Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday thoughts...

"Why do people say 'Merry Christmas' when they really mean 'F*** you'?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Student writing...

Grading. It is the part of my job that I hate the most. It takes forever to do, it’s no fun, and sometimes (especially if the papers are really crappy) it puts me in an almost angry mood. But there are secret joys that go along with grading, mostly at the student’s expense. Students-- sometimes through laziness, sometimes through trying to sound really smart, sometimes because they just aren’t thinking, and sometimes because they are just really ummmm... interesting people--write the funniest darn things in their papers.

I always tell my friends that we need to write a book someday using these examples—and perhaps using the crappy emails we get from students. (Remind me to tell you about the one in which a student describes in excruciating detail a rash he has that’s keeping him from class. Ummm, ewww? Just stay home until you feel better, okay, dude?)

Anyway, here are just a few great lines I’ve culled from my ENG 204 finals. I wonder if this post could get me into trouble...well, no names will be used to protect the guilty.

1) “…entombing him in his wince cellar”
I wish I had a wince cellar—a great place to do all my wincing and a great deal of my cringing. (Yes, the student is writing about Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

2) “Throughout the course of this semester, I have been bombarded with writers who have somehow contributed to literature in a crucial way.”
I just love the idea of a student being bombarded by American literature. Makes me sound like a bombardier, dropping American lit bombs on their innocent little brains, which is all kinds of awesome. It also makes me want a cool hat like this guy...

3) “Whitman loves everyone and everything, but he especially loves himself.”
This cracked me up, in part because it’s so very true (at least for a first-time Whitman reader), especially when you have students read “Song of Myself” with great lines like:

“Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.”

4) “Secondly to be preserved was the throw up…”
Aren’t you dying to know where this sentence is going?

5) “Although the meaning of this poem is argued quite frequently, it was a great poem to discuss so all the thoughts in this particular could be discussed.”

How to say nothing in 27 words…

6) “The rotting man, the strange murder, and the unusual necrophilia create a fascinating story that is intriguing for all readers.”

So there’s a usual kind of necrophilia? (Yes, the student is writing about Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”)

Finally, a real gem from one of my ENG 101 students….

7) “I’m not entirely sure as to why, but I really enjoyed this class.”

Saturday, December 15, 2007


It's 12:28 on Saturday afternoon, and I've just finished inputting my final set of grades. Yay!

Now to get home and beat the winter storm that is arriving this afternoon.

You know what's sad? I am already feeling to pressure to get to work on next semester's syllabi. (In my defense, classes start again on January 10.) Ugh...and I have two conference papers I need to get done. So much for Christmas "break."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sometimes when you are grading finals... get distracted by severe cuteness...this time with a holiday theme.

Final exam week wisdom...

Check out this article about a study that found that students who pulled all-nighters earned lower grades than students who don't. This actually makes a lot of sense to me. When I see students coming in for an exam and I can tell they haven't slept, it isn't hard to see the drawbacks.

I've never actually had to pull an all-nighter, as procrastination scares the crap out of me. (There's a long story there about a fourth-grade research paper on the Apache that I put off and it almost got me severely burned. God himself intervened by sending a freak snow storm that canceled school the next day. That was enough: I learned my lesson.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

End of the semester...

Remember this post, written after the first day of classes back in August? Seems like a long time ago, I think. Well, today was the last day of classes. Finals are next week, which means a real grading blitz for me between now and then. Here's what I have in front of me:

  • 18 English 101 research papers (I was supposed to have these on Wednesday, but class got canceled on Wednesday)
  • 32 English 101 portfolios (18 from each section; I got the first half today, and will get the rest on Wednesday)
  • 68 English 204 final exams (2 sections worth; the first batch comes in on Tuesday, the rest on Thursday)
  • Final grades to calculate and input for all four classes

It looks like a lot, but I think I'll be able to handle it just fine.

All in all, it's been a good semester. When all is said and done, I think I'll have given out more Ds and Fs then ever before, but that's an entirely different blog post. These Shepherd students are a good bunch overall and I've enjoyed teaching them.

Today I had my camera with me (it stays in my bag most of the time these days) and we snapped a picture of my ENG 101-10 class, the first class I taught here at Shepherd.

They were an eclectic group--made me laugh, made me want to scream, made me smile--and most of them have signed up to take ENG 102 with me next semester. Lord help us!

Winter sunset...

Some pictures I took outside my apartment yesterday evening....

Thursday, December 6, 2007

At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady...

...I'll post this clip, which I first saw on Andrew Sullivan's site. It is so cute, your head might explode from the cuteness. And if you have cats around when you play it, I can guarantee they'll come running. Last night Bing, who was asleep on the table, came dashing over as soon as the first cat started talking.

Bird watching...

One of my favorite things about where I live is the pretty tree out behind my patio. I've hung my bird feeder from there and, as a result, it's a pretty busy spot for our local avian friends. Bing and Wes love to watch the birds, and I catch myself spending more and more time doing the same. Yesterday, at the height of the snow, it was actually quite extraordinary: I've never seen so many cardinals in one spot. At one point, I counted at least six males in the tree (fewer females, though--I'm not sure where they were). I know it's not that rare to love and appreciate the beauty of a cardinal, but I really do. The brightness of their red feathers against the white snow was just lovely.

I tried to take some pictures, but as soon as I opened the door out back, the birds noticed and from that point on, they were more scattered and spent less time sitting around the feeder. I did my best, though, and thought I'd share some shots with you.

This guy has the feeder all to himself!

A female eating on one side, a male on the other. I like how it looks like she's looking at me.

Can you spot the bird way up in the branches?

As I mentioned, once I opened the door, the birds really kept their distance. It didn't help that I had called attention to the two felines who were also eagerly watching their every move--especially since there was no longer a closed door between them. But I did take some more pictures, specifically of the birds that were far away, but still stood out against the white snow. I've left these (more or less) un-cropped, as I think part of the fun is seeing that flash of red standing out in a field of white.

Hope you enjoyed!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

First snow...

Here's the view from my back patio this morning.

We are having our first significant snowfall of the season today. Last night, the weather man said, "I'll be shocked if we get more than an inch." Well, to me it already looks like we've got a couple of inches out there. My drive from Martinsburg to Shepherdstown, which normally takes about 15 minutes, took twice that this morning. The main road looked like it hadn't been touched by a plow or anything. As I was driving, I was getting knots in my stomach thinking about having to drive home through that at 8:40, when my night class gets out.

At Shepherd, they are reluctant to close the school and cancel classes. Instead, they more or less leave it up to the professor. I found myself in a conundrum--it's the last regular meeting of this night class (finals start next week). The students haven't done their course evaluations yet and were supposed to do them tonight. Complicating matters even more, their research papers are due today. But many of the students in this class are commuter and I wouldn't feel right making them drive these roads at night. (And yeah, I didn't want to be driving at night either.)

In the end, I talked to the woman over in Institutional Research (the office that handles evaluations) and she said I wasn't the only person having this predicament. She gave me permission to have my students do evaluations during their final exam period. Normally, she explained, they don't allow that, since they think it's extra stress for students who should be focused on their exams. However, since there really isn't any other time, and since I'm not giving an actual exam (they're just handing in their writing portfolios), she said it would be fine.

As I was writing this, I just received word that just about everyone is canceling classes from this point forward, so I think I'll cancel my 2:10 as well and get the heck out of here.

Remember when we were little and snow was fun, not stressful?

Monday, December 3, 2007


Remember the post from a couple of weeks ago about how you could watch Wikipedia change? Well, I've been meaning to link to this site which is kind of similar. It shows you the photos people around the world are uploading to Flickr. In just a few moments of observing, you can see: pictures from a Barack Obama campaign event in Illinois, beautiful pictures of birds posted from Germany, an old church in Brazil, a soccer game in Liverpool, and of course, families and friends hanging out all over the world. (That last one is kind of cheesy, I know). It's kind of awesome and heartening to see all these touches of humanity.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Wes Whitman

Yesterday in my English 204 class, we were discussing Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California,"* a poem in which Ginsberg imagines moving through a dreamlike supermarket with Walt Whitman. The student responsible for leading discussion of the poem had put together a pretty cool Power Point presentation, complete with an image of Walt Whitman. Call me crazy (and I know you will), but I was struck by how much Whitman, who you know I love, bears a resemblance to someone else close to my heart, especially in this picture:

Do you see it, too? Is this just one more sign of how perfect a cat Wes is for me? Or have I been spending entirely too much time thinking about nineteenth-century American literature?

*clicking on this link will bring you to a site where you can also hear Ginsberg read the poem. Pretty cool. He isn't an amazing reader, but it's always neat to hear poets read their own work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A couple more thoughts on Thanksgiving...

I didn't take that many pictures when I was home, but I do have a few more stray ones worth posting...

It is always great to see the kids when I go home. They are endlessly entertaining and often a lot more fun than the adults.

Doesn't Colin look grown up in this picture? He and I always have fun together. He's my godson, and I told Tara that I think we are a good match since he's a lot like me.

Of course, when you are the aunt who lives hours away, you have to be sure to be on guard against emotional manipulation of all kinds. No worries--my parents raised us rather strictly (to put it mildly), so I don't put up with a lot from the kids. Of course, when Olivia makes a face like this--"don't I look sweet and innocent?"--it's awfully hard to keep up a strong front.

My last thought on Thanksgiving? It can wear you out! I need a vacation from my "vacation" in New York. So here's a sweet picture of Jeff and Colin that sums up that sentiment, taken after dinner on Thanksgiving. Jeff knocked himself out cooking a great feast (yes, I did help), and deserves some major credit for doing so.

The next iPod generation...

A couple of months ago, I was working here in my office at school. I usually work with my iPod on, as it helps me close out distractions--and just generally puts me in a better mood. Anyway, as I was working, my friend Tim came by and laughed, saying, "Man, you are really are part of the iPod generation." Now I think part of this is because he is still shocked that I am, in his words, "a baby." (This comment came from his quick calculation of my age when I was introduced at a faculty assembly and the Dean read off the dates of my degrees). Anyway, we could blog for weeks about how iPods and MP3 players have changed the world, but I thought today I'd just blog a bit about the next generation of iPod users--users a good 20+ years younger than me.

My niece, Kelsie, got an iPod Nano from her parents for her birthday. (My mother, by the way, thinks this is a completely inappropriate gift for a nine year old, but I am not so sure. Maybe she's just a little too young for it and it is a bit on the pricey side, but didn't we have Walkmans and things like that when we were around her age? I don't know--what do you think?) Anyway, she loves the darn thing and brought it to Thanksgiving at Tara and Jeff's house. (Another side note--her winter coat has an inside pocket specifically for an iPod. How cool is that? I want a pocket for my iPod in my coat! That also says something, doesn't it, about how many kids her age have these things?)

I had been telling Kelsie how my nephew Colin's favorite song right now is "Hey there Delilah." Tara tells me she hears him singing it to himself in his room at night or as he plays with his train table. How cute is that? I got to hear him doing it a bit and it was so sweet, I almost got a cavity. Anyway, Kelsie has that song on her iPod and played it for the kids, who loved it.

Here they are listening, one ear-bud per kid.

Then Kelsie played their other favorite song of the moment--Gwen Stefani's "Sweet Escape." Olivia and Colin don't call it this, though--they call it "Woo Woo!" As soon as they heard the opening bars, they both shouted "Woo woo!" and started to dance. It is hard to dance while sharing ear-buds, though, so they had to calm down a bit.

Still, as this picture shows, Olivia couldn't help herself and danced right where she was. This picture makes me happy. Hey, as they sing in Hairspray, "You can't stop the beat."

Monday, November 26, 2007

"American Boy Doll" in Training

It's hard to believe, I know, but my niece Kelsie turned 9 last week. Since I was home in NY for Thanksgiving break all last week, one of my duties on Tuesday night was bringing her birthday presents from my parents over to her house. Her big gift from my parents was one of those American Girl dolls that so many kids go crazy for. I actually don't get it myself, but I was never much for dolls that were mostly for looking at and not playing with--in fact, I wasn't much for dolls in general. Anyway, the one she got was Felicity, I think.

Cute, right?

Aidan, her little brother, was surprisingly okay with all these presents Kelsie was opening. Perhaps that was because he was more interested in the box that Felicity came in. Seriously--he started trying to lay in the box just like the doll had laid in it. I don't think we realized it at first, but once we did, it was fun to watch him try to fit his (pretty big) two-and-a-half year old body into the box.

So, I present to you Aidan's bid to be become the first American Boy Doll.

Step One: He tries the box on his head.

Step Two: He decides to try a different approach--carefully lie down in the box. (And I have to say, I find the photo kind of creepy--it looks like he's in a coffin).

Step Three: He realizes I think this is pretty funny and he decides to ham it up.

So what do you think, America? Are you interested in buying one of these dolls? He's pretty darn cute, but he also comes with a temper and addictions to the following: Spongebob Squarepants, Diego, "No!", "Mine!", and random acts of violence. (I hope my brother doesn't get mad if he reads this--Chris, you know I love the kid!)

More Thanksgiving week photos to come!

Sunday, November 25, 2007


"Friendship renders prosperity more brilliant, while it lightens
adversity by sharing it and making its burden common."

Marcus Tullius Cicero (c. 106-43 BC, Roman Orator, Politician)

Friday, November 16, 2007


As some of you know, I was in Atlanta last weekend for the South Atlantic Modern Language Association's (SAMLA) conference. I was part of the panel sponsored by the Hawthorne Society, and presented a paper on the pedagogical rewards of teaching Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Scarlett Letter. I won't say too much more about that (unless you actually want to hear more), but I think it went very well. The other papers on the panel were quite interesting, and there was some great discussion afterwards.

The not-so-well kept-secret about conferences, though, is that as much as they are about scholarship and professional development, they are also about having at least some fun. I try to apply to conferences in interesting places and I always try to talk my friends into applying, too. This year I was successful in getting my friend David (from UNCG) to apply and (naturally) his paper was accepted, too. I flew down from WV (actually out of Dulles Airport) and he drove down from Greensboro, bringing our friend (Liz) Vogel with him.

Now you know I wanted to take lots of cool pictures for the blog, right? And I got off to a good start. Here, for instance, are a few from our balcony of our hotel room (we stayed at the Renaissance Atlanta Hotel, where all the conference events took place):

The road you see there is I-85. Gotta love that tacky Olympic torch.

Off to the left of the interstate and the tacky torch, you can see the Georgia Tech campus and football stadium (I think).

And here's the view to the right--lots of big buildings. Yup, that's all I can say about them.

So, you can see that I got off to a good start with my picture-taking, right? But then life (and the conference) intervened. We ended up having to spend most of Saturday inside doing conference stuff (and no, I am not really complaining about this--that's what we were there for, after all). We did go out on Saturday night, but I still haven't mastered using my camera in the dark. (Remember those lighthouse pictures from my trip to Cape Cod?)

I did, however, get some good pictures of my friends while we were doing what tourist do best: eating.

Here are Vogel and David at dinner on Saturday night. We ate at this very cool Chinese restaurant called Mu Lan. It was in this beautiful old Victorian house on Juniper street. My favorite dish? The honey-walnut chicken. Yummy.

Another restaurant we enjoyed was Mick's. We had dinner there on Friday night since we were looking for something on the affordable side. (Remember--some of my friends are still poor graduate students. I know--as if I am rolling in money.) We went back to Mick's for dessert on Saturday night and, perhaps inspired by Amber's food photography, I took some pictures.

My dessert: apple pie ala mode. Yummy. Side story: I was actually in the bathroom when the food arrived, and by the time I returned, the other folks had already tried it and assured me it was "delicious." Can you tell we are a close group?

David ordered this bigger-than-your-head Heath bar pie, and it too, was delicious. Seriously. Take a look at that thing: how can it not be delicious?

Vogel ordered strawberry shortcake, but the waitress dropped it on her way over to the table. By the the time she brought a new one, I forgot to take a picture. You'll just have to settle for this picture of her waiting patiently for her dessert, which was also delicious.

Sugar makes David silly, as evidenced by this picture he took of himself. I post it here only to be mean. I'm like that.

Speaking of restaurants, if you are ever in Atlanta, let me give you another restaurant recommendation: Gladys and Ron's Chicken and Waffles, (owned by Gladys Knight and Ron Winans). We went there for lunch on Saturday and oh my Lord, that was some good food! We meant to go back and take pictures, but didn't get the chance. We also wanted to go back and order the "Midnight Train," four chicken wings and a waffle. Well, maybe next time.

Okay--a couple more pictures:

Vogel and David posing in a English-style phone booth outside a bar.

Me on Saturday night. Not an awful picture, right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Things you overhear: Part II

Remember this post from a couple of months ago? Maybe I should make it a series. Every day I hear at least one thing that makes me laugh or grimace. Here's a real gem I overheard today:

Female College Student #1: (Loudly, not not angrily) "I did not sleep with him."
Female College Student #2: (Equally loudly, but pretty casually) "I wasn't even going to imply that."
Female College Student #1: (Again, casually) "Oh, that was totally the next question coming from you."

Hmmm...remember back when we used to be private about these kinds of matters? (And not shouting about them as we walked past faculty members' doors?)

For the record, I am also a fan of (and partially inspired by) two blogs that are entirely made up of overheard conversations: Overheard in New York and Overheard in the Office.

Writer's Rooms

I've been meaning to post a link to this story for months now. I've got about 5 minutes until I have to leave for class, and rather than use it for something super-productive, I finally think it's time for this post.

Anyway, here's a very cool piece about "Writer's Rooms" from the Guardian. Although I am not a creative writer, I do spend a lot of time reading and writing and also spend a lot of time imagining an ideal space to do this sort of work. What is most interesting to me about the featured spaces is how very ordinary they seem.

Above, for instance, is Seamus Heaney's writing room. As you look through these, you might, like me, be struck by the small touches of humanity that creep into the pictures. Hey--these writers are actual people with photos and knick knacks! (Something students still seem surprised to learn.) The only thing that isn't surprising is the clutter.

Although this is a kind of cheating answer, I like Jonathan Safran Foer's picture (of the NY Public Library), too. Some of my best writing has taken place in public spaces like this one--where I am simultaneously with lots of people, but in my own mental world.

Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting read. Okay--now I should go teach! It's Faulkner day in English 204.

Vincent Van Gogh

"As we advanced in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in
fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed."

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890, Dutch Painter)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Shepherd Football Game

As I mentioned previously, my parents visited me a couple of weekends ago. We decided to check out a Shepherd football game since my dad loves the game, Shepherd's been doing really well lately, and I have a number of students who are on the team. It was a fun afternoon, especially since the Shepherd Rams beat the West Liberty Hilltoppers, 38-21.

Some photos from the day:

The field before the game started. We had had a lot of rain the week before--and you can already see where it's getting muddy. By the end of the first few plays, it was really getting torn up--and the players were filthy.

A pretty shot of the autumn trees surrounding the field.

The folks settling in for the game.

The cheerleaders doing some pre-game cheers. I have a couple of students who are cheerleaders, so it was fun to see them doing their thing. I do have to say, though, that those are some skimpy outfits they are wearing. I wouldn't like that if I were their mother. (Yikes--that makes me sound old.)

The Rams take the field.

Lined up and ready to go!

Action shot! See how muddy they are? (Especially the other team in their white uniforms!)

Action shot #2! (It was actually hard to get decent shots of things happening--because they happened so fast and because I had a hard time following the football.)

Rough stuff!

Here's a shot of one my students about to punt the ball.

I call this one "Muddy Action" because, well, they are all so muddy.

Touchdown! (You can tell because #52 looks so happy.)

I couldn't help myself, but these guys in the yellow shirts made me laugh. In my mind, I called them the "ball wipers," because, well...that's what they were. They ran up and down the field, wiping off the muddy balls. I hope they are well-paid.

The ram mascot visited the stands. I think he's just a bit scary. Apparently there is also an actual living-breathing ram named Livingston, but I haven't seen him yet.

Finally, I thought I'd include a couple of shots from the "Ram Band's" half-time show. This season they are featuring songs from Rent, which I thought was pretty cool. (A strange juxtaposition, though--a football game and a musical about young Bohemian artists! Gotta love the great combinations you get on college campuses!) I have a number of students in the band and in the Color Guard, so it was cool to see them doing their thing, too.

One last shot: this is our new President, Dr. Suzanne Shipley, doing the "Tango: Maureen" (from Rent) with a member of the Color Guard. Dr. Shipley had just been inaugurated the day before and the entire week celebrated that fact. I've only met Dr. Shipley a couple of times, but it seems like she'll make a great President for Shepherd.

All in all, the game was a lot of fun. As a faculty member, I have two free passes for every home game (for all the teams). I think I'll definitely take in more games. After all, basketball season is just starting!