Tuesday, April 22, 2008

why I love my university library ... and yours

The library at my university is large. Published statistics say it has 665,000 square feet of floor space, covered with 98 miles of shelving, holding more than 6 million items including books, periodicals, and other resources. Better yet, it's part of the interlibrary loan program, so if it doesn't have an item that I need, the library will borrow it from some other university and have it shipped here so I can use it. So not only do I have millions of books on hand that I can use, I basically have access to all the other university libraries that are part of the ILiad program as well. Which is how I came to be in possession of a book from the University of Oklahoma library. The book has a chapter about sensibility and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda, and wasn't among the 6 million items available locally. Thanks, OU! I've never been a big fan of your football team, but I'm now a big fan of your library.

Friday, April 18, 2008

happy happy

This, as nearly as I can recall, is the substance of a conversation I had with Glen this evening, around 6:30.

Me: Hey ... what's the date today?
Glen: The 18th.
Me: Are you sure?
Glen: [checking his watch] Yup. Today is Friday the 18th.
Me: Oh. Oops.
Glen: Why oops?
Me: The date "April 18th" doesn't ring any bells for you?
Glen: No, why?
Me: ...
Glen: Oh.
Me: Happy Anniversary, honey.

When we got married, Glen was working on his master's thesis (in Computer Science) and had already finished his coursework, and I was working full time, not going to school at all. We thought we'd be clever and get married during Finals, so there wouldn't be a gazillion students getting married at the same time.

Ten years later, I'm working on my master's thesis, and now our Anniversary falls in the middle of Finals week every time. Clever. This year, to celebrate my anniversary, I'll be grading exams and doing research for my thesis.

I still think marrying Glen was the smartest thing I ever did.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

one down

Among the many benefits of working for Sister Mary Clarence (fun! adventure! bullet points on my resumé!) is the added bonus of having permission to use her office on campus. In addition to being quiet, comfortable, and relatively close to the library, her office has a lousy wireless connection, which is very helpful when I'm trying not to get distracted. So I went up on campus tonight to work on my draft.

By 11:30 or so, I felt like I had enough of a chapter to send it off to Blackwood. He's expecting it tomorrow morning. I haven't been this nervous about turning in a paper since ... well, probably the last time I took a class from Descartes, so maybe a year. Whatever. I'm very nervous. Which is putting a serious damper on the excitement I should feel at having written an actual chapter of my actual thesis, regardless of how rough a draft it is.

Monday, April 14, 2008

what we learned this semester

Today was the last day of class for the Brit Lit section I TA'd for this semester. We've given reading quizzes randomly during the semester to encourage the students to do the reading and be in class, and today we gave one final quiz: list five things that you didn't know about British literature when you started the class. Herewith, some of my favorite answers.

  • ... that Chaucer is dirty-minded and that Beowulf is so long and never should have been turned into a movie.
  • Old English is, like, impossible to read.
  • That a lot of great writers had a second job spying on people.
  • How freaking awesome the Celts were.
  • That because I'm redheaded I'm related to Jesus. [Yes, he's kidding.]
  • Henry the VIII had a difficult time with his 5 [sic] wives.
  • Not everything I saw in the Beowulf movie is factual.
  • I learned about the Popish Plot, and also that I like how that sounds.
  • Daniel Defoe was a political genius of a writer. I think I have a new hero.
  • John Donne wrote poems that weren't about sex.
  • I didn't know about the two forms of satire, horatian and juvenile. [sic]
  • I learned a lot about the [assigned] readings and their significance in literature.
  • I learned that there was a lot of amoral literature before the 1960s.
  • Shakespeare had contemporaries.
  • I learned that life is pretty good now compared to England in times such as 1665-66 or the bubonic plague, or the Hundred Years' War, or the time after the Romans when they kept getting invaded, or the Wars of the Roses, or when it was deadly to be a Catholic, then a Protestant, then a Catholic again.
And there were a few that made me feel good:
  • ... a new found love for Milton's Paradise Lost.
  • I learned about Milton! Surprising, but I never actually learned anything about him in the past. I am going to take a class about Paradise Lost and Hamlet in the fall.
  • Sensibility refers to affectation of emotion, delicacy, etc. from the 18th century. Now Sense and Sensibility makes sense!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

peu a peu

Yeah, I don't know how to produce diacritical marks in html. Anyway, I did some editing, and managed to grind out another page while Peach was napping this afternoon.

cautiously optimistic

I talked to Blackwood on Friday. Of course Thursday's meeting was on my mind, but I wasn't really sure how accurate the grad secretary's representations were. It's her job to scare us, and she's good at it, and I understand her reasons for doing so, but she presumably is not aware of the status of our individual projects, so what she said may or may not apply to all of us. Blackwood was not encouraging. His first question for me was, "How important is it for you to graduate in August?"

Here's the thing: is it important for me to graduate in August the way it's important for someone who's committed to a PhD program that starts in September, or who's gotten a job offer contingent on their receiving their degree, or who simply can't afford any more time in school? No. In theory, I could take the full five years if I wanted to. But in a way, that's why I haven't gotten it done. There's not outside pressure, no deadline beyond the departmental five-year limit, which I am not yet approaching. If I give up on August graduation, it will certainly remove the pressure I feel. But knowing that I have until December to get it done, I will inevitably put it off again, and find myself in the same position when the next set of deadlines come up. For now, I have to act as if I'm going to graduate in August, because if I don't have those deadlines to contend with, I'm never going to get this done.

On the other hand, I don't want to put pressure on my committee; it's not their fault that I'm so close to the deadline. Not that they would pass me if I didn't deserve it, but I don't want to unduly burden them with a lot of drafts and revisions in a short amount of time.

Ultimately, Blackwood agreed to wait and see what I come up with in the next two or three weeks. He's obviously concerned that he hasn't seen any of my draft yet, but he's still open to the possibility that the first draft will be good enough that I would be able to make revisions in time to meet the defense deadline. He thinks it will be obvious within the first ten days of May whether it's going to happen or not; I'm still holding out for a later decision. So, assuming that the 23rd is my deadline, here's today's score:

Friday, April 11, 2008

unless it isn't

There was a mandatory meeting today for everyone in the English MA program who is planning to graduate in August. The meeting was apparently held for the purpose of convincing us that we will NOT be graduating in August, because we are probably not ready, and won't be able to meet the department deadlines, and we shouldn't even THINK about asking for an exception, because the department DOES NOT CARE. Really, the message that I took away from the meeting was that we should all consider, very seriously, just putting it off for another semester. The graduate secretary even went so far as to estimate that of the 27 students who told her that they intend to graduate in August, only 12 of us actually will. Thanks! She did not indicate whether she already knew who the twelve would be, or if that was just a guess based on past averages.

The first deadline that looms in our path is coming up on May 23rd - that's the day we have to apply for graduation. That's 42 days from now. I haven't talked to Blackwood since the meeting, but I'm thinking that I should have a pretty good idea by then whether I'll be able to meet the rest of the deadlines or not.

In other news, I'll be teaching Boswell tomorrow ... I guess it's technically "today" at this point ... Friday the 11th. Sister Mary Clarence had hinted that she might go out of town this weekend, so I asked her on Wednesday if she would be here on Friday. She said she would. Then at about 4:30 Thursday afternoon, she called me up and said she wouldn't be here Friday, and would I go ahead and stand in for her. Well, yes, I had told her I would do it if she needed me to ... but then she told me she didn't need me to, so I didn't prepare. Silly me.

Don't get me wrong, I love to teach, and I really REALLY love teaching literature instead of writing and rhetoric for a change, but I kind of told Blackwood I'd have something for him to read tomorrow, and it's only halfway done. I tried working on it some more after my lesson plan was done, but my brain had already clocked out.

So, for those of you playing along at home, here's the score:

days till application deadline: 42
number of pages written: 8

I need to get a nifty graphic or something so I can post my score at the top of the blog every day. But I need to do that some other time. Right now I need to sleep.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

it's fate

I must be going to graduate this year. What else could this mean?


See? It's fate. And it probably doesn't hurt that I've started my draft. It's a wee little thing, just seven pages so far. But that's seven more pages than I had last week.

Friday, April 04, 2008

three questions

Sister Mary Clarence asked if I would teach today, as she had a friend in town from England and wanted take the day off to be with her friend. I had about two days' notice, which seemed like enough time to prepare. Ha. The students had some really, uh, "fun" questions today. For the record, our topics today were eighteenth-century British monarchs, the Enlightenment, and Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress."

One student wanted to know whether Church of England doctrine taught that the monarchs of Britain were descended from King Arthur. Um ... I don't really know for sure one way or the other, but I'd say probably not. This isn't as wacky as it sounds; we've previously discussed the ways that various monarchs and other figures used the Arthur myth to their political advantage, including Henry VIII.

Another student wanted to know if Charles II and James II were Catholic (or, in Charles' case, Catholic-ish around the edges) because of the time they spent in France. Well. That sounds reasonable, but I don't really know. I had focused more on the political ramifications of the Stuart boys' religion, rather than the origins of their religious leanings. I looked it up when I got home; it turns out their Mum was Catholic. Should I have known that off the top of my head? Maybe. Why couldn't they have asked about the Hanovers? I could go on about George IV all day.

When we got around to looking at Hogarth's engravings, a student wanted to know how big the originals were. I was at a complete loss. Honestly, I don't think that's something that I could have been expected to know. Anyway, I looked that up when I got home as well. (Answer: about 12.5 X 15 inches.)

I have no respect for a teacher who can't admit that she doesn't know the answer to a student's question, and I'm obviously not going to make stuff up, but it's still embarrassing to have to say "I just don't know."

porn for English majors

I ordered something from Labyrinth Books a while ago. At this point I don't even remember what I bought from them, but ever since then, they've been periodically sending me sale catalogs in the mail. Usually I hate getting junk mail, but I love the Labyrinth catalogs. When one showed up in my mailbox a few days ago, I flipped to the Literature section, and lo, they have a bunch of Cambridge Companions on sale - Chaucer, Milton, Crime Fiction, Shelley ... $14 to $17 each. I can't afford to buy them all. Maybe I'll just get one.

Or two. They're on sale, I should get two. *sigh* Here, look at the description of The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer:

"In this revised edition, new chapters cover the literary inheritance traceable in Chaucer's works to French and Italian sources, his style, as well as new approaches to his work. Other topics covered include the social and literary scene in England in Chaucer's time, and comedy, pathos and romance in the Canterbury Tales. 334 pgs."

Sexy, no? There's also a literary biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins ... it's pretty old (1992) but on sale for only $9.98, down from the original price of $45. Maybe I'll just get that, and one of the Cambridge Companions.

Books are such an expensive habit.