Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm a big fan of the idea that success is largely about attitude - if you're cranky about something, change it, and if you can't change it, figure out a way to deal with it, hopefully with some cheer and good grace. Students' attitudes have a lot to do with how much leeway I give them; if they're selfish and demanding, they don't get much, but if they're sincere and hardworking, I'll do anything I can for them. (Same goes for the rest of the world, now that I think of it.)

There's a student who graduated from here a couple of years ago who had the most irritating attitude. He was a work-study student in a nearby office for a while, but he made it clear to everyone that that sort of work was really beneath him (and thereby alienated everyone in the building). At one point he asked me for a recommendation for a post-graduation job that wasn't his first choice of occupation; his entire conversation made it clear that he wasn't terribly interested in the position, but that he'd do it if he had to. I gently suggested to him that that attitude made it hard for me to write the recommendation, since I couldn't truthfully write about his energy or commitment or willingness to work.

When he decided to apply to graduate school, we had some of the same conversations about his approach. He didn't get into his top choice school (which admittedly was way beyond his reach), and grudgingly applied to some other schools as backups. His reluctance hovers around him like a cloud. It's nice that he's confident in his abilities, but he constantly conveys the idea that he'd really rather be somewhere else, somewhere better. I've tried to suggest that successful students are the ones who dedicate themselves to where they are and what they can do rather than saving all their energy up for thinking about where they'd rather be, but his responses have only been defensive, insisting that he really is doing a good job at where he is, even if he hates it.

Our last correspondence was nearly a year ago, when I wrote him a recommendation for graduate school. Today he emailed me to let me know he'd begun his studies at a regional university, not one of his top choices, and his only two comments about that experience were to describe it as "a step down" and to say that although he was pleased to have a job on campus, he'd rather have a different kind of job.

Comments like this just grate on my nerves, and I always wonder how I should respond. Should I brush them off and wish him well? Or should I try to suggest that his attitude might really be getting in his way? He's truly a capable kid; he just doesn't realize that a little humility can go a long way, and that no one likes working with someone who thinks his job is beneath him. If he'd just bite the bullet and dig in to what he has to do, he could work his way up to where he wants to be, but he seems to think if he waits around long enough with an air of resigned suffering that someone will recognize his talent and reward him appropriately. I'm thinking that's not likely.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I got an email request yesterday to review a manuscript for a publisher. Cool - this is this first time that has happened to me! Not only that, but they pay real money for the review! Who knew the extra parts of this job actually paid money? I wish all my committee work paid money.

The catch (or the best part, I can't quite decide which) is that it's a manuscript by a Very Well Known Person in My Field. I'm actually working indirectly with this person on a different project, and have corresponded with him for several months, and met him in person at a conference several months back, and he's just as charming as can be. Plus he's a kick-ass historian.

So I'm completely tickled to be asked to review this manuscript, but at the same time it feels to me like a museum calling me up to say "Hey, we found this Titian in our attic, do you think it's good enough to hang in the museum collection?" Well, um, yeah. I think it probably is.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Immobile fun

Internets, I need your advice! (Plus this is a good way to slip back into blogging... I can't ever decide whether to go ahead and take a hiatus or not, so I keep popping back in here every couple of weeks just to clear the cobwebs out. Thanks to y'all who have stuck around!)

My nephew, Fixit, smashed his foot a couple of weeks ago and will need to spend a rather horrifying amount of time on crutches while it heals. It's his right foot, so he can't even drive; he'll be doing a lot of lounging around for the next couple of months, and he's not very good at lounging.

I'm trying to think of something fun to send him to keep him occupied and entertained. He's in his mid-20s, likes to tinker with things, isn't much into reading. If it were me, I'd be pretty happy to have three months of forced lounging with a pile of books, but poor Fixit is going to go stir-crazy after about five minutes. Anybody have any suggestions?

Monday, August 06, 2007

He done stole my heart

I call him Charlie.

We found him in the park this morning, or more precisely, he found us. The LWI and I go out every morning to play tennis, and today I was startled to see that I had a fan: a little black-and-white kitten watching intently from just outside the fence.

When he realized that I'd seen him, he let out one of those little squeeky little-kitten mews that are biologically designed to bring out all one's protective instincts. (I've never had any sort of inclination towards motherhood, but kittens flip all those switches that I imagine children are supposed to.)

But he wasn't mine, and we have enough cats already thankyouverymuch, and surely he'd just wandered out of someone's yard and they'd come find him any minute now. So I tried to ignore him.

I'm up two sets to one, a killer serve, a baseline rally, an attack at the net, and...


Dammit. We try another couple of sets, but come on, you try focusing on the ball when there's a little tiny helpless creature behind you (mew!) who finally works his way under the fence and trots over to rub up against your ankles. I carried him back outside the court a couple of times, and each time he'd sit and watch us play for a while, and then (mew!) he'd come back on to the court and want to play too. He was hardly bigger than my shoe. This picture isn't him (I was afraid if I actually took his picture I'd never be able to give him up) but it's pretty close to what he looks like, except that he has this absurd little Charlie Chaplin mustache.

What do you do with that? The little guy wasn't more than a couple of months old; he was clearly accustomed to people, but we had no idea where he belonged and no one seemed to be looking for him. The park is bordered by a couple of fairly high-traffic streets and there's a number of loose dogs in the neighborhood, so I really didn't want to leave him on his own. And ohmygod he was so helpless and adorable. (NOT taking him home. NOT taking him home. NOT taking him home.)

I figured if someone did go out to look for him, they'd have a better chance checking the local animal shelter than they would just randomly looking around the neighborhood. So I took him to our vet first, hoping against hope he'd have one of those identity chips even though he was so little, or that someone would have reported him lost there. (When I took OneCat and TwoCat to their vet last week, someone had brought in a stray they'd found, who turned out to have an identity chip, and while I was there he was reunited with his people, to many tears and much rejoicing all around. I couldn't help but hope for something similar for Charlie.)

Charlie was chipless, unfortunately, and the vet said the best thing I could do was to take him to the shelter. Even if his people didn't find him, he was so cute and well-behaved that she said he'd have an excellent chance of adoption. (And neither one of us could bring ourselves to say this, but even if he does meet the fate of most unclaimed animals in shelters, I think it's better for him go that way than to be hit by a car or mauled by a dog.)

I took a cardboard box to put him in for the car ride to the vet, but he only lasted about 30 seconds in the box - much more fun to ride up front like a person! I was worried about him scooting around the car, but he sprawled comfortably on the seat and stayed put. On the 20-minute ride downtown to the shelter, he wormed his way onto my lap, sighed in contentment, and promptly fell asleep. The shelter people were completely taken in by him (as was everyone I passed on the way in), and it's a good shelter, so I trust he'll do well there... I'll check the neighborhood every day for signs, and hope that he's found by his old people or adopted by good new ones.

But I still can't help wishing he were my Charlie. We had a thing, there, for a little while.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

We now return to fairly normal blogging

I was a little abashed to read Dr. Virago's post the other day about deciding what nifty things to add to an empty day in her fall course schedule. She, faced with the rich possibility of adding a new topic to the course, asked for recommendations for material to support a discussion of the future of literary studies.

I, faced with the same small empty block in my syllabus, thought "Woo hoo! A day off!"

Nearly every semester, I need to miss one day of class for a conference or professional obligation of some kind. This fall, for the first time in ages, I'm teaching a set of classes I've taught before without making any substantive changes, so all I needed to do was to shift the daily topics over to the fall calendar. And, lo and behold, since I'd needed to plan for missing a day in the previous semesters I'd taught the class, two out of my three classes ended up with one empty day each.

Yeah, I considered adding an extra day on some topic that had gotten a little too squeezed in previous semesters, but I'll confess I didn't consider it very long. The tantalizing jewel of an idea that dangled before my imagination was to simply build in a day off, ideally during October, more commonly known in the academic world as Exploding Head Month.

The fun part was trying to decide where to put it. Should I tack it on to fall break or maybe save it for Thanksgiving, to stretch those precious vacations out a little? Should I put it before the big midterm exam, to give both me and the students a little bit of a breather? Or maybe it would fit well on the Friday before my birthday, which often gets lost in the midsemester crunch? The possibilities are delicious.

I know that that magical day is going to disappear in a flash, probably consumed in grading or meetings or housework or whatever else I'm most behind on at that point, but right now it's worth it just to imagine the joy of a day off during the hardest part of the semester.