Category Archives: personal

Observations on the Start of Another Term

  • I hate starting teaching in the middle of the week. I understand why we’re starting on a Wednesday. My OCD tendencies just don’t like it. Ditto for the last day of term, the first Wednesday in December, being taught as a Monday to compensate for the Monday we’ll miss on Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s logical. It just doesn’t feel right. It also means that my Wednesday morningsenior seminar will wrap up on November 30.
  • Speaking of the seminar, which I’ll do frequently this fall, we’re currently standing at 36 enrolled. I’m printing out fold-over name cards for each student to set on their desks in hopes that it will not only help me remember all of their names more readily, but also encourage them to use each others’ names in the lively discussions I hope will ensue.
  • Why is discussion so difficult to inspire and maintain? Ah, that’s the million dollar question of academia, isn’t it? If it was easy, everyone would do it. I love what Dr. Virago posted about encouraging discussion earlier this week: that feigning ignorance or error inspires students to attempt their own explanations. It’s not so much the “lying to student” part of not giving them the answer that’s important, it’s how avoiding giving them the answer helps them to generate answers on their own, sometimes even more than we’d be able to give them as the ‘sage on the stage’. Reminder to self: silence is golden, patience is a virtue and the Socratic method still is pretty awesome.
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays will be writing and editing days. I’ll also be devoting a chunk of Monday mornings to writing and editing. And, given the daunting number of projects I have on the go and due in the near future, most of the weekends. Of course, the challenge is to not let administrivia, errands and other issues fill up these blocks of time. Already there’s a service task which is in the process of blowing up in my face (not through any wrongdoing on anyone’s part, it’s just when this particular committee gets called upon, it means Work and lots of it). I’m pretty well-resigned to some of that writing and editing time getting eaten up by the service task from beyond the grave but I can hope that the only time we can tackle that problem is sometime on Friday afternoon instead, when I know I’m too tired to do a good job of writing and editing and focus, instead, on less demanding occupations such as filing, emails and blogging.

And that reminds me, it’s off to Dame Eleanor’s for the weekly writing group check-in!

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The Importance of Being Kempt

Early modernist here so I can legitimately use the term “kempt” whereas those poor folks who don’t at least mentally reside for a good chunk of the year in premodern texts are stuck with only the inelegant “unkempt”. (Check out this fun explanation of the shift in the decline of kempt and the rise of unkempt.)

Bardiac posted about pre-semester rituals – hers include a hair cut which is top of my to-do list for Tuesday. Shaggy and Scooby I fail to get hair cuts during term time so if I don’t do this now, I’ll look a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo within a month or two, minus the stubble, of course!

I don’t aspire to the fashionista heights of blogworthy professorial fashion but I do believe in the power of kempt. Whether you’re rocking the jeans and turtlenecks in the manner of the late Steve Jobs or something a bit more fashion-forward, it behooves a professor to have clothes that are clean and relatively tidy. I’ve culled the wardrobe this summer, ditching the threadbare jeans and shirts along with the items that just never worked (why did I think that pale tan was ever a good colour on me? It isn’t!). I added a few new tops and a skirt or two.

But the number one rule of being kempt? Forgoing those messy condiments during term-time lunches. No more soy sauce, ketchup or, heaven forbid!, mustard. Because there’s nothing more guaranteed to mess up your look than a mustard stain on your shirtfront.

How do you keep it together when in front of the classroom or out in the field?

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In Praise of Vacations

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then leaving work behind for a few days, even a few weeks, can help you love your work again.

I’ve been on vacation since the first of the month and much of that has been a real vacation away with family in a tropical paradise where I avoided connections to the internet as much as possible in order to keep my mind off of work. Since coming home last week, I’ve picked up a few pieces of work – tweaking a text I’ll give my seminar students to work with in September, starting to read through the two, late M.A. essays for which I’m on the committee, doing the final bits of proofreading on Star Wars and History.

I’ve been a wee bit grudging about most of this because, dude!, I’m still on vacation!, but almost everything I touched involved extremely pressing deadlines so I couldn’t put them aside for the full two weeks I’d officially ‘be off’. I suppose that I could have avoided my email inbox for the full fourteen days but the consequences would have been much more stressful come Monday that I’d prefer not to do so. Instead, I’m slowly ramping back up to full-out work mode.

To be honest, I’m looking forward to a lot of what’s ahead for the rest of the summer. I love my job and the last few years I’ve pursued some fascinating new paths in my career. I’m eager to start working on my teaching prep for the fall as I want to tweak two of the courses with some fabulous new elements (I’m planning mini-Prezi walkthroughs of key skill-building exercises for my first year class, for instance). I have an article draft to polish some more and a research plan to flesh out as well as another chapter to write from scratch as I edit the dozen others in the volume.

The nice part is that I’m coming back to these other projects feeling fresh, well-rested and armed with some new ideas that came to me during the vacation break. So I’ll be ready to dive back in on Monday, or once I finish the proofreading and essay-commenting as well as squeezing one last bit of vacation fun with my family here at home, that is!

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Summertime, panic time

We’re officially into summer by both of my measures: the calendar and the girls’ high school schedule. Their last courses met today and while they both have exams early next week, that’s hardly anything. What stretches ahead of me, except for two weeks’ vacation I have clearly booked off, is two months of not enough time to get everything I need done before term starts up again in September. And I’m not even talking about the staggering list of things to do at home and with family (at least for the latter part, I’m talking mostly recreational pursuits including a long-awaited family vacation far, far away from here). No, it’s the professional deadlines that had me atwitter.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Can you hear it? That’s the sound of deadlines looming!

When the girls were younger, the end of their school year was a painful moment, professionally speaking: even with a few weeks of summer camp and family visits, here or there, it’s a lot of time when they’re at loose ends and I’m still trying to work. Autistic youngest manages much better these days with a routine that includes regular trips to the local park and board games played with her family members.

Now that they’re both teens, summertime parenting is not nearly so stressful as it used to feel. I’m less an entertainment machine and chauffeur, particularly since Eldest got her driver’s license, and more the keeper of collective memories and deadlines. Thank goodness for my Google calendar with handy reminders that pop up not only on my netbook but also on my smart phone and the large-format Mom’s Family Calendar that hangs in the kitchen and provides us with a column for each family member’s schedule and even one for the pets.

Still, that doesn’t mean that I don’t acutely feel time slipping away. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m accomplishing loads, but there’s so much more that I’d like to do: get this article drafted more quickly, get my next chapter written, edit another chapter for that next collection, refine my next research plan, get my teaching all organized for the fall, start in on my keynote for the October conference, etc., etc., etc. Yikes!

But when the panic started to set in as it did yesterday, I stopped, breathed and refocused. What good is there in panic? How is that going to help me get things done?

I’ve been fortunate this summer to work with a fabulous career coach, Jo VanEvery who’s helped me to clarify my goals, my game plan and my ways of working so that I accomplish what’s important to me and avoid getting bogged down in details, guilt or fears. Thanks to her advice, I realize that my reaction to summertime isn’t helping me, professionally or personally. I need to turn off that nasty clock, pounding in the background of my mind, and reiterate what’s important to me, personally and professionally.

So I’m off to the park with Youngest – I’ll read a book for pleasure while she sees how high she can get the swing to go this time. There’s work to be done, but it won’t be any better for taking up all my waking hours (nor will I be better off for that). I’ll come back to it tomorrow.

Good luck to the rest of you facing down your summer and try not to let the panic take hold!

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Summer Meme

Even though it feels like anything but with the last few days of grey and rainy, let’s welcome summer in with a meme borrowed from Sisyphus at Academic Cog”

1. What is your favorite part of summer?

Sleeping in – which only starts once the kids are out of school.

2. What’s your favorite quintessentially summer food? Least favorite?

Cold salads are my favourites whether they’re with potatoes, pasta, fruits or veggies galore. Oh, and gazpacho but it’s a chore to make myself. Worst food for the summer? Scorched stuff off of the barbecue. I like my food without blackened blisters on it!

3. Best beverage to beat the summer heat:

Frozen lemonade or, if that’s too solid. Lemonade.

4. Least favorite/most annoying thing related to summer?

Lawnmowers and long queues in the hot sun.

5. Pick one: the lake /the beach. Why?

Who needs to pick? We have a couple of beaches on the lakes hereabouts. To get to an ocean beach would be a huge effort so that makes me appreciate the lakeshore all the more, though one we’ll visit an ocean beach this summer.

6. Most amusing summer vacation trip you’ve ever taken?

I took the train one summer to visit my sister who was in grad school. I did the train “old school” with dainty heels, an oxford-cloth dress and a hat, of course. So much fun!

7. Most ridiculous/cringe-inducing/blush-provoking summer outfit you have seen? (Bonus points if you yourself were wearing it!)

It was the late 70s – I had a white, terry-cloth romper with a diagonal rainbow stripe across the bodice. *shudders*

8. Your absolute dream summer afternoon would be:

A quiet, bug-free seat on our shady back porch where I could read something for the sheer pleasure of it. Maybe next month!

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Picture Perfect Mother’s Day

I have a digital picture frame that I’ve finally set up. I loaded the SD card with a hundred or so images off of my computer: pets, kids, vacations, the garden. Then I plugged it in, programmed it and left it to run on the end table in the living room, just beside my customary seat.

It’s not hi-res but it’s engrossing to see the pictures refresh through an endless cycle: our old sheltie in the shady backyard of our last house, younger daughter in the Teletubbies costume she wore for her first trick-or-treating (and my mother, who’s since passed away, there in the picture with her), Odo, our gigantic cat when he was a tiny ball of fluff who’d just come home with us, elder daughter riding a horse, all four of us together at Christmas. . . .

My husband says it’s like living in the future. I’d agree and add, a pretty good one at that.

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An Invisible Immigrant

Just the other day, I ran across a casual example of anti-Americanism and sighed, just a little. Making fun of Americans is a way of life in Canada: it happens all the time. We’ve all heard the (true!) stories of Americans driving to the border in July with their skis and parkas, looking for igloos and open ski hills.

I’m an American but not that many people know that, living and working as I have in Canada for decades. They call us Canada’s invisible immigrants and that’s not far off. While other immigrant groups are invisible in other ways (I think particularly of women who work in the domestic programs, brought over from overseas to work as nannies or caregivers with relatively little contact outside their employing family), Americans sound pretty much like Canadians and can ‘pass’ in one way or the other.

Honestly, I like being a Canadian. I took my citizenship oath over a decade ago and still think it’s rather awesome that I can swear a loyalty oath to the queen as I did a few years back when sworn to the provincial graduate scholarship board. (Away with your wussy oaths to the political leadership: give me monarchy or give me the next best thing!) I am proud of Canada’s values of inclusiveness and social democracy. I love our healthcare system and our public education. I even think the beaver is an awesome national symbol (who needs the polar bear as some sort of upstart substitute?)!

But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to give up on the red, white and blue even if I’ve become particular fond of the first two colours.


Tom Brokaw explains Canada to Americans for the 2010 Olympics

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The Most Frustrating Day of My Life

That would be today. You may call it Valentine’s Day. I’d call it the day that I attempted to get three bureaucratic entities to give me one piece of paper only to be stonewalled again and again.

Three and a half hours after starting out on the short errand, I finally had the correct material clutched in my tear-stained hands.

I should have been prepared because anything that involves the provincial government’s bureaucracy is particularly problematic. This was precisely what I experienced only multiplied because it involved a vague and confused phone rep at the insurance company and a blithely uncommunicative soul at a local business. I had websites, an office and people on the phone giving unclear and conflicting information that sent me here and there, then back here and then over there and, finally, finally, to tbe office where someone could take my money and actually provide me with the correct piece of paper.

*sigh*

Nothing should ever be this frustrating. Let’s just hope that I’ve hit my quota of Kafka-esque moments because the next two days hold the prospect for further breakdowns as I finish off today’s insurance task and then tackle an entirely different one on Thursday.

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Gaudete

Happy Holidays

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
Piae Cantiones (1582)

(In other words, marking is done and I’m off to celebrate with my family!)

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Ideals and Realities

This has been reading week: a break from teaching at the U. Ideally, all of the hours freed up by that (and we’re talking a buttload of hours since I’m teaching three undergrad classes, one grad seminar and a graduate directed readings course) would go straight into marking and writing.

Funny thing about plans: they sometimes run smack-dab into the evil force we like to call reality. Or, as the Another Damned Notorious Writing Group’s dubbed it, I’ve been OBE: Overcome by Events.

The furnace is dying. This necessitates a surprising amount of work on the part of homeowners who have to research furnace companies, wait for their visits, sit through long listings of options and ponder the results. Extra bonus points for homeowners who live in Canada where there’s a current government rebate program for energy efficient home upgrades. Our house got an energy audit this week which was an interesting an informative exercise that comes with some homework. I get to learn how to replace the gasket on the attic door while Mike replaces the sweep on the front and garage entry doors, among other things.

Then there was a large piece of furniture that committed suicide, requiring replacement. One kid called in sick after another had to be ferried around town on a bureaucratic outing to do with medical coverage.

This afternoon was the long-term service celebration at the university where yours truly was commended for twenty years on the job. Which is nice, and all, but I’ve got to write like the wind to meet my deadline now! And let’s not even talk about how some of the students will likely feel a twinge of disappointment that I’m not going to have their essays back on Tuesday (although I’ve finished marking the grad papers and am almost done with the midterms for Monday).

How have your ideals and realities been matching up this week?

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