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Tag: reading

LFH: I’m losing count of the days

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately, and don’t ask me how many days it’s been since we went into isolation. 40? Something like that. We landed in STL on March 13th, came straight home and the great sequestering began. So that was 41 days ago. Tomorrow will complete six weeks. It feels much longer in some ways and shorter in others. Mostly longer, though.

Yesterday I taught my last two Zoom sessions. It was bittersweet. I’ll miss my students and I’ll miss the structure that teaching twice a week provided, but I won’t miss the exhaustion, stress dreams, and wakefulness in the middle of the night. I read that everyone is sleeping badly now and having bizarre dreams when they do sleep. There are reasons for this, but no remedies. But last night we both slept reasonably well, and I’m sure it’s because we aren’t mentally preparing for the next onslaught of Zoom sessions. The cognitive drain of Zoom is so much greater than face-to-face teaching, or any other kind of meeting, really.

On the happy side of Zoom, though, I had my first two Zoom Happy Hours. One was a replacement for our semi-annual conference dinners (one of the conferences would have taken place this past weekend) and the other was a Blast From the Past get-together with regular drinking buddies from my NYC days (only one of us still lives there now). It was terrific to catch up, even though in both cases the conversations had their depressing phases. Higher education institutions are not in good places now and things are only going to get worse. And we (the Zoom Happy Hour people) are the lucky ones. We’ll still have our jobs in four months.

My university furloughed 1300 people this week, mostly from the medical side, but the Arts & Sciences furloughs are coming. Budgets are being reworked. And so on. There is just so much uncertainty. It seems highly likely that we’ll be teaching at least part of the fall semester online, but no announcements have been made. The possibilities include starting online and finishing face to face, starting the semester later, and probably other options I haven’t heard about.

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LFH: Days 22-28

Another work week, another set of fires to put out. But I think they are mostly quashed and just smoldering at this point. It’s better to have something to do than the reverse, though. The College fielded a survey of the undergraduates and it reinforced my anecdata that they like having synchronous classes to show up to. It structures their days and gives them a little bit of near-normalcy. Unfortunately, most of their professors seem to have landed on the same approach to moving online, which is to give them more written work. And we thought we were being so original!

I went into Canvas, a course organization platform I do not like at all but which is now my most visited site, and checked to see if any of my students had disappeared. But all of them are at least checking the material, so that was a relief. Not everyone is “engaging” at the same rate, but I don’t think anyone is so far behind they can’t catch up. I’ll know better in a couple of days after I go through all of the students’ materials one by one and see where they are. I should have done this a week ago but my “spare” work time was taken up with all the other admin. Now that is mostly wrapped up and I can put some extra time into course maintenance.

I decreased the effort level needed for the final assignment of the class. Usually the students do a group project followed by a short paper. The group project went out the window as soon as we were back from break, and I replaced that and the short paper with a research paper or take-home exam. But after seeing the results of the survey and hearing anecdotally from my students that they were feeling overburdened by the overall changes to their classes, I revised yet again. They can write shorter papers with less research (plenty of thinking but not as much digging for material) or there is a second option where they have to write short reviews and reflections on each of the assigned readings. They had to do some of the latter anyway, so this involves doing it for all of the readings, not just some. I also left the take-home exam option because some students want that.

I wish there was more I could do. I want them to come out of the class knowing the material and having expertise in the subjects, but the usual assessment techniques seem unhelpful in this environment. I know they’re showing up because I can see what they’re doing. Some of my students have family members with the virus. Some have underlying conditions which put them in the risk category. Some are in hotspots and can’t go out and don’t have congenial workspaces at home. Some are cooped up with a bunch of family members. And yet they are there, reading the material and doing the worksheets and coming to the Zoom classes.

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Weeknote 3

This post is coming in just under the wire.

WORK

Classes are classes. Meetings are meetings. Lots of email. Nothing very interesting to report; I’m getting back into the rhythm of the semester. We figured out next fall’s curriculum for our program in the night school and fixed some summer school scheduling issues. Zzzzzz. (Yes, these tasks are part of the Director of Undergraduate Studies job, presumably because the classes are at the undergraduate level.)

The grad student I work with the most came back from a very successful six weeks of interviews and data collection, so that’s been fun to hear about. We have lots to catch up on and more work to do. But in a good way.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

We (re-)watched Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this week. How’s that for popcorn viewing? TheH loves this series and I’ve finally gotten the hang of what’s going on. In further timepass opportunities, it turns out that Pluto TV has a dedicated Midsomer Murders channel , which has provided an alternative when the PBS NewsHour is preempted by wall-to-wall impeachment coverage. And no, we’re not watching. We read about it and listen to the recaps on the news programs. That’s more than enough.

I had a couple of fiction library holds come in and sent them back again because I’m not getting much reading time. I am working my way through the Cercas and it continues to be excellent. I’m also reading a couple of nonfiction books related to my Project 333 endeavour, The Conscious Closet and The Curated Closet. They’re both pretty good, although I’m skimming parts. I plan to write up my experiences with the first month of limiting my wardrobe and I’ll talk a bit more about them there. The books are very good for offering alternatives to (and reasons for avoiding) fast fashion, but since I’m not much of a fast fashion person that isn’t directly useful to me. But there are other aspects that are, and we should all be thinking about ways to limit our textile consumption given its effects on the environment.

Liverpool is 19 points ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League, and Anfield has finally decided it’s OK to sing the We’re Going to Win the League song. Me too. 🙂

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Weeknote 2

School, snow, freezing rain, ice; all the fun stuff.

WORK

Between the intro sessions and the MLK holiday, I’ve only taught 50 percent of my class periods over the last two weeks. One is going very well, the other is only OK, perhaps because I haven’t taught it in three years and I’m still feeling my way to a rhythm. They’re both set up the same way, with theoretical and abstract readings to provide a foundation, but I walk out of them feeling quite differently. Oh well, it’s the beginning and it’s me, not the students. The OK one will improve.

I forgot to mention that I’m the Director of Undergraduate Studies this semester. A colleague and I have split the work for the last two years and this is the last of it. I describe being DUS as comparable to being nibbled to death by ducks: there are rarely big crises, but there’s always something. So. Much. Email.

Nothing else I can really write about, just the usual meetings. My two regular seminars start up again this week and next, so that will provide a rhythm along with class times. I have some letters of recommendation to write and a bunch of research papers to write up comments on.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

The Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl! I’m so happy for the team and the fans. They are a blast to watch, and it should be a great game. As a long-time 49ers fan as well I suppose I should be rooting for them, but it’s Chiefs all the way. Time to dig out our magnetic car logos and wear my logo wool varsity jacket.

One of my 2019 holds from the library came in, Javier Cercas’s latest “nonfiction novel” Lord of All the Dead. It’s a companion work to Soldiers of Salamis and so far it’s really good. I love his writing style, which is deceptively informal and feels unselfconscious, but the words and phrases are beautifully chosen. You notice how well it’s written almost after the fact.

I’m also continuing to work my way through The Steep Approach to Garbadale, which is starting to be work. Much as I love Banks, this is not his best novel by any stretch, and the audio format makes the digressions and quirks more apparent to me. I just hit a chapter where the breasts of not one but two women are described in detail and I was grateful to have a reason to stop listening for a while. I’ll keep going because it’s Banks, but I’m bummed he is yet another male author whose characters are obsessed with breasts over other body parts. I hadn’t noticed this is his other books, but then I’ve mostly been reading the M. novels up to now.

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Weeknote 1

I’m starting over numbering the 2020 Weeknotes. Let’s see how many I can manage; I had 21 in 2019, but I didn’t start until partway through the year.

WORK

The spring semester began yesterday. I’m teaching two undergraduate classes, both of which I’ve taught before and which I enjoy a great deal. They also require regular updating because things are constantly happening, but that also means that the students are interested. And I have enough assistants that I don’t have to do all the work myself. It feels like a light semester even though technically it’s not.

I got to throw a drinks party for a visiting professor and his family, whom we’re trying to recruit. The weather was awful but the party was fun. Fingers crossed.

I’m on one (and a half) committees this semester. The one is a college scholarship committee that is always enjoyable. There’s nothing like interviewing whip-smart high school students to make you feel as if maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. The half is the end of the Committee That Ate The Second Half of 2019 and Part of My Sabbatical. It shouldn’t be too much work, maybe a couple of meetings and a memo.

Which means I may actually have time for some writing! Which is good, since the pile of to-be-written is rivalling my pile of to-be-read.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Liverpool, all through the holiday fixtures. I’m almost starting to believe that at 16 points clear of the 2nd place team in the EPL, they can win the title for the first time in 30 years. Almost. I’m not counting ANY chickens.

I’m also watching the NFL playoffs and rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. We went to all their games for five years in the early 2000s when we had friends on the staff. They been shut out almost as long as Liverpool has, and I’d love to see them make it.

I read a fun, unjustly obscure book when we were away for the weekend right after New Year’s. It’s called The Ascent of Rum Doodle and it’s a satire of the mountain-climbing memoir genre of the 1930s and 1940s. We found it in a store in London and I bought it because the Mt. TBR Challenge has Rum Doodle as its first level. I’d never heard of it before but as I was reading, I was reminded of passages of various serious mountaineering books I’ve read, including the excellent Into the Silence. The satirical tone gets a bit heavy-handed at times (as satires do), but the book is short and sustains itself well.

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