Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Messiah Watch

Like lots of people, I've been a bit uncomfortable with the "Obama as Messiah" theme that is circulating among some of his supporters (although they would never call it that). This video does little to quell those fears:

Now I've blogged before (positively) about pro-Obama videos, but this one creeps me out. Look--the kids are cute and all, but doesn't this remind anyone of the kids who sing for Castro? (No, I won't go as far as those who are saying it reminds them of kids singing for Hitler--that's a bit much.) But still, the whole thing just a bit Orwellian, and that ain't a good thing, folks.

P.S. I do like this explanation that the video's producer provides: "What we accomplished in a few hours on a Sunday afternoon embodies the nature of the Obama campaign: its grassroots inspiration, its inclusiveness, its community building." That is something the grassroots Obama folks have been so good about from the start--organizing, uniting folks, getting things done, but still...

UPDATE: First of all, the video has been taken down now. However, you can read the lyrics from the song here. Also, check out what someone over at Gawker had to say about the video. Glad to know I am not the only one creeped out by it. (I understand that Hannity and Rush also ran it on their shows yesterday, which probably fired folks up all over the place. Not that I am at all excited about agreeing with those guys...)

UPDATE #2: Here's another link to the video.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Olivia's Birthday

The second weekend in September found me once again in NY, this time to celebrate my niece's fifth birthday. Some pictures from the day...

Since the pinata was such a hit at Colin's party, Tara and Jeff got one for this party, too. Here are the kids posed in front of it--pre-carnage.

I'm not sure what they are making pinatas with these days, but just like at Colin's party, this sucker wouldn't break for anything. (Admittedly, plastic bats aren't the best option for breaking them, but you've got to be careful when you've got four eager kids a-swinging.) Here we see the beast beginning to lose its head, but actual complete breakage was a long time coming.

Eventually, Christian stepped in to speed things up. Notice the long strand of paper extending from the donkey's head to his body. Grotesque, no?

This picture cracks me up--Aidan staring at the devastation. And yes, the body is still hanging on.

Eventually, head did separate from body, the candy floodgates opened, and the kids filled their bags. I had Kelsie pose in front of the head, inspired by another old favorite photo of mine.

From back in 2005, my friend Aaron (with Liz W. next to him) in front of a similarly stubborn pinata that played a prominent role in Joe's going-away party. I am pretty sure that this wasn't posed, which makes it even more awesome. But back to the present...

Erin pushing Aidan on the swings. This kid loves to swing and it's so much fun to watch him while he does it. The look of pure happiness he gets is priceless.

Another happy swing shot.

This is what happens when boys take over the playhouse.

For some reason, I have lots of pictures of my dad and Ryan from this party. Oh well. Here's my dad and Aidan.

Dad and Colin.

Dad and Olivia, both proudly indicating just how old she is now.

Ryan and the birthday girl

Ryan and Colin.

Ryan and the boys.

Dad chilling in the pool.

Colin and I playing in the pool.

Kelsie and Colin being silly.

A cute shot of my brother Christian playing with the kids and Colin's awesome pirate ship.

Finally, this weirdly lit picture of my siblings and I. I am only including it because as it was taken, they were complaining that it would probably end up on the blog.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hamlet on Facebook


Chasing tenure...

An interesting (and pretty idealistic) column up at insidehighered.com. The columnist's premise: "Stop trying to get tenure and start trying to enjoy life." (That's a rather simplistic summation, of course.)

David Foster Wallace's Syllabus

Admittedly, I don't know all that much about David Foster Wallace, but I do recognize what a loss his death represents for American literature. Today I found this link to a syllabus from one of his classes (from 2005). It's strange to read, especially in light of his suicide. It's strange to picture him teaching classes just like any professor. You can see how his love for literature and teaching shine through in this meticulously written document.

Britain's Worst Jokes

If you need a laugh or two, check out some of these jokes. A couple of my favorites:

Q: What do you do if you see a spaceman? A: Park in it, man.

Doctor: Hi there, whow can I help you today? Patient: I think I’m a moth. Doctor: You don’t need to see a doctor, you need to see a psychiatrist! Patient: I know, but I was passing and your light was on.

On a lighter note...

By this standard, my brothers are criminals--remorseless repeat offenders, even.

National Punctuation Day

So perhaps there was a reason I was so inspired to talk punctuation with my classes today.

Editing Dickinson

One of the biggest areas of critical attention in Emily Dickinson studies is the way she has been--and should be--edited and published. People have fought over this ever since Dickinson's sister found those fascicles of poems neatly bound up in her sister's bedroom. It is an area of some interest to me as I continue to work on a project about editing in the nineteenth century. My interests here extend to the classroom as well.

I've blogged before about the way that Emily Dickinson helps us talk about the significance of things like dashes, italics, and quotations marks in poetry. When I teach Dickinson, I like to have the poems on the Smartboard in class, so that we can read them and mark them up. In order to prepare for today's ENG 204 course, I painstakingly transcribed the poems as published in the Norton Anthology into a word document so that I could use them in class. For Dickinson, this kind of transcription is necessary since simply cutting and pasting from a website won't work as web editions differ in their use of capitalization, dashes, etc.

Several of these poems, of course, I had taught before--out of the 6th edition of the Norton Anthology, so I already had those in Word documents. Those, I thought, I can just cut and paste.

Not so fast. Check out these competing versions of a poem often referred to as "'Faith' is a fine invention":

"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see-
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

"Faith" is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!

The first version is from the 6th edition, the edition we used at Shepherd up until this semester. The second is from the 7th edition. A quick look at the introductions to Dickinson in each book gives us an explanation. The first is based on Thomas H. Johnson's 1960 The Poems of Emily Dickinson. The second version is from R.W. Franklin's 1999 The Poems of Emily Dickinson.

I suppose it makes sense to use the Franklin edition since so many scholars have argued that it is more accurate than Johnson's. But in this case, I can't help but feel that the change is for the worse and that this poem's impact suffers in the Franklin version. The differences might seem small, but when we are talking about a four line poem, small is a relative term.

Notice the deletion of the italics on "Microscopes" in the second version. This takes away the attention and emphasis given to this very important word and its linkage to "see" in the second line. Notice, too, the change from "When Gentlemen can see" to "For Gentleman who see!" The second version implies that some gentlemen see and some don't, and that idea certainly changes the meaning of the poem. Finally, do notice those exclamation points, completely absent from the first version, but popping up in two dramatic places in the second. They really don't seem to work either, adding lots of drama to a poem that I've always read as a relatively calm and witty observation. Anyway, I really prefer the earlier version, as you can maybe tell already.

Apparently, Dickinson herself is to blame for some of the confusion, as she sent the different versions to different people in letters. I find myself wishing I owned a copy of this edition that reproduces Dickinson's manuscripts so I can see how she wrote it down in the fascicles.

When I pulled the earlier version up on the Smartboard and noticed the differences between it and the textbook, I was thrown off my game--significantly. The students thought it was all pretty funny and much ado about nothing. So yes, I was a bit flustered by the differences (and there were slight changes in other poems, too). But one of them did ask, "Well, what difference does it make if the line is 'For gentlemen who see'?" And that opened up some good discussion about the very issue I mentioned at this entry--because it does make a difference. Those exclamation points change things. Those italics are important. But perhaps, unintentionally, I was able to get that point across to students more effectively than ever before.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The market, retiring academics, and the job market...

I haven't checked out the recently released MLA job list, but I hear from those who have checked that it looks pretty bad so far this year. The recent news about the economy probably won't make things any easier, as you can read about in this article. In a nutshell: professors who can still work might consider putting off retirement as long as they can--bad news for newly-minted PhDs who continue to wait for the long-anticipated (the promise is almost mythical, it seems) future rush of retiring baby-boomer academics.

Just today, I received my semi-annual report from TIAA-Cref, and it shows another net loss, but I don't worry too much about these things yet. I don't know...maybe I should. This morning at the copy machine, I talked with a colleague who is much closer to retirement age than I am. He was worried, he explained, about his money, also tied up in TIAA-Cref--and maybe with very good reason.

"You're very young, of course," he said to me. "By the time you retire, things might have recovered."

"Or there will be nothing left," I jokingly replied.

"Maybe," he said quite seriously. Yikes.

But at least I have a steady job now. After three years on the market, I can't be more grateful. By the way, we are hiring for two positions in our department at Shepherd, if you know anyone who is interested. (One position is in poetry and poetics, the other in 18th-century British literature.)

Two from The Onion

Here's one I meant to post the first day I saw it, with the request that it could be a real product also available in college-student form.

And more recently, the fine folks over at The Onion bring us this gem: "National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem."

"The Clbuttic Mistake"

I'm doing a bit of blogging catch-up tonight, finally posting some of those links that have been piling up in my bookmark folder. Here's an instant classic, collecting some wonderful instances when obscenity filters go wrong.

Tips for Academic Procrastinators

Ever since God himself seemingly intervened to teach me a lesson about procrastination (full story below), I've been pretty good at avoiding putting things off--but not perfect. It's been especially tough in terms of my scholarship, which lately takes a back seat to teaching and department/university service. That's no good.

Fortunately, earlier this week, the always helpful Tomorrow's Professor Listserv delivered "Ten Reasons that lead to Writing Procrastination--and Rebuttals to Those Thoughts". These are some excellent reminders!

Of course, you might be thinking, "Hey, aren't you procrastinating right now by posting this instead of writing?" Ha!

Now as for that story: when I was in fourth grade, I had my very first research paper due. My subject was the Apache. I put it off and put it off and put it off until the night before it was due. Then I worked my tail off. My parents had gone to the theater that night and when they got home (it was almost midnight), there I was, still working on that paper with no end in sight. My mother looked at me, half-asleep and a wreck, and said, "You are not going to get it done. It's not going to happen. And you'll have to explain why to your teacher. Go to bed." I was devastated. I was not used to failing and hated myself for creating this situation for myself. Plus, I was in serious trouble with my parents. I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning--miracle of miracles--it had snowed a good six inches. No school! And a whole extra day to complete that paper. You can be sure I did--and seriously, I never procrastinated like that again.

Sounds like a made-up story complete with moral, but I promise, it's true.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Pictures

As I mentioned earlier, Labor Day Weekend found me in New York, helping babysit for my sister and brother-in-law. (They were off in California to attend The Daily Randi's Wedding.) Christian and Jennifer (my brother and sister-in-law) had been watching Olivia and Colin since Wednesday morning. I picked them up and brought them back to their house on Saturday afternoon and watched them until their parents came back on Sunday night. By Monday, I was on my way back to West Virginia.

It was a quick trip, but a pretty good one, all things considered. I did take a few pictures worth sharing. The first few are from Chris and Jennifer's house. They actually had a belated birthday celebration for me, complete with a barbecue and cake (thus, Aidan's cake-face in the picture below.) I don't get to see the kids nearly as often as I'd like to (although now I do more than when I lived in NC), so I loved getting the chance to play with all four of them in the backyard.

The boys on the swings. Notice Aidan's shoes and the ball in his hand. Yes, his Sponge Bob obsession continues unabated.

The girls and I played some wiffle ball. Kelsie needs to work on her stance here, but in her defense, I was making her look into the sun as I took this picture.

Olivia also needs to work on her fundamentals, but you can't deny her enthusiasm.

After lunch, I took the Colin and Olivia back to their place, where we spent the next day and a half swimming, playing, and just having fun. Yes, I did deal with an occasional meltdown and tantrum, but all in all, no complaints from me.

I know what you are thinking: "What a sweet picture of a brother helping his sister climb up the slide." Well, looks can be deceiving. This little brother is quite the stinker and is actually trying to block her ascent, desperate to prove that he is the only one who can climb up on that side (without using the steps around back). Lovely, isn't he?

What unites us...

On 9/11, it's worth remembering what unites us, instead of what divides us.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge on Labor Day, 2008 on the way back to WV.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is it November 5 yet?

Despite a recent surge in my politically-themed postings, I do want to say how much I wish this campaign season was behind us and how I wish I didn't feel the need to write posts like this, this, and this. These kinds of stories are terribly demoralizing to watch and hear about sometimes. Like other people, I thought that McCain and Obama might actually elevate the level of political discourse in our country. So far, no such luck. (And this whole "pig in lipstick" thing is a prime example that McCain and company should be ashamed of--and they ought to knock off it right away. Good for Obama to call them out on it--along with the press, who should also be ashamed.)

At the same time, I can't help but occasionally blog about the stories that really do stand out to me. I hope I manage to stay somewhat neutral in my writing, calling a spade a spade, if you will, and treating both sides the same. In fact, that's led me to avoid some stories that I wouldn't be able to help but be expressly partisan about in my discussions of them (especially all this Palin/abortion stuff, although sometimes I feel my resolve breaking on that front). But feel free to call me out if I seem to be getting a bit unhinged.

Contrary to what these posts may indicate, I don't really enjoy talking about politics, Rather, it seems more like a necessary duty or obligation for me. Plus, I do believe (still!) that writing about something and getting people to talk with you does have the power to make these situations better. Really, communication is the only way. With that said, I should really mix the blog postings up a bit and get back to happier stuff. So how about a preview of some future posts, including a couple covering my recent trip to NY to do some babysitting for my sister and brother-in-law? Good idea, right?

So I give you...Three Year Old Eating Birthday Cake.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good advice from an old source...

These days I find myself hard at work on a conference presentation on Sherwood Bonner. There isn't a whole lot published about her, so you can read just about every source there is on her, including articles we might ignore in other cases because they are a bit dated. Every once in a while, an old source yields some great critical insights and reminders for contemporary critics. Case in point: this by Merrill M. Skaggs from 1978, a review of William L. Frank's book on Bonner.

Skaggs' review is pretty darn harsh, as he takes Frank to task for trying to force Bonner's works into categories that they simply don't fit. I don't want to get into the intricacies of his arguments, but Skaggs' words are a useful reminder for anyone writing about American literature.

I'll quote (at length) from the end of the review, where his remarks seem especially relevant for a wider audience of critics:

“Several simple observations should be mentioned here. First, American literature does not develop neatly within self-contained ‘periods’ like impatiens sprigs planted in spring, flourishing in summer, and dying at first frost. If one must compare literary qualities to plants, one must remember that these plants are perennials which pop up in other seasons, though perhaps in somewhat different shapes and sizes. Some Realism, Romanticism, and Naturalism can be spotted in almost any year, in the plots of almost any good writer; and the clever critic recognizes that everything in the garden which is not a rose is still not necessarily onion grass. Secondly, we academics earn ourselves a bad name assume that all literature which does not match our labels for a particular square of historical ground must be out-of-place, ignored, rooted out, or tilled under....

The critic’s primary obligation, like the grammarian’s, is not to prescribe but to describe. Thus, if one wished to draw attention to a hitherto neglected writer like Sherwood Bonner, one does not assume that the writer must be shown to fit an established and respectable category as ‘Realist.' One finds a new and interesting way of describing such strengths as Bonner naturally possesses. One tries first of all to describe the sources for continuing appeal of regionalist writing. In short, one judges Bonner or any other writer in terms consistent with what that writer tried to accomplish in the first place. It is not the critic’s obligation to deny what Bonner did—to try to prune off all the branches which fail to fit the critic’s idea of a nice shape. The good critic leaves the pruning to the writer and tries to describe what dimensions in the writer’s shapes permitted the plant to endure” (159-160).

The project I'm currently working on does deal with Bonner, categorization, and labels, but as I work on it, it would do me a lot of good to Skaggs' words in mind. Outside of the introductory or survey class, I've found it more enriching and rewarding to focus on ways that works resist categorization--or at least being squeezed into and confined by one label.

Just in case you are interested, the full citation for the article:
Skaggs, Merrill M. “Southern Compost.” Southern Literary Journal 10.2 (Spring 1978): 155-160.

Pimp My Outhouse

One of the bonuses of teaching at a school like Shepherd is that you encounter a wide variety of students--traditional and non-traditional, young and old, first-generation college students, even a growing number of international students. Basically, you meet a bunch of cool new people every semester. One of the students in my ENG 346 class fits that label quite nicely. Not only is he smart as a whip, but he's also pretty darn funny. Check out this blog detailing the renovation he and some friends did to another friend's outhouse. It looks like they had a blast doing it.

Class of 2012...

Check out the annual Beloit College Mindset List, a useful (if kind of scary!) tool for college teachers facing a new group of freshman every year.

Some of my favorites:

10. Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene.
32. There has always been Pearl Jam.
38. Lenin's name has never been on a major city in Russia.
44. Caller ID has always been available on phones.
55. 98.6 F or otherwise has always been confirmed in the ear.

Feeling old yet? The insights about technology are especially useful as each year's freshman class is more wired than the year before and that affects the way they learn and the way we need to teach them. (Check out this story about a plan to put iPod Touches in the hands of an entire middle school.) I also appreciate the insights about the wonderful sense of multicultural sensitivity so many students bring with them. That should give us some hope in a crazy world that often seems too divided.