Originally, since I have much other writing that needs my attention right now, I was going to post a short story that I’d written back in 2015 as part of a final project in a literature course. I’d found it today while searching my cloud storage for something else and thought it would be a good way for me to keep the consistency going without having to come up with another critical take on academia or a meme waterfall of the other academia, but then I re-read it.
And I kinda like it.
I think it may have some rough patches and it’s under 2000 words, but I was pretty proud of it and I may want to do something else with it. So, you don’t get to see it. Not yet anyway. Perhaps I’ll work on it and its companions (there are at least three other stories and pitches for more) over the summer. Maybe then I’ll start posting it here.
Consistency being the hallmark of all popular content creators, I have posted another post. It’s mostly nonsense, but boy did it cheer me up! PLUS ULTRA!
I’ve been busy revising an essay about my father’s funeral and have been feeling under appreciated and emotionally drained, all while trying to get stuff done. As per the last two posts, I am failing on all fronts, but failing isn’t dead.
And Not Dead = Winning!
I think we can safely say that there is no bar to lower anymore.
Sooooo because why not, I will add short commentary to random BNHA images:
This has turned into a Bakugou appreciation post and I’m fine with that.
Every semester will be different, yet every semester is the same. With all due respect to the Charlie Foxtrot that is the Spring of Covid-19 I think it’s time to disrupt the myth that a life in graduate school is one of relaxed reading, occasional writing, and laid-back teaching. I don’t know who needs to hear this…wait, I do. It’s me. I need to hear this, and I need to hear it from my own, lying mouth.
It’s a joke I have made several times in the past, to various graduate classmates. “Every semester we say, ‘This semester will be different!’, and by week three, we’re back to our usual selves.” The hope I bring to the start of semester, the desire to start early and work toward big projects a little every day, all disappear like mist as I struggle to keep up with the reading and chase down a million different research interests, not a single one tied with my current classes. By the end of the semester the ambitious scope of big projects have been scaled down to “what I can get done now” and, within recent years, the idea of taking an Incomplete becomes a real possibility. Ever since entering graduate school in 2016 it’s been the same, though, I admit, the incompletes only happened while working on my PhD. Looking back, I have no idea how I actually wrote a thesis and completed my M.A. on time. It’s almost like that Heather is a completely different person.
There have been some outside obstacles since joining my PhD program — none of them school related and I’m not going to go into them in this post. That’s for another time. However, the mental energy pool from which I used to pull my focus seems all but depleted these days. Perhaps because I’m getting older (planning to make it to my 50th birthday in December) or perhaps because this fall will be my seventh year in academia (two years to finish my B.A., two for the M.A and two to get through my coursework before comp exams). I’ve never held a job for longer than 8 years or so. Could this be the seven-year itch?
Nah. I love teaching too much. I love researching too much. I love talking about weird shit with people and talking about writing with students and telling kids, for the first time, what great writers they are. Man, that’s a feeling that’s hard to be, I tell ya. So no. It’s not the itch. It’s not the Covid. It’s not the zoom. It’s me.
All my workarounds, rough-hewned, jerry-riggings, MacGyveritierations cannot save me anymore. As we near the drop-deadline of the end of the semester, I’m hurting more and more and, to be fair, I’m still one of the lucky ones. I’m not necessarily looking at an uncertain future or trying to teach kids while worrying about rent. I’ve got it good in the scheme of things. My biggest battle (possibly) is with my brain and, land-sakes, is it fighting with me now.
(This took a turn into the neuro-diverse space. And while, yes, I agree with you and yes, I will look into it, I think there is a larger conversation to be had, if I could just refocus and have it. Dammit.)
The thing is, I never seem to be able to achieve that leisurely pace**: writing a couple of hours a day, reading after teaching, taking some color-coded notes into a leather journal. The real work of academia is much faster and grungy. As the semester moves on you start bargaining between primary and secondary readings. You find ways to teach articles that you haven’t had a chance to read yourself. Writing becomes an aggressive act the night before a deadline. Professional development? I don’t know her.
The woman I do know tries, she tries real hard to get it right each time. She fails (I’m sensing a theme this week) every semester, but she keeps trying. Maybe this summer will be different and I’ll work on side projects and writing and reading for my exams. Maybe I’ll take some time off and get some projects done around the house that will make my life a little less stressful. Maybe I can take this time of self-isolation (which is default for me anyway) and be productive on my own terms. Maybe maybe maybe.
I have read so many productivity blogs, listened to so many productivity podcasts, that I am an expert on this stuff for other people. Teach me how to focus that onto my own life. Show me how I motivate myself. Give me the strength to stop writing this post and finish my projects.
My apologies for the lack of cohesive theme or narrative. You know me by now.
**I think the fantasies of academic leisure come from four sources: 1) people who feel themselves outside of the academic world and think summers off mean no work; 2) people who only exist in an academic world and have nostalgic memories of their grad school days; 3) people with MBAs; 4) white men.
Caveat: the world is on fire right now. I am not talking about expecting more from my students. I am talking about how I could have done better.
I knew how challenging it was to keep the attention of my small group of students in class. I was not prepared for how impossible it would be in the switch to remote learning. While there were a couple that reached out to me and discussed their assignments, the rest seemed to only contact me out of necessity or out of desperation on my part. I don’t blame them.
I have/had no idea what was going on their lives and I am fully aware that I was one of at least four or five faculty all vying for their attention (let alone the electronic administrative arms of housing, billing, health, etc.) but I now realize that I was never going to be able to reach them once they were gone. I failed to establish enough of a rapport during the semester that, once we weren’t mandated into the same room for a period of time, I had lost engagement.
As a student in my (hopefully) last semester of coursework, I get how hard it is to engage, how hard it is to drag yourself to the screen for something you may not feel 100% invested in at that moment. As a student I failed and, in many ways, am still failing. I am trying to fail forward though, and make some progress.
Maybe I should have reached out even more. Maybe I should have required synchronous meetings. Maybe I should have ramped up the work instead of ramping it down. Perhaps my desire to give them a break was the last nail in my coffin. Maybe that was the sign to/that my class wasn’t important. I may never know, since not one of them did the course evaluation.
Which is a shame, because right now the only lessons I can take away to help improve my teaching are the ones gleaned from the empty spaces where class discussion would have been. I didn’t challenge them enough. I didn’t demand enough from them. I didn’t spark their interest. So many things I want to work on and adjust to make sure that, in-person or remote, students value my class.
But until I can transition to prep-work, I have to finish this semester as a student and try to be engaged and get my work done. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing everywhere.
I did not expect this show to have such a visceral effect on me. From the very first episode, I understood that the slow pace of the narrative was in part to instill a sense of dread, I also felt the pull of another force: an undertow of awe. That was the promise at least. Devs for the most part just left me feeling desperate, confused, and eight hours farther behind on my work.
I’m not disappointed, but I am befuddled. Set in a Silicon Valley mega-corporation named Amaya, Devs entangles the world of tech entrepreneurship, industrial espionage, global politics, and, well, the true nature of love. This is not a standard review. I won’t be writing any episode summaries or talk about the performances in detail, but the setting of the show is arguably its main character. Amaya’s campus is situated inside a redwood forest and my brain mistakenly headed east, thinking of the Pando tree colony in Colorado from which Sarah Lacy, formerly of TechCrunch named her tech-focused spin-off blog. In 2012 that was an important fact that I knew and one that directly impacted my daily life. As a web developer in Seattle I felt the need to be jacked in to the tech world and the writers in Silicon Valley were my dealers. In other words I watched Devs, got my forests mixed up, and overdosed on nostalgia.
I never fell so deeply into tech that I could relate to the work environment. I’m not a natural coder, more of a tinkerer, and my skills, while good enough for newspapers and marketing firms, lacked the disruptive excitement that drove the industry before the gig economy started sapping all the drive from every one, every where.
I wanted to love Devs but had to settle for thinking about it, a lot. The violence bothered me. This means it’s successful and that bothers me. I was surprised by the amount of death within eight episodes, but later seasons of Breaking Bad would laugh in my face. Each one (nearly) felt terrible, awful, uncomfortable, brilliantly sound-edited (snap, still gives me chills) and sometimes even justified. I’ll never forgive the one. Never!
And ultimately, since this isn’t a regular review and I don’t have to worry about spoilers, I’m still not going to spoil anything and tell you to watch it for yourself. See if you’re still trying to parse out some things days down the road — not the large themes, they occasionally come down on the top of your head like a large hand descending from the sky to stop a nuclear war. I see you Captain Trips — but the flow of the narrative. The intersection of stories. The visual color palette. the magic of technology. The royal treatment and screwing we give to talented people. The giant statue of a child looming among the trees. The Everett Interpretation.
Sometimes, in the outer reaches of my vision, I catch a small glowing light above my head. I can’t tell the shape. Does it follow me? Do I follow it?
What do I even say? As Costco sends me the nine-millionth email featuring products I either don’t need or they don’t have and the sheer volume of “How We Are Dealing with the BLAH BLAH BLAH” emails would be overwhelming if complaining about didn’t focus on the unimaginable privilege I have at my own situation and how fortunate I am to be safe.
It’s been hard to write. That’s why this daily blog is on episode three after a month. I wanted to chart what I did, how I changed teaching, how I adjusted my lessons, but that would assume I had an idea in the first place. After only two years of teaching I realize that I’m not a very good planner or syllabus maker and that since I teach a discussion-based composition course, I have been largely relying on the charisma and charm.
And I ain’t all that charming.
I am thankful that I’ve decided my major field for my comprehensive exams will focus on composition and rhetoric as there is so much I have to learn. So much I have to understand about teaching and lesson design. In fact, I was excited to drop $250 on the Digital Pedagogy Lab this summer, but when I realized that was per course, I had to say no. There’s no way I’m going to ask for funding when some of my peers have just lost their summer funding. I’ll follow the speakers, take a look at the free events, and get to know some of the recent journals on the subject. I may need that money.
The struggle with writing though has infused every project. Sometimes I can fall back on research, reading over journal articles and chapters, or, as is more likely, hoarding more texts that I’ll never get a chance to read or skim but will languish in my citation manager among the 2,300+ sources that I have and haven’t used over the years. Forcing myself to writing this post is an exercise in breaking through that anxious block we’ve all been dealing with. Having a writing group helps, work/writing sprints gets some words on the page. Cutting myself off with research also helps me shift gears.
The biggest burden is feeling as if I can’t completely immerse myself in my work while at home. I haven’t shaken the need to keep an ear out for trouble. My noise-canceling headphones sit charging, unused. There are things I’m listening for, but rarely hear. Things I hear but rarely need to intervene. It’s only been within the last two weeks that I’ve felt comfortable just shutting the door to my office when not in a Zoom session.
This is progress.
For now, I think I’ll just keep plugging, checking off little things on my to-do list (the big projects broken down in order to gain momentum) and worry less about productivity and more about process. As a composition teacher I want to be about the processes: the process of reading and thinking and writing and discussing. This time requires us to renegotiate our process on a daily (if not hourly) basis and that flexibility, I think, will surely be helpful in the long run. The product is just the record of work done.
When I promise to write something daily, inevitably, I will fail. This is proven by my illustrious fiction writing career that is, somehow, invisible. In this instance, I have a good excuse. We had to take a family member to the hospital Tuesday due to a stroke. What, up until a few weeks ago would have been an immediate decision, this time was weighed with the possibility of Covid-19 infection. But you don’t mess with a stroke, so they went.
Thankfully it was very mild and they are safe and sound. But we can’t visit, no one can visit, and getting information has been spotty. We can talk to our loved one, but have trouble getting in touch with staff. Understandable, yes, but frustrating too.
So these last few days have been overshadowed by this stressor, the rearrangement of items from front to back burners, the constant tempering of my own anxiety to retain composure (which sometimes fails, but not terrible, yet) and worrying about my English Comp students, the majority of who I haven’t heard from yet.
I’m lucky to have a tiny class, but that also means I feel more connected to them and when they’re not responding, I worry. Granted, they are getting inundated with emails not just from their professors but the university with their constant updates, closings, schedule changes, grading changes, etc. I think administration has to curtail the “status” emails of encouragement that, while thoughtful, only clog our already traffic heavy digital lives.
Just post cat memes in the university twitter account. At least for now.
My own coursework has been far from my mind as well, but that has to change today. While everyone has been flexible (these are the times we live in) there are some remnants of a strict schedule here and there. Adhering to a schedule would be best for my ADHD-brain, but I have to find the discipline — and energy, and motivation, and hope — to make one.
The days are going to run together, no sense of weekend or weekday for the next few weeks and I think that will have to be necessary. I can feel the pull of falling behind, of lagging in despair, of less sleep, less activity, of depression. The solitude isn’t the problem, it’s the removal of audience. Without people watching me work, how do I know its time to work? (Yes, Zoom hangouts are a thing, but they can be far more distracting than helpful.)
I am Schrodinger’s Teaching Fellow – am I on track? Am I behind? You have to open the box to find out. But bad things happen when you go around opening boxes…
Lehigh University has decided to move the remainder of its semester online in an effort to reduce the amount of contact between faculty, staff, and students on its campus. Is it an overabundance of caution? Sure. But, I would argue that is what’s needed now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and boy, am I worried.
But that’s not what this is about.
What this is about will be my experience rapidly transitioning to online teaching, what changes I made, and how my students reacted. I thought it would be important to keep a daily journal about this experience for any number of reasons that I’ll decide when we come out on the other side of this.
Today is the first day “back” from spring break and normally I would teach my English Comp I class at 3pm. Originally I thought about using Google Hangouts to have a real-time discussion and get a sense of how everyone was doing, but since students are probably scrambling to get their things from residences (with that deadline being today), they’ve got enough on their plate. This is an easy call for me. As an English instructor at a primarily engineering school, we understand how we sometimes fall in a student’s list of priorities.
Generally my enthusiasm and charm makes them realize my class is the most important. Ahaha.
My class is content/discussion based along side process workshops, but I was finding that my group would get a bit sidetracked in our discussions. I wanted to try creating reading guides from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas and the switch to remote learning has given me the opportunity to try this out. We’re finishing up our “Animal” unit, where we’ve been reading and talking about how we use animals to tell human stories, what we get wrong when we try to tell stories about animals, and our general relationship to the non-human animal world. They’ve already selected their paper topics for this unit, and after break we were going to talk about dinosaurs.
Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Pairing an article about dinosaurs with and article about CRISPR editing of mosquito DNA seems like a no-brainer, but I wanted to have some guiding comments and questions for their reading as well as “Synthesis Questions” for them to answer at the end of the week. While this isn’t a perfect replacement for discussion (and I won’t be able to test how well these guides steer discussion in the classroom until the fall – hopefully) I hope they’ll provide some help in thinking about not only the content but how that content is delivered.
I also have a “Weekly Post” that is less about synthesizing content and more about hearing additional voices, or looking toward the next assignments. To make the transition to remote less stressful, I’ve made all the deadlines for weekly work due at midnight on Saturday. We normally meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I plan on just checking in by email Tuesday and Friday (for now). They can reach me by email or Google chat anytime and I hope they will.
As I’m still in coursework, I have a mix of remote learning experiences on the horizon, some wanting to do Zoom meetings, others allowing us to go at our own pace for the week (similar to my class). I keep thinking about the successful online classes I’ve taken and the real-time meetings have been few and far between, not because of technology, but because it isn’t always a good use of time. My suggestion, if you have to attend a online meeting, have a list of questions/items for discussion first, otherwise…
Good luck out there. Wash your hands. Stay the hell away from each other.