ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

January recap

The groundhog said six more weeks of winter, and right on schedule an Arctic blast is heading toward us. We had days of rain this week but now snow and sub-zero temperatures are on their way. Good times. In other news, while I can’t say that every day is just like the one before, they are way too similar for my liking. At least Bill Murray was eventually able to modify his behavior to escape Groundhog Day. Meanwhile, here in Missouri, the vaccine has made it to hospital staff (which is very good) but not much past that.

WORK

I been teaching my undergraduate class in hybrid format for the last two weeks. This means that some students come to class and the rest log in remotely on Zoom. I’m in a classroom that has a non-pandemic capacity of 84 and a pandemic capacity of 31. So far I’ve had four or five students show up in person out of the 29 total in the class. I may get more, although probably not this week, what with the cold snap. But even having a handful makes it feel a bit more like a normal class. I am not good yet at managing the balance between the two groups, although we’ve had some stretches where people from both sites are talking. I’ll get back on our Teaching & Learning Center’s website and see if they have tips I haven’t thought of yet. It’s a work in progress, and it’s tiring, but it is so nice to be back in the classroom. And the mask isn’t nearly as inhibiting as I thought it would be; I have frequently forgotten I’m wearing it.

We have had several department meetings, none of them particularly enjoyable. We did revive our longest-running seminar as a Zoom meeting this week, and that worked well. It was lovely to see everyone again, and the paper was good, with excellent analysis from the discussant and equally insightful questions from the rest of the participants. Scholarship occurred!

Papers are being revised for resubmission to journals. Grant proposals are being written.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished one novel and part of a second in January. That was it. It’s the least I’ve read in years, probably more than a decade. I wanted to read, I wasn’t having reader’s block, I just didn’t have the time. The one book I did complete was excellent: Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about BBC people during the early years of WWII and the Blitz: Human Voices. It follows the fortunes of a handful of producers, assistants, and voice talent over the course of a few months. It’s very episodic with not much plot to speak of. People come and go, they experience love, career events, and sorrows. She drops the reader into the setting without explanation and you have to navigate any number of acronyms and jargon, but I just went with the flow.

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2021

It did seem at times as if 2020 was never going to end, but I guess it had to one way or another. I haven’t blogged since September and I’m of two minds about blogging regularly (mostly thinking no, but never say never). But it felt weird not to do some kind of year-end post. So here I am again. Hello!

Reading

I read 54 books in 2020, which is considerably fewer than in recent years, but not bad considering the circumstances. I read most in literary fiction, then mysteries, then SFF, then finally romance. The romance genre and I have finally broken up for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. It’s been coming, as you’ve no doubt noticed. I’ve enjoyed going back to mysteries, mixing new authors with old favorites. And my classic novel readings have been rewarding.

I’ve basically given up challenges and reading awards lists; I mostly ignored the Booker lists (both international and English-language) and not much on my favorite Goldsmith’s longlist appealed this year. I also just didn’t have the headspace for challenging books unless I knew in advance I wanted to read them. I kept up my focus on translated novels and found some gems in Korean and Japanese fiction. And early in the year (it really was still in 2020) I read the most recent Javier Cercas.

I read a lot from my TBR, with half of the 54 coming from that. I cancelled library holds and/or sent back requested books unread. I have a handful on hold for this winter, but they’re familiar authors. I was one of the few people who seemed to like and value reading the Don Delillo novella, The Silence. Yes, it was a lesser Delillo in some ways but it also speaks so much to our current conditions, or at least it did to me.

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Weeknote 15

It’s almost fall, and the weather is already there. Now if the mosquitoes and biting flies would just take a hike, it would be perfect.

It was a “normal” week. TheH has his teaching routine down and my second class finally got going, so where we are is where we’ll be until Thanksgiving week, at least we will be if we don’t get shut down again. So far, so good; our Covid dashboard is not exploding. But we’re only partway through testing all the students.

WORK

I thought that campus would be busier once all the students came back, but it still feels pretty empty. Not as bad as before classes started, but with so many classes online and all the requirements of distancing and spacing if you do come to campus, there aren’t a lot of incentives to be present. From what I can tell everyone is adhering to the rules when on campus. I’ve heard stories of parties and gatherings off-campus, like every other school, but if they cause infections to spike it will take a while to show up in the numbers.

Work is pretty routinized at this point. I go in twice a week and teach from my office, which is easier and quieter, but there’s not really much to report. Everything is done via video-conferencing, even meetings with people who are local, because we’re not supposed to meet in person except when necessary. If you want to hold meetings outside you have to sign up for one of the designated spaces. It’s all in aid of abundant caution and effective contact tracing, I imagine, but it discourages anything spontaneous.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

One of my new-release library holds came in and I managed to finish the book in less than a week. It was Red Pill by Hari Kunzru. I really enjoyed White Tears a couple of years ago, and this one was not quite as good but well worth reading. The narrator is a writer who goes to Berlin on a three-month residency at a center/retreat, but he still can’t find a way to write and he winds up becoming caught up in intrigues about privacy, stories about surveilled life in East Germany, and crackpot alt-right theories about how the world works. He slowly loses his grip and the novel spirals into something even less grounded in the last third or so, but then returns to reality at the end. It’s a hard book to describe without giving away the whole storyline. It doesn’t quite succeed in what it’s trying to do, and Kunzru has as hard a time writing about the alt-right as most non-alt-right authors, but he is so smart and writes so well and in such an interesting way that I was swept along on the ride. As with White Tears, I continued to think about the novel and its ideas after I had finished.

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Weeknote 14

Hello again. It’s been a while. Labor Day has come and gone, the university is fully starting back today, and we’re all holding our breaths to see if we can finish what we begin.

I spent most of my work time over the last two months preparing to teach my two classes. I took an online course to get more ideas on how to teach online courses, we drove to California without the dogs and spent three weeks, and we saw a handful of friends at a distance. Sometimes the days flew by and sometimes they took forever. But here we are.

WORK

I started my law school class three weeks ago. It’s fully remote, with at least half the students in different time zones, so I teach at 8am, which is the earliest I’ve ever met a class. I can’t say I enjoy teaching that early, but it does leave me with a lot of the teaching day free. So far it’s gone well. There was a lot of throat-clearing and introductory material in the first two weeks, because the students are new to the program and university and they’re missing the usual orientation activities. So we spend some time talking about non-class things. But they seem eager to get going and to learn.

I start my department grad class this week, finally, along with everyone else teaching in the parts of the university that were on the delayed timetable. The class is scheduled as a hybrid, with both in-person and remote attendance, but so far the majority of the students have informed me they’ll be remote. I have a feeling it’s going to wind up fully remote, but you never know. Both classes are synchronous, which means that while I have activities and assignments that try to compensate for not being in person, we’re still meeting as a class for the usual times. The main thing I want to figure out is how to get them to talk to each other outside class, since building cohort solidarity provides important resources in graduate school.

I had all kinds of plans for asynchronous pedagogy: narrated slides, podcasts, and of course the always recommended and mostly despised discussion boards. But the nature and purpose of my classes are such that student interaction is at least as important as what they learn individually. So I’m dialing back the out of class activities to focus on making the class a jumping off point for them to work together more.

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Weeknote 13 (and hiatus)

We had a very nice trip to Colorado. It was good to get to go beyond the Outer Ring freeway for the first time in 3 months.

RRW is going on hiatus for a while. I am finding the internet an increasingly unpleasant place to be in the current environment. You’d think when your world has shrunken to the extent ours has that having a window into a bigger world would be helpful. But there’s too much chaff to find the wheat, at least for me. Being outside, talking (virtually or otherwise) to people, spending time doing productive things, just seem like better options. I have Fall2020 classes to prepare, for which I can access help that doesn’t come with complaints and angst as part of the package. I am knitting. I am reading, fitfully. I am writing, slowly. We cleaned up our bicycles and have been tooling around the neighborhood and campus. Rowing in the basement is better than I expected (and the treadmill is bearable). The tomatoes are coming in thick and fast. The kale hasn’t turned bitter yet. It’s very hot and humid, but that’s STL in July for you.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay away; probably at least through the summer and maybe until after Election Day. Stay safe, everyone, and good luck getting through this.