Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas (Part II) & New Year's Eve

The rest of Christmas was really nice; Justin and Cheng flew back to San Francisco stupid early Sunday morning, and Chris and I drove back in the very early afternoon; Anne, Bill, and Ciara also drove back home on Sunday so it was rather Exodus-like. I can't think of anything much we did - we wandered around downtown Bethlehem and had lunch at a Thai place in honor of Cheng's birthday; and then went on over to the Promenade - and then went out to dinner at Gregory's Steakhouse for dinner on Saturday evening. We hadn't made any particular plans in terms of when to leave the Lehigh Valley but I'm really glad we stayed until Sunday. Plus, it gave me a chance to play with video editing (I didn't take as many pictures this year):

Tomorrow, of course, is New Year's Eve. I'm always a bit sorry I don't have a crowd of people over, but there's simply no room, and all the friends I'd really like to see are simply too spread out up and down the Eastern Seaboard. However, all is not lost; I'm just planning on cooking dinner for Chris and myself tomorrow evening, and I procured a bottle of sparkling apple cider (hardcore drinkers that we are).

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Last night was busy indeed. I made hot sausage stuffing; Mom and Dad and Justin and Cheng went shopping; everyone was ensconced in very much gift wrapping for hours yesterday. We decorated the tree and broke out the Johnny Mathis (because this is the tradition - we listen to one of Dad's Johnny Mathis Christmas CDs while we decorate). Mom and I got gussied up and went to Midnight Mass at St. Ann's (Mom's church), came home, and broke out the fancy china and had tea and cookies and divinity and candied orange peel. 

This morning we eventually pulled everyone out of bed, and dug into our stockings (Jars of clotted cream! Farmer's Almanac! Cucumber melon hand lotion!), and then dug into our big piles of presents that were laying beneath the tree. I did extremely well: A canvas back bag from L.L. Bean; a watch; a fancy bluetooth headseat; a Barefoot Contessa cookbook; Oates' The Gravedigger's Daughter; Wilder's Tales from the Teachers' Lounge; Shachtman's Rumspringa; Irish Folktales; and an autographed copy of Pattison's Bone RattlerIt's so nice to have books to read for fun.

Anne, Bill, and Ciara are on their way down from upstate New York, so there's more to come.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Travelin' Gal

Last week was a busy week, so this week is, in fact, a welcome reprieve. I finished my grades (note tht I still don't have all of my grades from my professors) and went to a holiday party - a really good one too: Much food was brought in and consumed; a gift exchange was done; much silliness ensued.

Chris and I are visiting Mom and Dad this week; Chris took the week off from work, so we'll probably be in the Lehigh Valley at least until Friday, and (I think) visiting his parents the following weekend. Justin and his girlfriend Cheng are staying until Friday, too, I believe. It'll still be a busy week, though: Mom is baking tomorrow; Justin (and possibly Cheng) are shopping; I'd like to see the Christmas decorations in downtown Bethlehem; Justin, Chris, and I are likely to take Cheng to admire the wonder that is Wegmans; I'm going to attempt to meet Laura to drop off some of my Virginia Woolf books I read that she'll be reading for her classes next semester. And! The tree! We have to decorate the tree!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doctoral Programs & Finality

Friday marks the last day of the fall semester, although for me the semester ends tomorrow: I've finished my last paper, which I'll be handing in tomorrow, and my students will be handing in their portfolios. I finished my paper earlier this evening, and it may be terrible, and it may be all right, but I'm done as far as that's concerned. I'll be grading my students' last papers and their portfolios next week.

Within the past couple weeks I'd officially decided not to apply to doctoral programs next year but it wasn't until tonight I passed on the news to two friends in particular who were extremely encouraging of my applying. It was a difficult decision, and I really waffled back and forth for the longest time. The people I'd talked to who were already enrolled in doctoral programs, and various professors with whom I've spoken, were very encouraging and thought I should apply, to not let Chris stop me from applying - or, to put it more aptly, to "not let a man stop me from pursuing my education." And for a long time I really was hung up on that argument because I know Chris wouldn't try to stop me from applying to doctoral programs; he didn't say a word when I applied to go back to school six years ago; he didn't say a word about my applying to graduate programs two years ago. And he also didn't say I shouldn't apply to doctoral programs down the line. The arguments that I shouldn't let anyone stop me from pursuing that which I really want is, actually correct; but I had not ever let anyone stop me from doing what I really felt was right and necessary. I finally realized the issue: I can think of many reasons why I should not apply, and really only one reason why I want to apply, and that one reason isn't really a good enough reason, but it's very tempting.

When I get my M.A. I'll have a basic level of education I need to teach. Whether or not I teach at the secondary level permanently remains to be seen, but I need to try teaching at that level first for at least five years, in order not only to get my permanent NYS teaching certification but, and not only to see if I like teaching at the level, but if I have any aptitude for that age range. I realize that much will depend on the culture of the particular school where I teach, but I can't necessarily be...

I was really having difficulty coming to terms with this because I can see that at some point down the line I may want to pursue advanced graduate studies, but now is not the time. I need a mental break mostly, but I need a financial break too. If I were to continue with more graduate school I would continue to learn theoretical approaches to teaching, while what I want right now is the chance to do the practical, to put into practice all the theoretical and pedagogical I've learned.

I think it says something that I enjoyed teaching Freshman Composition as much as I did; I enjoyed teaching so much more than my own classes as a student this semester. I love that transitional age of high school to college; I love talking to new college kids who are unsure and need someone to talk to because I remember being that age and being desperate for someone to talk to but not having the vocabulary for it, and not even knowing what I needed and wanted to be talking about. I could be extremely, extremely happy teaching basic writing and new undergrads. I think I would like to come back to that someday, and there would be nothing stopping me from doing so. I just need to try a few other things first. A small part of me is still unsure that I'm making the right decision, but that's it, now that I've written about it, I can be decisive.

I'm still surprised I graduated from high school; I certainly flunked out of Temple University in a truly spectacular manner. Aside from not being ready for college at the time, I was burned out from school and needed to be working. So many people complain about how taxing work is, but when it's a job I love - and I do love teaching, and tutoring - it doesn't wear me out like school does. School just wears me out; I'm worn out. And now it's time for a break.

Friday, November 28, 2008

School, Teaching, Holidays

I have nothing substantial to write at this moment, because really nothing too interesting has going on lately.

I do not want to talk about my thesis, which strangely and inexplicably has not begun to write itself on its own volition. I wish people would stop asking me what it’s about because it’s complicated insofar that I don’t know all the ins-and-outs yet, and to say “technology in the writing classroom and my experiences with technology in my classroom” sounds lame and generic and there’s more to it than that, but I don’t have more specifics to give because I haven’t written anything yet. That's a long sentence, but it sums up my hesitancy in talking about my thesis.

Classes are going well. I'm done with my Virginia Woolf paper. The paper itself is either brilliant or claptrap, but either way it's done. ("War in Virginia Woolf" has been done to pieces, I know, but I am not a brilliant person and do not strive to say new, interesting things in the field of literature.) I have another paper to write, for my other class, and even though I haven't put much work into it at this point I'm not too worried about it. This is the paper that I'm interested in writing but have to jump into, and since I know myself, and I know that I work (and write) better under pressure, I know this will work itself out.

The class I'm teaching is going well, I believe. I have reached the point in the semester where I see problems with my students, and I see what I could have done better this semester, but I'm really, truly enjoying teaching the class to such an extent that I would be honestly delighted to teach freshman composition for the rest of my life. The students give me trouble, and they question me sometimes, and they're young and uncertain and I want to help them and guide them and tell them that their lives will not fall apart and it's okay to be unsure and uncertain and no, really, they should come talk to me because they're interesting and I was there, too - not that long ago. I love students this age because I see everything I needed help with at that age and was dying to talk to someone about and just didn't know how to, and I wasn't even sure what I wanted to talk to them about but I wanted to anyway. One of my students told me that she thinks I'm a good teacher and was surprised that I hadn't been teaching much longer and I will be carrying that with me for a long time, because I want people to think I'm a good teacher. I don't want this to be Fatal Career Mistake #47.

Last Thursday I collected my students' research papers and have dutifully brought them with me upstate; Chris and I are visiting his family for Thanksgiving. I'm reading the papers in batches of three because they're longer papers, and denser, and more than three at a time and I begin to become more interested in anything else. So far the papers are interesting, though, and I'm enjoying reading them, and even look forward to the remainder of them, which probably means there's something wrong with me.

Thanksgiving itself was pleasant; 15 people at Chris' parents. The usual fare, and it was all delicious, and there were leftovers, which makes me happy. The holiday I think stresses Chris' mother out a lot; I think there's a lot of residual anger and unhappiness that I hear about, which is difficult to hear about not only because it seems to have been going on so long - at least I've been hearing this for years - but I'm not used to it from my own family and I don't really know how to solve her unhappiness. I can't say anything because there's nothing helpful I could say, and besides which, it makes me sad that she's so unhappy and stressed out about the holidays, but in turn it stresses me out, which I also dislike. I've reached an impasse. Perhaps it's insoluble. 

We're here until Sunday; the weekend is flying by, as usual, quickly. Two more weeks of classes!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bad Day

Things have been rough lately. I have not begun writing my thesis, a complete draft of which I would like to have written by Christmas (so my readers can read it and get it back to me so I'll have a chance to revise and resubmit so I can graduate in May). I'm actually a bit paralyzed in the sense that I have both so many ideas and so few original ideas that I'm not sure how I want to narrow my focus. The first step, of course, would be to actually finish reading my material so I can formulate an intelligent opinion, but at the moment I can't get to that.

The Virginia Woolf class continues to be the bane of my existence (metaphorically speaking), while the Literacy & Basic Writing class continues to be interesting, although I am dragging my heels in writing and researching my paper. This is not surprising, since I chose the same topic for the term paper as I did my thesis, thinking that the paper would force me to get a handle on my thesis. At some point it will, but that point is not likely to be this week. (The Virginia Woolf paper is nearly done; it's completely unoriginal in its topic - "War in Virginia Woolf Novels" - but I'm at peace with that. I simply hope that it is written well.)

The freshman comp class is going well enough, although this week it's been bumpy since the students hadn't done their assigned reading; as recompense I assigned an irritating in-class writing this morning that will be graded (and worth a lot of points), and about which I shall be the proverbial stickler in terms of form. I need them to understand that it's important that they do the work, that I'm not just assigning reading so they have something else to stop them from having an outside life. Hopefully this will be the thing that makes them see that.

A fellow tutor's mother died last week, so last night and tonight I'm covering a few of her tutoring sessions, which I'm delighted to do because I like Tina and I want to help in whatever capacity I can; however, today is simply not a good day (it's cold; it's rainy; I'm tired; I'm worried about school and my thesis and finances; and I lost my iPhone today) and I want to go home and feel bad in the privacy of my own home. Instead I'm at work, halfway through a two-page journal that's due tonight (and will be easily finished between tutoring sessions), and I'll be home by 10 tonight.

I think tomorrow I'm going to plan to get a new picture taken for the passport I need to renew. Something to look forward to, at any rate.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NCPTW '08 - Las Vegas, Day 4

Today was a bit quieter (especially because of the two White Russians I had with dinner last night).

Two sessions this morning: First "Understanding Race Relations within Writing Centers," in which we had some really interesting discussion regarding traditionally minority students coming into writing centers (especially in universities when the majority of the student population is white), outreach, recruiting students of color. etc. I also sat in on a session ("A Trip-Tik for Tutor Trainers") in which two writing center directors discussed their experiences (and asked us about ours) in terms of developing a tutor training course; this turned out to be really interesting, especially because they had handouts of sample syllabi, assignments, etc. I then sat in on the final plenary session, given by a fellow who will actually be the keynote speaker at NEWCA next April, but that was probably the least crowded of the plenary speakers; I suspect a good chunk of attendees had gone home at that point.

I've been pretty much on my own since; I made a reservation for myself for dinner at the Hofbräuhaus (conveniently located down the block). Dinner was good; the Main Hall (as opposed to the Beer Hall) was really a sight to behold, and I nearly ran back to get my camera (I can't believe I forgot it back at the hotel). Pretzels and green garlands were hung from columns; the ceiling was painted with various designs, and the blue and white Bavarian checkered flags were hung on the walls. People were seated at large tables; there was a live band (complete with accordion); it was loud; it was noisy; and I'm really glad I went. I barely ate all day, so I was hungry: For an appetizer I had Bavarian liver mousse and Obatzer (a creamy cheese, almost like a spread), which came with a Bavarian pretzel and some vegetable garnishes (cucumber, onion, cherry tomato), and for dinner I had the Hofbräuhaus Wurstplatte, which included Vienna-style Frankfurters, a pork Wurst, and a chicken Wurst, and mashed potatoes and (so they say) imported Sauerkraut. Some young women were seated at my table before I finished, so I had some occasional conversation (one good thing about the setup, actually).

I realize I haven't many qualms about having dinner out by myself; I have a more difficult time just sitting alone in my hotel room, or exploring a new city by myself. When I went on the tour of the Grand Canyon, I approached a married couple during lunch to ask if I could sit with them, using the line that it's weird to travel by oneself; they were quite all right in letting me sit with them, of course, the husband remarking that I was quite brave, in a tone that made me think perhaps most people don't view these things the way I do. I'd rather go out and do things alone than not at all. The tour earlier this week was a good experience; although for the most part my traveling companions stayed in their own groups, there were moments of joking around and I really enjoyed meeting them, however briefly. (One guy in particular really had the henpecked father/husband thing down; he really just made me giggle every time he said anything.)

In any case, I'm spending the rest of the evening at my hotel, where I've been since dinner. I've mostly packed, and will do as much cleaning up tonight as I can before heading home in the morning. Back to the cold, unpleasant weather!

Friday, October 31, 2008

NCPTW '08 - Las Vegas, Day 3

Another good day today; I sat in on a couple good sessions, and I finally got a chance to hang out with and meet some new folks.

Earlier in the day I hit up the conference, getting to a session called “Why Did the Tutor Cross the Road, er, Line? (And Did It Get to the Tutee?)”, about tutors who cross the lines in their tutoring sessions providing ineffective tutoring (and many of the ways that this can happen); it was an interesting study, one in which both tutors’ sessions were transcribed, and both tutors and tutees were questioned about the sessions’ effectiveness.

A SIG that I went to afterwards (“Writing Centers in Learning or Academic Centers”) centered on discussion about the growing numbers of writing centers being placed in learning resource centers, and those pros and cons. It was interesting, but only an hour was scheduled for the afternoon SIGs, and since each of the four facilitators spent about 10 minutes talking about their own situation (or reading, in one case), there wasn’t much time for those of us in the audience to talk about our own situations, and talk about what was working and what wasn’t. I wasn’t quite sure what the facilitators wanted from the session, despite it being interesting to hear their stories.

I ingratiated myself on Harry and Courtney once again, and tagged along as we and a few other attendees – Lori, Dan, and Karen – forewent the Halloween party that the conference was throwing and went to the Bellagio instead to partake in their buffet, which Courtney had heard was the buffet to go to. The Bellagio was certainly rather opulent, and huge. And their buffet was matched in size; I think I went up there three or four times. The seafood was very good (my first course); the meat wasn’t too bad either (the lamb chops were rarer than I like, although I understand they’re meant to be prepared that way, and the Kobe beef brisket was chewy; but the Beef Wellington was amazing), and the desserts were good, too. I was almost compelled to get more food, but really, how much can you eat in one sitting?

We watched two performances at the Fountains of Bellagio (both of which I filmed; one of which I accidentally deleted, which was irritating), and Harry, Courtney, and I wandered down to the New York, New York hotel and casino (because - why not?) and finally made it back to our hotels. I missed most of the decorative aspects of New York, New York when I had seen it on Tuesday night, so there was still ambience to take part of.

I was realizing after I got back to my hotel that I'd like to see the Venetian and a bit more of Paris (the Eiffel Tower was all pretty, lit up), and perhaps go on a tour of the Hoover Dam. If I ever come back.

And I certainly appreciate the ambience of Las Vegas on Halloween. And let's just leave it at that.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NCPTW '08 - Las Vegas, Day 2

I did actually manage to spend the entire day in Las Vegas today, although today was the antithesis of yesterday; I stayed very close to my hotel and didn’t wander more than 2 blocks from it.

My poster session was in the morning, so I skipped the plenary session (which I am now sorry I missed) as well as the first session so I could set up. The other posters were pretty impressive, and many of them were a lot better than mine. This was, at the beginning, not my finest hour; I got swamped with insecurity and felt completely ignored by everyone. (I’m finding these conferences very difficult to go to alone; nearly everyone else has traveled with folks from their own academic institutions, and/or has long-standing relationships with many of the other conference attendees, so I was feeling very out of place.) I’m not sure if I was imagining the two women whose poster was next to mine giving me some rather disapproving glances, but I certainly felt hypersensitive.

Fortunately, things really picked up; a lot of people came over to ask questions, and take a handout, of which all but two of the 50 copies I made disappeared (and one of those I had designated the table copy). Bringing as many handouts was a good idea; I didn’t think they would all disappear and was relieved when they were taken. Also a good plan: Bringing business cards with my Web site URL on it, so I could refer people to that. Nearly all the feedback was positive, and those who approached and asked questions seemed genuinely interested in my experience. Quite a few just took a handout, of course, which was also fine – there’s so much information at these conferences that it’s easy to get overloaded, so I can appreciate just taking something to read later. One or two attendees seemed to be very scrutinizing, which was actually fine, but I felt I didn’t quite answer questions to their satisfaction. One fellow asked if I had a methods page, which I didn’t – and which actually would have been a good idea to include. Another fellow asked, after I had explained my research, what was sociological about my research (I had titled my poster and presentation as “Sociology as Training: The Sociology Being Used In Tutoring Reflection & Analysis”); he finally accepted my answer, albeit somewhat grudgingly, saying it was the sociological aspect of linguistics.

Well, perhaps.

In any case, after my session I dropped off the poster at my hotel, partook in a Flash Mob (wherein I got a button), and found lunch at Johnny Rocket’s before staying for part of a session about podcasting in writing centers. I was fading a bit, but after a nap I went to a Special Interest Group (SIG) geared towards writing centers in secondary schools, which was pretty interesting; discussion centered on problems and concerns of writing center work in secondary schools.

And, I went (along with Courtney, Harry, and a few other folks) to the Indian restaurant I had wanted to go to, Origin India, for dinner. It was, I have to admit, very good: South Indian grilled fish as an appetizer, and lamb.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NCPTW '08 - Las Vegas, Day 1

Today was my first real day in Las Vegas, although to be fair I should note I spent very little time actually in Las Vegas. My Pink Jeep tour vehicle picked me up at 7:30, and off we went. Although there were nine other folks in the car (all British, except the tour guide), I was the last picked up; and I was lucky enough to get the front seat. I was suitably impressed; the tour guide was really good. He seemed to know everything about everything, told us about plant life and geography, local history of not only Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City, but of a few small towns we drove through – essentially he talked non-stop for the entire 10-hour trip. And the trip was arranged well, too; we were getting in and out of the Jeep constantly so he could show us something or tell us about something and brought enough bottled water was brought so we could drink as much as we could handle (and were encouraged to drink a lot of water, too; I was surprised how dried out I got). This was not a cheap trip, although I hesitate to call it exorbitant, but I really think it was well worth it. We weren’t rushed; questions were answered; all the incidentals were taken care of (not only the bottled water, but bus transportation to and from the Grand Canyon, as well as lunch).

And I had such a good time. Being in the front seat had its perks; it was gorgeous out there. We didn’t go through the Hoover Dam, but we did get out in a good location while tour guide Jerry told us various factoids about it, and so we could take pictures. It was hot, in the mid-to-upper 80s (I was told that this was warm for this time of year), and the sun was pretty strong, but I lucked out and didn’t sunburned.

The dessert was really pretty; we drove through a Joshua tree forest; saw some cacti (of course), and saw the Grand Canyon from two different stops along the West Rim. I’ll say this: Obviously the Grand Canyon is huge and impressive and just beautiful, but that first look at it was something else. We stopped off at the Skywalk, which everyone else took advantage of enjoying, but which I did not (cameras are apparently not allowed, and I didn’t feel like shelling out more money for something I couldn’t photograph or otherwise share with anyone). One of the features of this particular area included a Native American dance troupe from New Mexico was doing some native tribal dances, which was rather nifty. Of course my video camera had run out of batteries as soon as we had left the gift shop previously - impeccable timing.

We had lunch, after which tour guide Jerry trundled everyone on a short walk up a bit higher. (I stayed put there, too; honestly, there was no “bad” location and I just didn’t feel like wrestling with some rocks that were likely to cause me to plummet over the edge.) And then we turned around, and meandered back to our hotels, of course stopping a few times along the way to check out the Joshua trees.

It was a long drive, and a long day; I didn’t realize how far away the Grand Canyon was, and in my stupidity didn’t really give any thought that it might actually be in another state, so I’m happy that I get to add Arizona to my list of states visited. By the time I got back to my hotel it was about 6 p.m., which was just when the conference folks had scheduled a poolside social at the conference site (the hotel which is right next door – very convenient), so I wandered over there, felt extremely out of place, tried to make friends and failed somewhat (although I did run into Harry briefly, which was welcome) before heading back to my room so I can pass out in extreme tiredness.

It was a good day; I loved being outside for so long. I think I’m realizing that I’m not as much of a city person as I want to think I am. Being outside – and away from the crowds – was just too much fun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NCPTW '08 - Las Vegas, Arrival

I’m officially in Las Vegas – it’s warm, it was sunny, there were mountains in the distance; it’s such a nice change.

I arrived at my hotel, the lovely St. Tropez just after 6 p.m. local time, and am now resuming being happily ensconced in my “suite.” It’s a nice room – I have a king size bed, a nice large bathroom, all the usual amenities…except Internet access. I know there is Internet access, but it seems to be available only in the lobby, so it looks like I’m stuck temporarily. (For the first time I really appreciate having my iPhone; at least I’m not cut of from the rest of the world.) It’s a bit of an odd layout, this hotel; it consists of several smallish two-story buildings that surround a courtyard (which includes a pool). Every room seems to have a little balcony, complete with a table and two chairs that overlooks the courtyard. It’s extremely quiet; I have the sliding door open, and it’s just very quiet and serene. I took a short walk from my room to the hotel lobby so I could post this blog entry, and I took another good look around: Palm trees waved in the breeze; there were lit paths; I heard a quiet tinkling of water from the pool; and one of the casino lights beaming a straight ray of light upward.

My flight over was fine; it was my first time on JetBlue, and insofar as JFK Airport finished Terminal 5 just last week, I was able to enjoy the newness and shininess of something that will probably be messy by the time I get back on Sunday. And it is pretty. (Although I cared not for the free WiFi in the airport; I wish I could have transported that to my hotel room.) The only snafu in the morning was my car reservation not arriving, which worried me if only because that was my method of getting to the airport. On a fluke Chris happened to be home from work so he was able to give me a ride. But the flight itself went smoothly; we took off on time and landed a bit early; I found a cab, who had never heard of my hotel but found me a Kinko’s (where I could buy poster board) and found my hotel after all.

After I set myself up on my room (and trying to connect to any of the open wireless networks, and failing), I hopped the shuttle, which dropped me in front of the Tropicana. I wandered around a bit; I hit the MGM Grand and saw a lion taking a nap; I walked through the New York, New York exhibit-y thing (I thought it would be entertaining to have dinner there but they didn’t have anything I wanted); and finally wandered into the Excalibur, where I eventually found their restaurants and partook in a buffet, which didn’t knock my socks off, but which filled me up, which tonight was all I was looking for. I will say that there seems to be quite a bit to look at in these hotels, but it took me awhile to figure out that if I wanted to find dinner, I’d have to go into the casino. I guess that was obvious, in retrospect, but I was thinking more in terms of finding good food and avoiding slot jockeys.

I wished I had someone to spend time with tonight, but I’m going to try to arrange it that tonight was the only night I’m hanging out by myself. I seem to always get a bit homesick the first night away from New York, and although I know it's only temporary, and it's comparably slight, I still wish I had someone to hang out with in the hotel courtyard and just chat.

Tomorrow I'm going on a Pink Jeep tour of the Grand Canyon. I'm being picked up very early in the morning, and I'm being driven around for 9-10 hours, so I'm going to go relax for the rest of the evening and save my strength.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Pseudo-Crazy Life

I hesitate to indicate that things are crazy, but things do proceed to be a bit on the busy side, yet there is surprisingly little that's actually new. The past couple weekends have been very social, yet I haven't blogged about them for no reason other than I haven't quite felt like writing much lately. The last weekend in August, Labor Day weekend, Chris and I took a train upstate to visit his parents, as well as visit JB, Amy, and their baby whom we hadn't yet met despite his being (at the time) nine months old. I'm always a bit surprised when I get to hold babies and they don't immediately either squirm or start bawling. Little James did neither, so as far as I'm concerned the baby is extremely cute and charming. JB and Amy live in the same town as Anne, Bill, and Ciara, so we popped over for a cup of tea and hung out for an hour or so, which I really loved doing; the Clifton Park Crew lives only about an hour or so away from Chris' parents but we never really seem to manage visiting, which I'd like to do more often. A few weekends ago we headed back upstate (again on the train) for the Eagle Mills craft fair, which I've been hearing about for years but have never gone too. I've been to Eagle Mills before but never this craft fair, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The weather was gorgeous, and there was lots of stuff to look at, so it was a good time.

The following weekend we took a bus to Pennsylvania to go to Renninger's Antique Extravaganza in Kutztown, and the Celtic Classic in Bethlehem; both events took place on the same weekend, so we hit up both events on the same day, which meant by the end of the day we were all thoroughly tired out - and a bit damp, since it rained all weekend. But we hadn't visited Mom and Dad in awhile, so it was good to spend time with them.

Last weekend was the Atlantic Antic, which in years past has been on the same weekend as Renninger's and the Celtic Classic, which meant we always had to choose which event we wanted to go to. This year the Antic was moved to the first weekend in October, which meant we could actually go. Mom and Dad were in town visiting friends who live in Park Slope, so we met up with them in the early afternoon and had a good walk. The weather turned out well, and even though I ate very little (half a sausage, half a fish cake, a bite or two of plantain), I did document everything Chris tried. (Some of the pictures turned out really well; I'm rather pleased.)

I'm a bit relieved all this social activity is over; with all the traveling and visiting we've been doing I've slacked off in my reading and homework. I haven't even had time to podcast, which I'll be doing again starting this weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

These Days...

I know I haven't been blogging as much lately; there are a couple reasons for this. Mostly it's because I've been busy with school and tutoring and teaching and just commuting. I also realized that I've been trying not to blog about teaching my English Composition (ENG 16) class because I'm trying to save all my tidbits about teaching for the New Teacher Podcast (which still hasn't gotten into a groove, largely because weekends are the only time I have, and the past few weekends, and next weekend, Chris and I have been out of town). I feel slightly guilty in admitting that I'm finding teaching so much more interesting than my own classes.

My own classes are fine, but I'm spending much more time thinking about and planning for my ENG 16 class that I have to force myself to get back to reading the assigned homework (and doing the corrosponding weekly writing). I have little to say in my Virginia Woolf class; I realized a few months ago that I had, in a sense, let that part of my brain just deteriorate as I concentrated and became more interested in the teaching of writing. Obviously, the teaching of writing is directly related to and intertwined with reading, but I have to keep really digging deeply, and working much harder at analyzing literature.

Analyzing lit never came as easily to me as did pedagogy and educational theory, and comparatively speaking I find the former less interesting than the latter, but perhaps less was expected of me, or the literature I read was more of what I was used to (American and British literature of the 17th-19th centuries, as opposed to more modern literature by authors I've been recently studying. As an undergrad I somehow took a lot of survey course, which I truly love/loved; I got a smattering of different authors and we rarely read more than one or two works, which suited me well; if I found a new author, I explored him on my own. But while two of the four graduate literature classes I've had have been about one author (Joyce and Woolf, in my case), another has been a survey-like course of African-American short stories, the other a survey-like course of South African novels. Joyce was difficult; I found him difficult; most people find him difficult; that's not new or surprising. Patricia's class (with the South African novels) was interesting, because it was new, but also heavy going for the same reason. The African-American short story class was interesting because short stories are my favorite, but I've taken a slew of classes about African-American literature. Thematically it's very popular, I'm guessing. And Woolf is, like Joyce, difficult; and similarly, others find her difficult; and similarly, it's understood and expected, or at least not surprising, that one might find her difficult. I have to, with a very sharp and pointy stick, quite emphatically poke open my literary analyzing skills. The MFA students are lovely to listen to because they pay attention to aspects of writing and language and creative process that I've allowed myself to not pay attention to anymore, which is a mistake and which I am duly rectifying.

The students I teach are also lovely, if it's possible to not overuse that word. They pretty much all come to class. They're nice, and polite, and they don't interrupt, either me or each other. They usually raise their hands. One kid came late, twice; two kids have been absent; but there's not mass absenteeism, and if they're sleeping, they're doing it with their eyes open. Their blog entries are not brilliant (yet), but they're all doing them, and more or less on time. They all handed in their first drafts of their cultural autobiography on time. Do you get that? They all handed in their first drafts on time. It's not a hard assignment, I guess, but still. I told them to call me by my first name; only once did I hear a student call me "Michelle." They keep calling me Professor Solomon which is unnerving only because I keep wanting to turn around and ask what my mother is doing teaching my class.

On Monday and Wednesday nights I have trouble falling asleep (and consequently I'm exhausted on Tuesdays and Thursdays) because I keep thinking of my ENG 16 class. I'm excited to get to class; I'm worried I'm not making class challenging enough or expecting enough of them (although they're going to be getting some more difficult reading beginning in October, as well as beginning actual research). I like that I had to buy chalk and that I have to make photocopies and that I still don't know how to use the departmental Xerox machine or send my things to Copy Services. I like having an office hour. I liked reading my students' first drafts - they were all really interesting - and I liked giving feedback in red pen. (In my tutoring sessions I've had students request my using a red pen because it's easier to read.)

I want to be graduated in May so I don't have to think about studying anymore.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two Hats

So, I've been teaching for a week and a half now. So far I've managed to survive, which is a bonus. I think it says something that I've been more interested in teaching my class, and planning for it, than I have been taking my own classes as a student. In comparison I half feel that the two classes I'm taking as a student are a bit dreary, but I'm trying to chalk that up to still getting acquainted with the material. It's going to be somewhat heavy stuff; I'm not a fan of Virginia Woolf, but I'm trying to be open in reading her again, and more thoroughly, so perhaps whatever I read before (A Room of One's Own, which I'll be reading again for this class) will be better a second time around in context with the other work of hers I'm reading. The first set of readings for the literacy class was just painful; I really felt I was slogging through it with a minimal of understanding and just couldn't maintain any interest in it, but again, perhaps other material I read throughout the semester will be more to my liking.

The first couple of classes for the ENG 16 class (which would be the class I'm teaching) were more housekeeping related: Introductions, syllabi, class expectations, paperwork, etc. I gave my class a diagnostic essay on our second meeting, for which I gave them the entire class to write, so last Thursday was our first "real" day of class. Started out a bit bumpy - I couldn't get anyone to talk - but I had them do some impromptu writing, using on Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" as a model for some in-class writing, then put them in groups and had them share their stories, and that seemed to break the ice. I had one student from each group read his or her story (one student got a really good laugh out of hers), and we managed to discuss the story in relation to cultural standards and expectations, which was a segue into the cultural autobiography I've assigned. On Tuesday we're spending the day in the computer lab, and on Thursday for at least half the class we'll be workshopping however much they've written. (The other half of the class two students will be leading the class discussion on Jaschik's "Sociology, Gender, and Higher Ed."

I officially have a podcast up for my teaching experiences. So far I have only the introductory episode up and running, but I recorded another episode today. I'm still figuring out GarageBand and how to upload the podcasts themselves, so I'm a bit more reliant on Chris than I'd like to be. Hopefully after a few more podcasts are up and running I won't need to ask him for help, at least with the basics.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fall 2008 Classes

I'm taking nine credits this semester; this works out to three classes, but one of those classes (three of those credits) is my writing my thesis, so aside from teaching a section of English 16 - English Composition - I'll be taking two classes:

English 579: Virginia Woolf and Modernism
Mondays, 6:10 – 8:00 pm

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the most challenging and beautiful writers in the English language. Every time she began work on a new novel, she renewed her ambition to reinvent the genre and to make it penetrate to depths of human experience never before tried by writers of fiction. The course will trace the path from her early, tentatively realistic fiction (The Voyage Out), through her experimental short fiction of the late teens and early 1920s (“The Mark on the Wall,” “An Unwritten Novel”), to the achievement of her high modernist style in four major novels: Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves. Woolf was also an innovator in the art of the essay, and we will read some of her most famous works in the genre, including “Modern Fiction,” “On Being Ill,” and her revolutionary (and very funny) manifesto for women writers, A Room of One’s Own. Because Woolf was keenly interested in painting and was intimately associated with a circle of avant-garde artists, special emphasis will be placed on the intersection between verbal and visual art in her life and work.

Field trips to the Museum of Modern Art and the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library (which houses the largest collection of Woolf manuscripts in the world) will be arranged. In addition to on-going discussion, students will write a series of short essays in response to the readings, and one longer critical essay or creative term project.

English 641: Basic Writing and Literacy
Thursdays, 4:10 – 6:00 pm

In this course we will attempt to identify and understand what constitutes literacy in the academy and how “basic writers” are positioned within and against this term in their struggle to acquire academic discourse, a term we will also examine. We will investigate our own assumptions about literacy and test those assumptions against academy dictates and practices. We will problematize “Basic writing” in relation to theories and methods of teaching basic college writing. For example, is the social constructionist approach viable, or should students’ primary languages be included in the instruction and production of college writing? What is the relationship between reading and writing, and how might one inform the other? How might orality be utilized in the classroom to help students increase their awareness of standard English? How do we offer cohesive, productive instruction when students within the same class have different levels and types of literacy? The course will be particularly beneficial for students who plan to teach in academic institutions with students from diverse linguistic backgrounds.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I normally don't get too involved in politics; for the most part I'm not that interested. I used to be more gung-ho and never missed an election, but the past couple of years I've let things slide and haven't voted (the most recent exception being the last presidential election. Let me begin by saying that while I am a registered Democrat and will be voting for Obama (now that Mike Gravel is out of the race), if I thought McCain were the better candidate, his being affiliated with the Republicans would not stop me from voting for him.

On McCain's Web site, it was noted that McCain would "encourage alternative certification methods that open the door for highly motivated teachers to enter the field...[and would] devote five percent of Title II funding to states to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the New York City Teaching Fellowship Program, the New Teacher Project, or excellent university initiatives." I'm really not a fan of said programs; I think that it can be a very costly mistake (both in terms of finances and educational ramifications) for teachers to be put in classrooms without some serious preparation - not a couple of weeks' training, but several months or even years. My own experience in taking 4 extra classes, 100 hours of field work, 75 days of student teaching and an accompanying seminar, taking and passing 3 exams, sitting through 3 workshops, and getting fingerprinted meant that I had to do some serious introspection and evaluation of teaching methods, which, to put it mildly, gives me a distinct advantage over those who go through the TFA training. I'm not against recruiting those who otherwise had not considered teaching as a career, but I am concerned that there is not enough training being provided. (There's a blog I've been reading that attempts to "debunk the propaganda" behind TFA. It's strongly against TFA but it does seem to make some good points about training, lack of preparedness, and teacher retention.)

To be fair, Obama does say the following on his Website: "Obama will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location." I like the idea of scholarships that cover education, but again, I'd like to know the nature of those "alternate programs." Obama seems to have a bit more of a plan to "recruit, prepare, [and] retain" teachers, which I don't see McCain having. Both address the horror that is NCLB, but McCain believes that "choice is the best way to protect children against a failing bureaucracy. But parents must have more control over the money." Obama says a bit more, saying that he will "reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them." I wish McCain would say more, and I wish both would tell us specifically how he would reform NCLB.

As far as I'm concerned, McCain's stance on teacher education alone has lost him my vote. However, before I came definitively to that conclusion, I decided to peruse his Website and read his policies. There's a lot of throat clearing, being committed to "high standards and accountability" and "providing the resources needed to succeed. He believes we should invest in people, parents and reward achievement." Like what? And like how? I want details. He does get into more details in explaining other policies, but there are a few too many questions that don't get answered. Obama has provided, to my mind, more of an answer and giving us more specifics; I suppose a point-by-point plan isn't necessarily an option on a Website. 

I also noticed that on their respective Websites,  Obama addresses more than twice the policies that McCain. The educational policy is as much a hook for me as the abortion and gay marriage policies.  I agree with Obama that each religious denomination has the right to decide on recognizing gay marriage; I don't believe sexuality is a choice, and I don't believe marriage in any form should be illegal (and I have a difficult enough time following the church's teaching on the immorality of gay marriage). Similarly with anti-abortion politics; I believe strongly that abortion is immoral - I consider a human life to be present at the moment of conception and recognize few reasons to abort a child; however, I do recognize that there are times when that abortion is the only viable option (if both the mother and child were to die, for example). However, I also believe that if abortion were to be made illegal there would be serious consequences that could harm mother and baby. I believe in the freedom of choice, however strongly I disagree with those choices.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

College Rankings

This afternoon, I read an article about college rankings, in which McGuire questions the validity of college rankings, sums up many (if not most) of my issues I have with the system. How, exactly, would I have received a better education at (for example) Harvard than at Stony Brook University? Is it because Harvard is more expensive? I always felt (very slightly) miffed that someone might think I didn't get a good education because I went to a state school. (I'd oddly loyal that way.) I also never really grokked that notion of the "right college fit" until I went to SBU.

I was thinking of a few things when I was looking at grad schools. To the extent of my knowledge, not one Ivy League university has the program in which I am interested. Does that mean that I'm getting a sub par education? I hope not. When I talked to people during my search, I was asked (often enough) whether I would stay at SBU, and my reasons for choosing not to even apply. Many students seem to stay at the same university for graduate studies; for example, I've known quite a few students both at SBU and at LIU who did both undergrad and grad degrees at the same school, within the same department. I think this is a mistake. (This obviously is a personal decision. I think it tends to be a mistake because if a student stays at the same university for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, often they are learning the same material. SBU, for example, did not have different concentrations at different levels; one chose one of or several of the literature concentrations that are ensconced in the English department. I thought the professors at SBU very good, but I think one of the benefits of going to another university is to become exposed to different teaching styles and different course offerings. Go learn what professors at different institutions have to say about American Lit; go learn about different research that's being done in British Lit; etc.)

The students I know who stay at the same school, both at SBU and at LIU, are all bright students and do well, in some cases better than I. (For the record, I graduated with a 2.93 overall G.P.A. at SBU, while within my major my G.P.A. was about a 3.23. My G.P.A. at LIU at the moment is hovering just above 3.835.) Their undergraduate G.P.A.s are often higher than mine, but I'm often doing better in grad school. SBU is, I think, probably a better school than LIU (which is not to say LIU is bad; apparently in pharmacy we're in the Top 10). Who's the better student, the one who got a higher G.P.A., or the one who went to a higher-ranked (for that department) university? Who would you hire?

I also realize that I don't know if any of my non-teacher friends are in careers in which their G.P.A.s are outright questioned, which is perhaps why I'm so uptight about maintaining mine. (This is not that my grad school cronies aren't, concerned but I suspect fewer of them have careers riding on it).

When I was in high school, Mom and I briefly took Arabic lessons. It was an interesting experience. The teacher wasn't too good, really, but he tried hard and he was nice (and I learned how to count like nobody's business, must better than anyone else in the class, I must say). One of the other students (who later showed up teaching at LCCC, which is where I got my two-year degree right after high school) told me she thought I'd do really well at a SUNY school, and even found me some information; I, of course, wasn't too keen on the idea (too far from home; I wasn't ready for college even though I knew it, but I couldn't have verbalized it). I don't know or remember why she said that, and I wish I had a way of asking her, and telling her she was right.

I suppose one of the reasons I'm into teaching is because I like talking to students about their future life. I wish parents knew that if their kid doesn't go to college right away, the kid's life isn't going to fall to pieces. And that's true if the kid doesn't go to college period, or goes to a "lesser college" because there are so many factors that go into "the right school." And I get uppity when someone - even a magazine - tries to tell me that Harvard or any other Ivy League university is better than any other university based on random criteria.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Governors Island

Chris and I have been very busy today; we spent at least half the day at Governors Island, which is turned out to be a very cool way to spend much of our Sunday. We packed a picnic, put our sandwiches and macaroni salad in a cooler, took the very short (maybe 5-minute) ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan, and walked until our feet were about ready to fall off. It was a gorgeous day out - sunny and warm and a bit breezy; and I took lots of pictures. There are buildings all over the place - various living quarters (including the rather impressive Admiral's House), Saint Cornelius Church, Castle Williams, and Fort Jay, of which I took a short (and not terribly good, but good enough) video.

We wandered around New York City for a couple more hours, stopping at McNulty's Tea & Coffee Company, where I scored two different (decaffeinated) blends: chocolate mint, and lemon spice; then we stopped in at the Aphrodisia Herb Shoppe, which has a pretty good selection of spices. We weren't really ready to go home, but unmotivated in finding anything else to do (by this time we were hot, and tired, but didn't really want to head home), so we wandered around a bit aimlessly until dinner: Hill Country Barbecue, which was amazingly delicious. Chris had just been there this past Friday, but was easily convinced to take me tonight. I've never had brisket so good.

Really, the only downside of the day (aside from being tired and a bit overheated) was having to carry around the cooler all day. We concluded that picnics are better when they're had in parks that are closer to home.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Vacation

This is the last week of tutoring for the summer; and to be more precise, tomorrow is the very last day of tutoring for the summer. (That last day coincides with the last day of classes during the second summer session.) It's been an odd week; I've been "tutoring" Monday through Thursday in the sense that I've been going into school, but most of my students haven't been showing up, so I've been spending more time traveling to and from school than I have been actually staying at school. I don't mind because I get paid for a certain number of students' absences, but it's a bit frustrating to spend 2-3 hours a day traveling to and from Brooklyn if I'm only spending half an hour or an hour on campus.

Tomorrow I have two students over the course of three hours. But whether or not they arrive, it's my last day of tutoring until next semester, and I won't be coming into Brooklyn much over the next couple of weeks. I have an Omicron Zeta meeting on Friday, and I need to visit the Department of Education to get my ID card replaced, but those are the only two matters of business I need to attend to. I would put off the ID card replacement but I should head in to ask about getting my substitute teacher certificate renewed for the upcoming academic year; the one I have now expires at the end of the month and I haven't received a replacement yet. I ahven't committed to anything yet, but what I may do is call the DOE first to see if I can get a straight answer from someone, and if I can't, I'll go in to see them in person.

Aside from that, Chris and I may be going to Governors Island this weekend (I really hope so - I've been wanting to go for quite a while now), and we may decide to head into Manhattan the following weekend for dinner. But the next two weeks I plan on reading and tweaking my syllabus. I suppose I can only fine-tune it so much but I'm really getting excited about teaeching next semester.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A "Real" Graduate Student

When I was an undergrad, I did something that few, if any, other undergrads did: I traveled to and became involved with professional conferences within the field of education. While it is fairly common to find undergrads attending and presenting at regional writing center conferences, not once did I meet another undergrad at the 4Cs conference I've been attending for the past several years, nor the two MLA conferences in Philadelphia that I've attended (although in the case of the MLA conference, I attended only as a participant, not as someone who chaired panels or attended workshops; in short, I didn't meet much of anyone, especially because I was only there for a day; at the 4Cs conferences I was there for the entire conference, went to sessions multiple days, and ran into more people I knew). It was always a bit lonely attending 4Cs because, even though I knew several people and often hung out, went to dinner, or even did some sightseeing (usually alone), the undergraduate community is not really felt because it's assumed that undergrads simply aren't going, don't have the professional interest, aren't even really specifically encouraged to submit proposals. (I did anyway. Only at NEWCA have my proposals ever been accepted, although I have chaired several sessions at 4Cs.) There are, however, such wonderful things are Graduate Student Lounges, where at least theoretically grad students could go sit down for a while, relax, perhaps even network and meet other grad students. I thought things might shift a little when I entered grad school and I would feel more like someone advancing my career and becoming involved in "the academy." I was only partly right.

As it turns out, a "grad student" is more often defined as someone who is actually a doctoral student. There are grad students who are, like me, getting their Master's degrees, but I can't think of more than a handful - if that - of those whom I've met. I noticed almost immediately that grad students define their status in the year they're getting their doctoral degrees (i.e., first year, second year, etc.). Most Master's degree programs are designed to be done in a year or two (if one goes full-time, where "full-time" equals about 3 classes/9 credits a year). (In the past year, since I've begun my M.A., I've taken 8 classes/24 credits of the 12 classes/36 credits I need for my program, which is significantly faster than anyone else currently enrolled is the department.) If one is an M.A. student, it's a bit silly to identify oneself as a first year or second year student, since most students may only take a class or two at a time, and the programs tend to be a lot shorter, class/credit-wise, than the doctoral programs. One is in the process of getting one's M.A., and that's the end of it.

In my last year at SUNY Stony Brook, I began to look around at graduate schools and thought that I might like to get a Ph.D. or D.A. I applied to a bunch of schools' Ph.D./D.A. programs and, not really surprisingly or even disappointingly, got rejected. My GRE scores were pretty bad (not surprising), and my G.P.A. was right on the border (and in fact very slightly lower than "required" G.P.A.s). I did get accepted to two master's degree programs, though: Long Island University in Brooklyn, and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which quite frankly has a better program, and which is a bit more highly thought of. But LIU, aside from being much more local (and therefore closer to Chris), offered me various teaching and research assistantships, which so far have paid for six of my classes, and looks like will be paying for three or four more of my classes, thanks to this teaching fellowship I was awarded. (Most graduate programs tend not to offer assistantships or fellowships to their lower level graduate students - certainly I heard nothing from IUP about the possibility - so this is a good thing. I'm very glad to have the chance to be teaching a freshman writing class.) 

But because I've burned my way through the program so quickly, I'll be graduating this May, and once again am considering whether or not I want to apply to doctoral programs. There are a couple reasons why I'm hesitating, not any one of which is more or less important than another (and are therefore not in any specific order of importance):
  1. I'm getting tired of school, and feeling a bit burned out (despite a good G.P.A.; my grades haven't suffered because of my getting mentally tired).
  2. It's really a process, applying to a bunch of schools. And it costs a lot of money, depending on how many different programs to which I apply. Application fees add up really quickly.
  3. If I were to be accepted to a doctoral program, there's a good chance it would be out of state. And not only out of state, but either several states away or on the other side of the country.
  4. There are few doctoral programs in my field, so it's not really possible to just confine myself to one part of the country. Although I could, there might only be 2 or 3 programs in any one part of the country worth applying to. 
  5. It takes a long damn time. Even if I were to go at full blast, which I'm not sure I have in me at the moment, it would be 125% effort, which is about the amount of effort I've been putting into my studies since 2003. Adding another 5-7 years on that isn't really appealing right now.
  6. Grad school is expensive. (School period is expensive.) I may  or may not get funding. My teaching certification is only good for New York State. If I were not to receive funding, and if I weren't about to get a full-time job, I wouldn't be able to go, which would make the process even slower.  There is also the possibility that I would also have to convert my teaching certification to another state's, which may require more testing and/or classwork. 
  7. I'm tired of school; I'm tired of being poor. I want a job, one with a decent salary, benefits, and all of that. I've worked really hard since going back to school, and now I want something to show for it. Yet...
  8. "I don't know what I want to be/do when I grow up." This is a non-trivial issue. If I were certain that I wanted to teach at the university level, or if I were absolutely certain that I had enough interest in composition and rhetoric and would want the degree for myself because I wanted to be an actual expert in the field, then I would have less hesitancy. But I'm not convinced in either case, which gives me pause. But I feel I should try teaching at the secondary level for a few years (and if for no other reason than to see if I like it, as well as NYS requiring teachers to teach for two years, full-time, to get permanent certification) before moving on anyway.
  9. And one of the biggest factors is that I don't want to go somewhere without Chris, who has a job and career of his own. We're in a rather strange limbo; we've been dating 8 years, so there's a sense of responsibility. We're not married, so we're not tied to each other in that fashion, nor have we been only dating a few months. I would want his moral support, and his presence. Picking up and going out of state would be really difficult as it is, let alone if we both had to find work.
Last April, when I was at the 4Cs conference in New Orleans, I waylaid Harry and asked him for his input, attempting to explain (badly) my hesitancy in applying to doctoral programs. Since we happened to be out at dinner with a number of other doctoral students, we opened it up for discussion, and although everyone said that of course it was my decision, almost universally I was told that I most certainly should not put my career on hold for any one - not Chris, not anyone - and that I should apply and go get the doctorate. I tried to emphasize that I feel a sense of responsibility to Chris, but that got brushed aside. I'm not sure that any of them, Harry aside, is in any long-term relationship, which may have affected their response. 

Earlier this evening I read this article, which sums up the issue nicely: "The two-body problem in academe is absolutely brutal. For reasons I still don’t understand, it’s seldom addressed directly in graduate programs, so each new cohort discovers it anew. If the two halves of the couple are both academics in evergreen disciplines, and neither is a superstar, then the odds of them getting satisfying jobs within live-together distance are vanishingly small."

Right now, I'm inclined to apply to see what happens. There are two programs in the NYC-area that offer doctorates in my field, but only one that I'd consider applying to, but if I'm not entirely sure I'd actually attend if I were accepted. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I write this post in a moment of semi-vulnerability; it's rare that I allow myself to write publicly during such times. It's nothing too serious, I think, and I think that "this too shall pass," but this does not stop me from being deeply discouraged lately (by which I mean this past year).

I'm discouraged because I can't find a teaching job. Yes, I know that they can be difficult to find; yes, I know that it's possible I may not find one; yes, I know that it's quite possible I will find one. But I've sent out hundreds of resumes - seriously; I am not exaggerating - and have yet to have a single job offer, even from a school I know would be a bad fit. It's hard to not take this personally; even if it's not entirely personal, some part of it is. Why does no one who is in the position of hiring me think enough of me to hire me, to think I could be just a basic, good, solid teacher? I refuse to believe I couldn't be a good teacher; I innately feel that I am and that I have talent in this area.

I'm discouraged because I'm tired of being poor. Yes, I know that there are people who are truly poor, who don't have anyone to live with, who go hungry, etc. Yet I thoroughly dislike being so financially dependent on anyone (and in the past few years, this person has been Chris) that I can't afford to buy the train tickets I need to get to and from school, to buy my school supplies and books, or even buy my own food much of the time. I've worked every single job offer I've ever gotten at school (or anywhere, for that matter, this past year), and it's still not been enough. Do you really know what this does to a person who likes to be independent enough to support herself and to live on her own? I want to feel that I live with Chris because I choose to, because we both want to live together, and not simply because it's that I have nowhere else to go. This is how I feel much (most) of the time. I hope Chris doesn't feel that way.

I'm discouraged because I feel myself getting burned out in school - again. I was tired of school by the time I reached 9th grade; I was burned out by the time I graduated (barely) from high school; and I certainly needed a break before going back to college. (I am thankful I worked for several years before going back to college, and I am thankful I moved to New York. I wouldn't have been able to develop a sense of self without doing so.) I am doing very well in school right now - the best I've ever done; my G.P.A. will be quite good - but I've been pushing myself this past year because I know I'll need to stop afterwards and take a mental break. I still have a post to write about all I'm thinking about in terms of doctoral studies, but I'm still working that one out in my mind. My needing a break from college is one of the big reasons, but there are others.

I'm discouraged because I feel I have a shaky attachment to Catholicism right now. It's not as shaky as it once was, but I'm not happy with where I stand. I want to talk to a priest, but I'm not sure what I want to say; I want to go on a retreat, but I can't afford it. I want to be happy about one thing in my life. Right now I'm not happy about anything.

I'm discouraged because I'm not happy about anything right now. I'm discomfited, and I don't know how to get myself back. I do not want to be this person that I am right now. I want to be different, in every way that I can think of.

And I've kept all this largely to myself because what I dislike most of all are platitudes that people offer. I don't want to be told that all this will be all right, or that it will all work out. Right now, this does not help me. I don't know what would.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I used to be mildly irritated at people who proclaim surprise at the time of year, indicating surprise that it was whatever month it happened to be at the time. ("Where did the time go?" "I can't believe it's March/July/insert month here already.") But I do have to admit surprise that it's already the end of July. It's the last week of the English Summer Institute; I may or may not have tutoring for the first two weeks in August. I may just show up and hope for the best (I would hope that my students show up). I wasn't entirely counting on my even tutoring, though, so I had arranged for an interview at a local employment agency. I wasn't expecting too much to come out of it, which sounds like pessimism, but was in fact realism based on my experience working at an employment agency in Allentown a number of years ago. (That was actually a job I really enjoyed, which surprised me; I worked for the employment agency itself, not going out on assignments.)

I'm a bit of a hard-to-fit employee right now. I really only want something for August (once school starts up again, I can sub and/or tutor as much or as little as I'd like), which is difficult because there's less money to be made for short-term assignments. (One works less so is therefore less of a money-maker.) Also, if there's a more permanent vacancy, a company is more likely to want to be able to hire a temp employee. (The company can always go back to the employment agency - or to another agency - to find a better fit.) If an employee is only out for a day, there may not be the advance notice to find a replacement. Even if the employee is out for a few days, or even for a few weeks, there's also a good chance that the company may not look for a replacement if her work could be covered by other employees.

Nevertheless, I made an appointment at an employment agency, took various computer skills tests (which I did pretty badly on, despite knowing my way around Word and Excel and knowing how to find the actual answer if such problems were to arise in the workplace), filled out a pile of paperwork, took more computer aptitude-type tests, and met a recruiter, with whom I spent perhaps 25 minutes, and who told me she didn't have anything right now but we should be in touch by the end of the week. I'll be looking around for other employment agencies later this week, also; but I'm not too enthused because if I'm tutoring for the next few weeks, I really wouldn't mind having a week or two of not commuting to the city.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

All About BBQ

Chris has turned me into a bit of a foodie. I don't go out of my way to watch cooking shows or pay attention to culinary trends, but I have developed my palate and my tastes. (I point out does not make me a food snob; but if I go out someplace for dinner I can tell if the ingredients are fresh and have a certain degree of quality, and I can tell if the meal is well-prepared.) For years now we have had occasional conversations about BBQ. Chris has consistently indicated a dislike BBQ because the sauce that's applied generally tends to be that sticky sweet vaguely ketchup-y stuff. (I don't particularly care for that either.) Then, about 10 years ago, I was down in Florida visiting some friends who took me out for real BBQ, which I was not looking forward to, but which completely changed my mind. It was delicious: It was smoky like I wasn't expecting, and had no sauce at all. And I thought of that every time Chris proclaimed to dislike BBQ. Finally, a few months ago, he went to SXSW in Texas, where he was finally able to try some real, honest-to-goodness BBQ, and since then he and I have managed to try a few different BBQ restaurants. 

Chris discovered a place in Brooklyn, the Smoke Joint, which turned out to not be too far away from LIU, so one day last week, after he was done with work, he took the subway down to my neck of the woods and we met there for dinner. It was pleasant enough place, and I think I'd go back if I was looking for something local. (Chris had ribs, which looked great and which were apparently quite good, and a side of decent mac & cheese. I had the Brooklyn wings, which were covered in a spicy slightly yet sticky sauce - the type that gets all over you and won't let go - that I wouldn't have liked if it were not spicy; and for the main course, tolerably good hacked beef (needed salt) and a side of coleslaw, which I tend not to care for but which Chris raved about.) 

That weekend, quite inexplicably and without planning, we went to the local  Famous Dave's, which is a chain. We weren't expecting anything amazing, but we were pleasantly surprised. Not fabulous, really, but I think we'd go again. (We both got a two meat BBQ combo with an extra meat; Chris had the ribs, brisket, and hot link sausage with a side of cole slaw and potato salad; I had the ribs, roasted chicken, and sweetwater catfish with a side of "Firecracker green beans"; and of course we shared.)

Last night we met up with Vhary and went to Virgil's BBQ in the Theater District in New York City. This was probably the best of the three places we'd been to. We split an order of the "Trainwreck Fries" and "Oklahoma State Fair Corndogs," which were both good. Vhary tried the brisket melt for an entree, while Chris and I each had a two meat combo (he had the ribs and brisket with sides of cole slaw and, I believe, country greens; I had ribs and lamb, with sides of macaroni & cheese, and cheese grits). I don't think Vhary's brisket melt had her over the moon, but I was thrilled with my ribs and lamb. 

I still don't know enough to differentiate between the different types of BBQ, and I'm not that excited about the prospect of adding sauce; each place we visited within the past two weeks seemed to have different sauces available (usually on the table, but not always), in variations of hot, mild, and something mustardy. I know there are differences in smoking the meat, types of wood used, different rubs, etc. But the ribs I've had so far have been amazing and I think that from now on, they'll be a staple of whatever I order at a BBQ joint. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Days of Teaching & Tutoring

The first few days after I was home after my trip to Ireland were a bit rough; my return was not optimally planned, as it were. I got home Monday afternoon, and had to be up Tuesday morning at 6:45 to start my new gig as a co-teacher (or mentor, depending on whom one asks) for the LIU English Summer Institute.

Hanging out at the Dublin airport, I noticed a few Internet terminals that were open, so I hopped online for a few minutes (as much to kill some time as much as taking the opportunity to check e-mail); I had gotten an e-mail from Ann, who was offering an extra section of ESI to a few of us, since it seemed that one of the mentors would not be able to take the work. The timing was serendipitous, because the e-mail had just arrived in my inbox less than a day previously, so I immediately volunteered and managed to wrangle said second section, so now I'm assisting with one of the two morning sessions, and one of the two evening sessions; the only downside is that there are six hours between sessions, which is a lot but still not quite enough time to make going home worthwhile.

And of course, the downside isn't really a downside, since Courtney lets me hang out at ARC and tutor, help out at the desk, and generally make myself useful. This makes for a long day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays - get up by 6:45 a.m., get back home at around 9:45 p.m. - but it's only three days a week for the month of July, and once I get home, even though I have to get to bed almost immediately, I don't have any work to accomplish by the next day. And the four day weekends are good compensation. I'm enjoying ESI pretty well at this point (I still can't believe it's already halfway done). I'm really enjoying the students, who are varying degrees of eager and friendly.

I've been conflicted about which age group I'd like to teach. I was convinced for a long time that secondary (grades 7-12) was where I should be, but I never quite found my groove during student teaching, but it's quite likely that it was just the places where I student taught, and the short amount of time I was there. I liked the middle school kids, and if I were to be at a school like the Center School again, I could be quite happy there. But I really like the high-school-to-college arc, that young adult age in which kids are still really open and want to share what's on their minds. I also really enjoy being able to guide and mentor the students in a way I hadn't been at that age. The trouble I'm having finding full-time work within the field of teaching is making me doubt how much I want to be teaching at the secondary level. I suspect I could be quite happy teaching undergrads, actually, and could slip very easily into that level; but I feel I owe it to myself to at least try teaching at a high school or middle school for at least two or three years - long enough to get permanent teaching certification, which is the other aspect of it. In order to get permanent certification, one needs at least a master's degree (and I'm two-thirds of the way there) as well as two years full-time teaching. I certainly could use the experience - as well as a paycheck - and I'm not likely to get much more than adjunct opportunities at the university level with just a master's degree.

I also need to consider whether I want to go further in graduate school and get my doctorate - but that's a whole other blog post, which I suspect will be forthcoming.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ireland - Part 4: The Skelligs

Well, I have to admit that the trip out to the Skellig Islands (the larger of which, Skellig Michael, is home to the monastery that we wanted to climb up to) was quite an adventure. We showed up on Friday morning at Port Magee hoping for the best, in terms of sea conditions, since the Skelligs are about 10 miles out and the ocean out there has the potential to be very choppy, even in more ideal situations. Friday morning was also rainy, which didn't help the situation. I did manage to take one short video of us when we had gotten on the boat, and had wanted to take a few more, but I didn't want to test the waterproof status of my camera:

We (Mom, Dad, and I) crawled over two other smallish boats to get to the boat that would take us out there; there couldn't have been more than a dozen passengers on each boat. We were all given rain pants to put on, but they weren't that great; the pair I was lent didn't fit; Mom's weren't waterproof. By the end of the afternoon we were all pretty much soaked through.

The boat trip took about 45 minutes, and the ocean got choppier the closer we got to Big Skellig (Skellig Michael). There were steps that had been carved into the side it, but one had to wait for the proper conditions to clamor over the boat and onto the steps, which were somewhat narrow. (The boat's captain had tied the boat to something-or-other that was protruding from the steps, but didn't actually knot the rope; he was essentially holding the boat as close to the steps as he could; between the rough waters one had to wait a minute or two until the boat was steady enough.) The walk up started easy enough, and there was a little shelter under which one could wait (and which is where I hung out for the duration), but by this time it was raining pretty steadily, and everything was thoroughly wet. I knew that it was a strenuous walk up to the top of Skellig Michael, that we didn't have much time to explore, and I couldn't envision possible safety measures at the top, so I decided to just admire the view of Little Skellig, the scenery. and bond with the several hundred puffins that stick around, while Mom and Dad made it all the way to the top - no small feat, considering there are just over 600 steps; no hand railing; and apparently the steps are sandwiched between a wall and a nothing. (Mom said she had actually gone down some of the steps sitting down, and was glad she did; another tourist slipped on the steps, which were slippery, and fell on her; had she not been sitting down, they both very well might have fallen off the cliff.) And by the time Mom and Dad got up there, they only had about 10 minutes before having to come back down. As it was we all just barely made the boat.

The boat ride back was really an adventure. As I was waiting for Mom and Dad to come back down, I was peering down at the three boats that had deposited tourists, and I noticed that they (the boats) were all bobbing like corkscrews. (I truly never appreciated that imagery until that moment.) Getting back on the boat from those slippery, stone steps was even more of a challenge, and it was at the moment I ceased caring about personal space and just used several other tourists as a means to balance myself as a I found a seat. Mom and I decided to just sit on the floor of the boat and hold on to the side, which was a wise move, I think; more than a few waves came over the side and doused us pretty well before the boat's captain shuffled us off to the other side of it.

We stopped for a few minutes to take a look at Little Skellig, which serves as a nature preserve; boats aren't allowed to dock there, and it serves as a gannet colony. Truly, Little Skellig is absolutely covered in gannets; there are so many that it looks snow capped. (I took a picture for reference.)

We were all glad to get out of the boat, though. We had to drive back to Arigna still, and we didn't get home until about 11:15 p.m. that night, all of us exhausted. We spent all of Saturday recovering, Mom and Dad especially, since they were wiped out from all the climbing (after which Mom drove all the way back herself). It was most definitely worthwhile going to the Skelligs, and I was very disappointed that I didn't get to climb to the top, but I didn't trust my (lack of a) sense of balance with the weather as it was. This was a total judgement call - I observed various other people also deciding not to climb to the top - but I'm doubtful I'd ever go back. The sea was just too unpredictable and too rough for me to chance that again.