Thursday, October 27, 2005


Day 60
27 October 2005

Haiku for the Mother of a Small Baby

I rise from bed like
the undead, shuffling toward noise.
Baby is hungry.

No shower for you
today? Don't be discouraged.
Someday she will nap.

Baby screams day and
night, produces gallons of
slobber. Teething sucks.

Foolish big person!
The baby did not give you
permission to sit.

O fuzzy-headed
queen, your wish is our command.
Please stop the screaming.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Day 58
25 October 2005

I registered for classes yesterday. I was initially very excited about this, for two reasons:

1. As a graduate student, I get to register before pretty much everybody else, except the other grad students. At this point, I'm not really concerned about the classes I want filling up before I can register - there's not an enormous demand for second-year Polish or Anglo-Saxon Literature - but it just gives me a smug, self-satisfied kind of feeling to know that I'M FIRST IN LINE, ha ha ha ha ha!!

2. I'm very excited about taking Anglo-Saxon Literature again. Old English is such a vivid, poetic language, and I love the challenge of translation. What is the author saying on a literal level? What does he want the audience to understand by saying it that way? What is the best way of saying that in Present-Day English, preserving as much of the original meaning and color as possible, but making it intelligible to the modern reader?

So, imagine my surprise when I found that 625 (Readings in Old English) had been scheduled for the same time as the British Romanticism course. There aren't very many graduate courses offered in a given semester; you would think they'd be able to avoid scheduling them on top of each other, especially when they're both in the same emphasis (English). I am VERY BITTER about this!

I talked to the professor, and it turns out the problem lies in the fact that the Linguistics secretary scheduled OE, and the English secretary scheduled Romanticism. Which brings me to another point: it irritates me that Old English is treated like the ugly stepchild of the English department. When Linguistics split from the English department a few years ago, it was fairly clear who should get custody of which courses. Milton? English. Syntax? Linguistics. And so on. In the case of Old English, however, Lang and Lit were granted dual custody. The introductory course is in the Linguistics department, but the Lit course is in English. Good luck finding it in the Graduate catalog, though - this semester I've seen several versions of the course schedule that didn't list it at all, even though it's being taught next semester. If one of my professors hadn't brought it to my attention a couple of years ago, I never would have known it existed. [Dr. Oaks, if you somehow stumble onto this blog, thanks again.] Gee, I wonder why so few people sign up for it?

Monday, October 17, 2005

the 800 lb. gorilla

Day 50
17 October 2005

Today’s class discussion in English was about critical theory. I agree that the question of whether critical theory should be taught in English departments (answer: yes) isn’t really a question any more; the profession has moved on to other questions, and some of these I find a little perplexing. Terry Eagleton, for example, seems to think that the point of the Humanities is to be proactive in instituting social change. This is not surprising given his Marxist background, but I confess that I don’t entirely see the connection between the Humanities and activism. This is not to say that there is no connection between literature and social issues, since there obviously is, and I am not naive enough to think that scholarship exists in a vacuum. But should we not all be activists, regardless of our field of study? Isn’t that a part of good citizenship? I don’t feel that the English department has a particular mandate to effect social change, any more than, say, the Biology department.

A question also arose from the discussion, about the difficulties of reconciling one’s religious faith with critical theory. This perplexed me as well. Maybe I don’t take theory seriously enough, but I’ve never really seen much of a conflict. When I took the undergrad critical theory class last year, we hit a few of the high points of Western philosophy and literary criticism, beginning with Plato and Aristotle, and working our way through to the twentieth century. In between we covered people like Sidney, Burke, Shelley, Arnold, Nietzsche (will I ever learn to spell that correctly?) Woolf, etc. representing a huge pantheon of wildly diverse ideas. One thing that immediately became clear to me as I read their work was that they could not all be “right.” Plato and Aristotle, for example, had completely opposite theories on the nature of the universe. So, what is a lowly undergraduate English student to think? Is the universe static or dynamic? Could it somehow be both, or neither? I think my ultimate response to those questions is, “Maybe I don’t know, but I’m OK with that.” I didn’t sign up for that class looking for answers about life, or the nature of the universe, or anything else, really. Understanding what each author was saying was an interesting intellectual exercise, but I didn’t find any of their arguments compelling enough to precipitate a crisis of faith. Did that class change my world view? Sure. Did it turn everything I knew upside-down? No.

We had a guest lecturer today who specializes in intellectual history (the same guy who taught my critical theory class, in fact). One thing he said that I found very interesting, is that critical theory is no longer about identity theory (feminism, post-modernism, queer theory, whatever). Instead he described something that sounded a lot like the study of philosophy. Well, OK, but don’t we already have a philosophy department? I haven nothing against interdisciplinarity, if it’s done well, but at what point have we encroached so far into another discipline that we are no longer primarily studying literature?

Monday, October 10, 2005

poetry on crack

Day 43
10 October 2005

The class discussion today revolved around the future of the English profession in the context of the increasing use of visual media as a form of communication and the potential proportional decrease in printed media. The article we read by Sven Birkerts (Into the Electronic Millennium) involved a great deal of unnecessary handwringing and hyperbole. Birkerts is certain that this whole electronic/visual thing is pretty much going to end civilization as we know it. However, the fact that his article was published in 1991 gives it a little less credence in view of the fact that civilization has not yet come to a grinding halt. Oddly enough, people seemed to have the same misgivings about the printing press, the telegraph, and the telephone as Birkerts does about video and the internet (see Mitchell Stevens, The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word). I'd like to think that the shift toward visual and electronic media will do for literature what photography did for painting. People didn't stop producing paintings when the camera came along; they found new ways to use their medium, which a camera could not imitate.

Nick showed us a clip from a video called The United States of Poetry, which was an award-winning PBS series about -- prepare to be astonished -- poetry in the United States. The opening sequence involved a short but intense MTV-esque barrage of imagery, which I think we're all kind of used to, so nobody had a seizure or anything. This was followed by Henry Real Bird reciting his "Driftwood Feelin'," which sounded like it might be kind of cool, except that he talked just fast enough for me to have a hard time understanding him. While he was talking they showed footage of him, and also of western landscapes ... that worked for me, since that seemed to be what he was talking about. But then we got George Ella Lyons' "I Am From," which was voiced over a bunch of imagery that seemed curiously disconnected from the words. There is a right way and a wrong way to make this kind of video, and with all due respect, whoever was in charge of this segment botched it. When the poem was talking about dirt under the porch, the video would show, say, a gate. Or a flower petal. Or a photo album. But not dirt, or a porch. There seemed to be a theme to the imagery, and the theme was not necessarily incompatible with the poem, but the disjunction between the specific images in the poem and the concurrent video images just made me irritable. My brain finally gave up on the poem and just watched the video. What a waste.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

complete non sequitur

Day 42
9 October 2005

The thing you have to know about my husband, Glen, is that he's a geek. He works with computers. He wrote something like twelve thousand lines of code for his Master's thesis project. He does math for fun in his spare time. (Yes! For fun!) So the other night he was trying to explain a hypothetical situation to me, wherein there are two smallish, portable, inter-dimensional teleport thingies that are somehow connected to each other, so that whatever you put into one portal instantly pops out of the other portal, no matter how far apart they are. He was wondering what would happen if you took one of the portals with you while skydiving, leaving the other one on the ground, and then, while you were skydiving (stay with me, here) put yourself through the portal that was with you. My immediate response was, "You are falling through the air at 60 miles an hour. You will hit the ground and go splat." Not so, he argued. Because the portal that you have with you has a relative velocity of zero (relative to you, because you're holding it, and it's moving at the same speed as you) you would simply step out of the other portal with a velocity of zero. He probably spent ten or fifteen minutes setting up this elaborate hypothetical, and when he had with great effort explained it sufficiently to get me to agree that yes, you would proably be able to step out of the other portal without splattering yourself all over the ground, he said, "So my question is, what happens to the kinetic energy?"

I love this man.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Day 40
7 October 2005

I skipped Polish today. Bad girl. I used the Peach as my excuse; she was sleeping when it was time to go, and I didn't want to wake her up. The truth is that it just seemed like too much effort to make myself presentable, and find my shoes, and get my books together, plus I knew that Peach would be grumpy if I woke her up, and then she'd probably cry all the way to campus, and I was just really tired ... and after all, it's not my fault that Conan O'Brien is on so late.

Because here's the thing: U2 was on Conan O'Brien last night, and we couldn't find a blank videotape. So we were just going to stay up for the first part where they were singing, and then the next thing I knew it was 12:30 a.m. But try telling your professor that you're too tired to come to class because you stayed up late watching a rock band he's never heard of on a TV show he's also never heard of. I may not be smart enough to go to bed early, but at least I know better than to tell my professor why I was up late. (Yes, I realize how lame it is that I think 12:30 a.m. is "late." In my defense, I have not had an uninterrupted night's sleep in five months, and my daughter wakes up at 5 a.m. every day.)

As a general rule, I don't particularly like Conan O'Brien. I've seen bits of his show once or twice, but he's never seemed very funny ... I'm more of a Letterman fan. Last night he was actually funny, although he didn't do a huge amount of talking, goofing around, etc. Hmm, Coincidence?

U2 rocked, as always.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

catching up

Day 29
26 September 2005

I am so stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How stupid am I? Glad you asked. I had an assignment due in English 600 today. Knew about the assignment for weeks. Started looking for articles for the assignment on Wednesday. Had a little trouble finding the articles I wanted. So, did I keep looking, maybe go to the library, get started reading? Of course not. I waited until Sunday night, when going to the library was not even a possibility. Finally settled on three articles that could be seen as relevant to my emphasis, with a little stretching; at that point my main criterion was that the full text needed to be available online. Sat down to read the articles at 10 p.m. Finished writing my responses at 4:30 a.m. Peach woke up at 5:00 a.m. Did I learn anything about the hazards of procrastination from my undergraduate career? Apparently I did not.

Funny - Sarah and I wanted all the same articles, and both had the same problems finding them. Our conversation when I got to class went approximately like this:

Sarah: So whose articles did you use?
Me: I wanted to use some of Nick's ...
Sarah: He had one about Belinda, but -
Me: - it was too short.
Sarah: Yeah. And did you see the one about gendering satire?
Me: Yeah, but the link to the "full text" turned out to be the full text of the abstract, not the article.
Sarah: I know. And I tried to find something from Steve, but all he's done recently is -
Me: - book reviews.
Sarah: Yeah.

Day 19
16 September 2005

Missed three days of Polish this week because Link has strep throat. Fortunately the professor is very understanding about stuff like that. He says I’m welcome to bring the kids to class with me, but I prefer not to unless it’s absolutely unavoidable - it’s just not a very efficient use of time. Besides, I need to have that hour during the day when I’m "Octavia," not “Mom.” Well, in my Polish class I’m “Katarzyna,” but you get the point.

Day 15
12 September 2005

OK, so I do know a few people in my grad class. There’s Raven from Late Brit, Kim and Andy from Honor Society ... the thing is, all the people who are graduate instructors got to know each other before the beginning of the semester while they were going through their orientation/training thingy. So when I show up to class, they’re all talking to each other about their students or whatever, and it feels like I must be the only person there without any friends.

Met Sara, from Switzerland, who also wants to specialize in gender issues in 19th-century British Novels. What are the chances?

Day 8
5 September 2005

No school because of Labor Day. Spent the weekend in St. George. The hotel was decent, but turned out to be one of those places where “non-smoking room” means that while you, personally, will not be smoking in it, the previous occupants had no such restrictions.

St. George appeared to be a genuine desert - Glen said it reminded him a lot of Arizona. Very hot, lots of rocks, occasional spontaneous cactus. (Spontaneous Cactus: good name for a band?) All the houses are approximately the same color as the red stone the place is made out of. It’s kind of a cool effect, but I could see it getting monotonous after a while. Everybody has landscaped their yards with gravel and nifty rocks so they don’t have to have as much grass ... again, kind of novel, but I could see the lack of greenery getting oppressive after a while.

Drove home after the moosebutter show, which finished up around 10 p.m. or so. On the way home, Link (not his real name; age 5) slept in his car seat, but the baby woke up and started complaining around 11:30. Just as we had decided that we should probably pull over and feed her, UHP appeared. We were a little puzzled, because we weren’t speeding enough to notice ... turned out one of our headlights had burned out. Peach (our baby; also not her real name) was NOT excited about sitting there in her car seat while the trooper ran Glen’s license, and wailed like the Furies the whole time. Maybe the trooper felt sorry for us - he gave us a warning and sent us on our way.

Day 2
30 August 2005

The English Graduate Student Association had its opening social tonight. Glen and I were late because our babysitter bailed, and we had to find another one on short notice. I hate trying to do things like that at the last minute, but it wasn’t the sitter’s fault - you really can’t argue with an excuse like “My friend tried to commit suicide and I need to go visit her in the psych ward.” One of my friends agreed to take the kids for a couple of hours, and now I owe her big. After all that, we got to the social and discovered that everybody else had brought their kids with them. Also, did I mention that I don’t know anybody in the program? Nobody talked to us. I felt like a dork. Got a copy of Longman’s Anthology of British Lit. as a door prize, though.

Day 1
29 August 2005

My first day of grad school feels a lot like my first day of kindergarten. (How funny is it that my son started kindergarten today as well?) Can’t find my classroom; don’t know anybody in my class; not really sure what it is I’m supposed to be doing here. The new Humanities building is gorgeous, but the underground level where all the classrooms are is kind of confusing. I wonder if there’s some symbolism in the fact that all the humanities professors now have offices with windows, while all of the humanities students are now in basement classrooms with no windows. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nice classrooms with no windows. I’m just wondering.