ReaderWriterVille

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Category: teaching

Weeknote 19

I meant to write a post at the beginning of the week. Hah. It’s already Friday and I’m not sure where the days went.

WORK

It’s he start of school, which means finishing up the syllabi (always at the last minute for me, always), remembering to hit the “publish” button in Canvas if you want the students to have access, and negotiating a waitlist that is almost as long as the size of the seminar. I drove a few students away with the class requirements, but not enough. I’m almost there, though. The annual meetings always disrupt this process because we teach a class or two and then go away for the rest of the week and then come back and have Labor Day off. I wish we started on the Tuesday after, the way sensible east coast universities do. But the midwest schools have a long semester calendar. Thanks, annoying accreditation association.

I don’t always go to the meetings because they’re disruptive, but this year I had to go and I wound up having a good time. Did the work I needed to do and got to spend time with old friends.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for my committee’s work, at least for this iteration. We’re not done by any means but we’re winding down for a while. But there are still visits to confirm and plan (so many emails) and memos to write. But I’m not behind. It’s a miracle.

My grad classes are starting out well and the students look interesting and engaged. One of them is half lecture, half seminar, and the other is all seminar. Come to think of it, I’m mostly teaching in seminar format this semester. That’s unusual for me.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Reading, what is that? I did not come anywhere near finishing my 20 Books of Summer challenge, although I enjoyed what I did read and I started a bunch of the books on the list. Barb was so right when she said it was a challenging list. I’m not sure why I read less this summer than last year. Part of it was that our holiday didn’t have much reading time, and I think the other part is that I was working more this summer than I was last year, so there was more academic reading in my schedule. And the Booker reading swallowed a big chunk of time. Still, I enjoyed the challenge and I’ll definitely keep on with the list. I’ll write up a separate post soon.

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Weeknote 18

It has begun. School, that is. There’s something weird about spending one’s entire life on an academic schedule, but it’s too late to change now. August means ramping up the work, stress, and pace. I do feel refreshed from my semester off, though. Now if I can just keep up my exercise schedule.

WORK

Our road trip back to St. Louis was uneventful and relatively quick (2050 miles in three days). The dogs were very cooperative and so was the weather. The house was in one piece when we got back (always a relief, and once we hacked away the hydrangeas and viburnum from around the a/c, the house cooled down well (don’t worry, the plants are fine, it’s just that all the rain made them grow enormously despite being cut back in the spring).

My committee work is proceeding well. A couple of complexities that had to be dealt with, but they eventually were and we’re moving along. Lots and lots of phone calls and emails and meetings, but then, it’s a committee.

My classes look like they’ll go well, at least the two that have already met look good. The undergrad one has a waitlist as long as the enrollment (it’s a writing in the major seminar on immigration, so it ticks a lot of boxes). But eventually it will resolve with some happy students and some disappointed ones. The usual. I’m happy with the tweaks I made to my syllabi, though. I have to completely revamp the grad one but while it will be a pain to do, it will greatly improve the course. The only blot on the landscape is Canvas, our online teaching “aid.” I thought I hated Blackboard, but Canvas is even worse. It has many ways of doing things I don’t care about and no ways of doing the things I want. I copied a previous course and then had to update everything manually. No bulk changes and the syllabus doesn’t let you upload a syllabus. You have to type everything in manually. Yeah right. Grrr.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I haven’t been reading, as in eyes on page, much the last couple of weeks. I managed to enjoy and finish my TBR Challenge book, but I’m in the middle of one that really should be read in a couple of sittings and I’ve been dragging it out for a week. It’s Kevin Barry’s Booker longlisted novel, and it’s good, but I’m just not in the mood for it right now. I’m feeling kind of—I don’t know what the right word is … frustrated? grumpy? dissatisfied? Some combination of the three—about my reading choices right now. This happens to me on a regular schedule: I started chafing against lists and challenges and reading the new new thing. I want to read all my 20 Books of Summer books, for example, but I don’t necessarily want to read them now. I think next year might be a year for classics and books in the TBR that have been there forever. Just avoid the new new things for a while. On the other hand, I am thinking about reading Anniversaries a chapter per day (it’s written as a chapter a day in 1967-8), so I’m probably incorrigible.

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Weeknote 2

Another Sunday, another Weeknote. And already I’m feeling a bit stressed because I didn’t finish what I meant to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything, just other things.

Work

The paper is closer to being off my desk but not yet off my desk. I cracked something that had been eluding me for a couple of weeks, though, so that was progress. Now it’s a matter of getting it down on paper. I should have the bulk of it to my coauthor by Tuesday and then it will take another day or two to polish off the rest of what I need to do, while he’s working on the part I’ve given him.

I had multiple meetings about administrative stuff with colleagues this week. Of course I’m not supposed to but that’s the price you pay when you go to the office. And when things need to get done or they’ll be bigger and much worse when it is the proper time to work on them. But I think we solved a couple of issues that I couldn’t have addressed by myself, and I should be able to move stuff on to the next round this week. If I tie myself to a chair, since writing memos is not in the top 100 things I enjoy doing. Bullet points! Problem-solution format!

One more letter of recommendation and some emails. A doddle.

I was about to type: and then maybe I can get back to other writing I’ve been wanting to do. Which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It has to be incorporated into all this other stuff I’m doing. One of the mistakes academics who devote a lot of time and attention to teaching make is to think you can do the other work, the non-outward-facing work, in down times like weekends, non-teaching-related days, summers. But that’s not how it works. It has to be part of your regular practice.

Reading

I’m in the midst of a couple of books this week. I took a break from the Man Booker International list and started Country by Michael Hughes, which I’ve had out via ILL for the last two months but haven’t managed to read. It goes back this weekend so it’s now or never. So far it’s really good. Hughes relocates the characters and storyline of The Iliad to 1990s Northern Ireland. We have characters named Achill, Pat, and Nellie. The writing is musical and recalls Homer while still being entirely modern and Irish. Cathy of 746Books has an excellent review here. It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I hope it gets a good promotional push. And for you audiobook fans, look for it in that version.

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Weeknote 1

This is the first in what I hope is a regular Sunday series. I got the idea from Baldur Bjarnason, who got the idea from Amy Hupe and other people. A Weeknote is pretty much what it sounds like: a weekly report that is similar to journaling but more public. I don’t journal, and while I’m good at making to-do lists I’m very bad at doing the week-in-review or week-to-come lists which are also cornerstones of many productivity systems. I’ll use my weeknotes to talk about work, reading, and miscellaneous stuff.

Work

I have been working on revisions to a paper that needs to be sent out sooner rather than later. It’s our third round because every time you submit to a journal you need to tweak it for that particular audience. It’s been rejected twice, which is not unusual in my discipline, especially when the paper appeals across several audiences but isn’t necessarily core to any of them. This is the biggest tweak we’ve done since our initial post-conference-presentation revisions, and my part has taken me a while. But I was finally able to get myself into the headspace I needed (changing disciplinary audiences is harder than moving to a different audience within the same discipline), and I’m almost done. Which is good because I’m thoroughly sick of this paper and need it to go away.

I also had some teaching and tutorial work to do this week despite not being in residence. Recommendation letter, grad students, and recruitment do not go away just because I want to.

Reading

I finished a couple of books this week, both library reads that were about to expire. Both were excellent. I read Claudia Rankine’s The White Card, which is the script of a play she wrote that was produced last year in Boston. I have a review of it scheduled for tomorrow. I also finished Juan Gabrial Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins, which I read as part of the Man Booker International longlist. I’ve only read two plus parts of three others, but it is going to be hard to beat. Review to come.

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Booker longlist reading: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Just under the wire, I finished one of my most eagerly awaited longlist nominees. Shamsie’s novel has received rave reviews all over the place and is the bookie’s favorite to make the shortlist. It’s a topic that I’ve studied and written on and one that matters a lot to me: the way in which the post 9/11 (and in this case, 7/7) attacks have reshaped the way Muslims are perceived and treated in western Europe and North America. Shamsie’s novel is set in the UK and focuses on the particular issues there, but the larger themes apply across many settings.

Liz, Rosario, Theresa, and other Booker Longlist readers have described the plot so I won’t rehash that here (you should definitely go read their reviews and the comments to them). Shamsie models her story on the plot of Sophocles’ Antigone, with a few modifications in the cast and family relationships. In her telling there are two central families, one comprising Isma, Aneeka, and Pervaiz Pasha, the children of a British-Pakistani man who died fighting with Islamist terrorists; and the other headed by Karamat Lone, rising front-bench politician and current Home Secretary whose marriage to a wealthy, successful American businesswoman has propelled his career. Karamat and Terry have two children in their 20s: Emily, an investment banker in NY, and Eamonn, a somewhat aimless but charming and handsome 24-year-old.

Isma is the older mother-substitute, who finally has the chance to pursue her own intellectual ambitions when twins Aneeka and Pervaiz reach adulthood. But her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States sets a number of actions in motion, actions that will have devastating consequences for all of them. And Karamat Lone is drawn back into the Muslim community that has both raised and rejected him, with his political ambitions tied to events he can only imperfectly control.

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