound then? Or is Juliet now so incompetent that she missed? And fainted from her significant lack of aim?) With sincere apologies to William Shakespeare, Mercutio and Tybalt! (Well, I would hope so. After all, Mercutio and Tybalt don't get the magic 'I'm not dead yet' treatment...)

Also, if you go into the "customization" process, you'll get a little message warning you that "...the gender of characters cannot be changed." So, while CC seems unpreturbed by violating many laws of poetic scansion, they're holding firm on the gender issue.

Two Down, One To Go

Two classes graded; one class left... and I have all afternoon/evening to do it, and still have a whole full day before grades are due.

That means I have exactly three days, then, to write my conference paper for Kalamazoo. Luckily, due to a spate of dissertation mining last week, the conference paper is now an editing project rather than a writing project. I never realized last year how much good research I did while working on the dissertation. I'm growing increasingly certain that the dissertation, as it stands now, will not be a good book. However, there's a lot of research in there that will make several good articles, and provide the philosophical foundation for the project I'm just starting to think about now. I think one of the things you're supposed to learn from the dissertation is how to write a book -- by doing it all wrong the first time out. Dissertation committees often help with this process, by telling you to do silly things like take out the narrative and just put in analysis (hello, Lemming!). This is great for a dissertation committee, because then they can just see the stuff that interests them, but not so great for most of the public, because they really do appreciate well-written narrative background. But then, I tend to fell academics need to reach beyond other academics in the same field. Silly me, I rather want to make my work somewhat relevant.