manic mondays: or, what happens after not-so-blue sundays

The downside of the weekend relaxedness I waxed poetic over yesterday is the increased chaos of Mondays. Cue the Bangles, please:

I try to extend weekend chill into Monday. I wake up at a reasonable hour. I practice 15 minutes of gentle yoga. I eat oatmeal and drink cafe au lait, and orange juice. I check email. I work for about an hour and a half, grading, reading, class prepping.

I walk, and take in such soul-restoring vistas:

As I walk, I listen to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” and laugh out loud at the limerick challenge and the far-fetched tales, one of which is always true.

I then get ready for work, eat lunch, and head to campus, where I make copies, review prep notes, chat with colleagues, and arrive in class.

My class is high energy. It’s large for a discussion-based, writing-intensive class (36 students). We learn interesting concepts (feminism, patriarchy, intersectionality, heteronormativity) via engaging content (Miley Cyrus, music videos, popular romance fiction, vintage ads).

I love this class, but it’s a marked difference from my low-key, mostly introverted, quiet weekend. It jars me back to faux-extrovertedness. Once again, I’m slammed with the frenetic rhythm of the work week and the competing external demands on my time (answer my question! can you tell me what we’re doing two weeks from now? here’s a new task you need to complete on a project you thought you’d already finished! can you lead this seminar that’s not really related to your field? this form is due. can I have an extension? can you travel across the state for a short meeting?) and more internal demands (read, grade, prepare, write, search for engaging content, adapt old assignments, create new ones, keep professionally connected).

On Mondays, these demands seem like an unstoppable flood, and I feel ill-prepared to even throw a few sandbags at the encroaching waters.

By Monday night, after teaching my evening class (smaller, more skills-based, less rambunctious), and after cooking dinner, I start to feel that once again I may find a way to accomplish the important tasks during the week. I may only miss a few emails (sorry!) and may need to lower my expectations for myself, but there’s a path. I will not be defeated by and on Monday.

So, readers, I’m curious. How do you ease the transition into Monday? Do you accept that it will be manic and blue? Do you trick yourself into Monday awesomeness? Having made progress shifting my weekend emotions, I’m eager to learn how to improve Monday.

I know how to best end the day: hot tea, soothing music, fluffy pillows, and a delectable novel.

to pack or unpack: teaching literature

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Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, supposedly written in 7 weeks while Hurston was researching in Haiti, turns 75 this year.

I love this novel. I love it so much that Gregg and I featured an adaptation of one of the final quotes on our wedding programs. Hurston’s original text: “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore” (191). We married on the shores of Lake Michigan, and featured a water ceremony. This quote seemed particularly apt given the setting and our respective ages (first time bride and groom, just under and over 40 years old).

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve taught Their Eyes Were Watching God; I own multiple versions of the text, copiously underlined and dog eared to suggest that the text has a regular spot in nearly any literature class.

My Multicultural American Literature class finished the novel on Tuesday. We’re a small group of 10 students, with a mixed range of vocal and silent participation, so I’ve worked hard to find ways to engage the class. I also try not to practice what Nancy Chick calls “professorial packing.” This process, Chick argues,

“[Inverts] the common metaphor for the essential disciplinary act of ‘unpacking’ a literary text and its meanings. Unpacking a text connotes opening up something, sifting out what’s inside, and exploring the contents. There’s a sense of anticipation, delight, and wonder in the process. In contrast, professorial packing occurs when a professor presents his or her fully formed interpretations to students—in essence packing the text (and the students) with the professor’s own interpretations, rather than teaching the students themselves to unpack texts” (Chick 42-43).

I’ve committed plenty of professorial packing in the past, but since reading Chick’s article and discussing teaching literature with fellow scholars of teaching and learning, I’ve moved toward the unpacking model that Chick articulates.

My pedagogical approach on Tuesday worked particularly well. Knowing that students would be eager to discuss the climactic ending of the novel, I started class with a freewrite, asking them to write their interpretations of the ending. Each student then summarized his/her freewrite for the class, and we tracked key similarities and differences in interpretation. I then shared a series of interpretations I had either read (a quick survey of several scholarly articles the night before provided material) or heard from previous students. What happened next was awesome: students argued with these readings by referencing specific passages in the text…all without my prompting to refer to the text (which is often a challenge). A vigorous and passionate discussion ensued, and we grappled with the ambiguity of the ending and the multiple readings of the ending, and, not once did I offer my own interpretation (and you know I have one or three or five:))

I’m fortunate that my small class engages with our readings whether verbally or through writing. The small class size allows me to involve each student in discussion in a way that minimizes discomfort. And stumbling on an outlandish reading of the novel certainly gave me an excellent opportunity to stir controversy. And, admittedly, Hurston’s stellar, compelling, deceptively simple text opens itself up to these multiple readings. And yet, this sequence of activities seems applicable to many more class sessions, even in classes with more students.

I’d much rather facilitate unpacking than forcefully pack, any day.

Works Cited

Chick, Nancy. “Unpacking a Signature Pedagogy in Literary Studies.”Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Eds. Regan A. R. Gurung, Nancy L. Chick, and Aeron Haynie. Sterling, Va: Stylus, 2009. 36-55. Print.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. NY: Harper Perennial, 2006. Originally published 1937.

Happy Blogtober!

“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.

We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.

We should write, above all, because we are writers, whether we call ourselves that or not.”
― Julia CameronThe Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life

I’ve joked recently that I’m a non-practicing writer.

Humor as a mask for pain? Yep.

It’s been far too long since I’ve immersed myself in any sustained writing project, whether creative or academic (or both–I’m still trying to find a way to bring creative expression to literary criticism and pedagogical research). I miss the feeling of such deep writing, my brain zinging between thoughts and feelings, searching for a precise word to nail an idea. The state of creative flow, in which time both expands and contracts as I follow the trail of ideas wherever it leads, fueled by tea and the right soundtrack. The spirituality and sensuality that Julia Cameron alludes to in the quote above. Writing is more than good for my soul.

On nights when sleep eludes me, I tally up the years I’ve lived, ponder how many years I have left, and consider how I most want to spend my time. And the answer is always a blend of being creative and spending time with loved ones.

I want to create, whether a towering 4 layer cake that provides sweetness, a scrapbook of memories, or, most significantly, a written record of my thoughts and feelings, imaginings and interpretations. Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction. Blogs.

Gregg and I made a pact to turn October into Blogtober, a month in which we each write one blog post. Every day. 31 days. If one of us fails to post, we owe the other person a bottle of Rombauer Zinfandel (a favorite special occasion wine) and a block of 10 year aged cheddar. Hopefully neither of us will fail and we can each kick in half of the cost of the prize to toast ourselves and our re-emerging writers on November 1.

I’ll be posting both here and on my other blog, bliss: towards a delicious life. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Blogtober by reading, commenting, creating your own blog!

summer reading program: library trip two

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Today I walked to the public library to select a new stack of books, having worked my way through the previous stack.* This stack represents my desire to lose myself in fiction, even as I read non-fiction texts for other projects. ** A mix of genres, story lines, classics, and contemporary authors, these novels should capture my attention for the next three weeks.

I also signed up for the library’s summer adult reading program, which challenges participants to read a minimum of five books in a minimum of four genres by the end of the summer. I can earn extra entries into the contest (prize baskets!) by writing summaries of the books I read! Today, my prize for signing up was a small bar of dark chocolate.

* From the first stack, I read and loved Shine, Shine, Shine and For the Time Being. I read select stories from Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and attempted to read NW. The stories in Vampires haunted me, and after reading “Proving Up,” decided I couldn’t handle the darkness of the stories, although I appreciated the deep cultural insights and critiques. I gave NW nearly 100 pages to grab my attention, but couldn’t connect to the characters or storytelling, which was disappointing but not entirely surprising. While I loved Smith’s On Beauty, I could not engage with White Teeth

**I will soon feature my stack of course revision and enhanced pedagogy reading material, as well as my World War II research for a family writing project.

summer reading program starts NOW

summer reading program starts NOW

Today I ignored the books double stacked on my shelves and overflowing my bedside table, and drove to our local library, where I found these four books (all fiction, three novels and one short story collection) I’ve looked forward to reading. My lofty goal: read them all before the due date of June 21, 2013.

Frankenstein, Schools, and Guns: A Modern Moral Quandry

 

 

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Mary Shelley, portrait by Richard Rothwell
photo from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RothwellMaryShelley.jpg

This morning I settled in at my home work station, looking out at a grey landscape, mug of cooling cafe au lait at my side. After I graded a student blog on Frankenstein, I clicked over to facebook to see how Monday morning was treating my friends. 

I already knew what I would find: the sadness and fear of parents of school-age children dreading the daily ritual of school bus pick-up or parent drop-off at local schools. I felt the company of fellow college profs who, like me, have spent the weekend pondering what we would do in our classrooms, on our college campuses, in active shooter situations. 

I didn’t want to go to campus at 11:00 to meet my students and pick up finals. It’s no exaggeration to say that finals week is the heaviest stress point of the semester for students and faculty alike. I’ve worried in the past about students, their fragile self-worth, their newly developed responsibility, and some, their unstable mental health, in the face of looming grades and often, missing assignments. 

I think back through my 15 years of teaching and can name specific students who concerned me, who I watched for any signs of something I couldn’t put my finger on, but suspected might lurk beneath the surface. I know I’m not alone. 

All weekend, I’ve read facebook posts where well-intentioned folks seek solace in platitudes and/or simple solutions to complex problems. My heart has broken, and seethed as predictable fault lines gaped. 

Is it really that difficult to reason this issue out? To not separate the threads but to look at how they intertwine? 

For every person advocating a ban on guns I saw someone else argue for arming folks in the schools. Both propositions miss the mark. 

I grew up in the country, in a family of hunters. We had guns in the house, and I remember watching my Dad clean his gun (don’t ask me what kind: simple hunting rifle or shotgun). I liked observing his attention to detail, and the process of oiling the cloth and slipping it up and down the inside of the barrel on a thin rod. Now, I appreciate his focus on safety and care. He and my uncles and brother hunt deer and rabbit, eating what they shoot. 

People I know and love have a concealed weapons permit. I don’t understand the allure, the need, but I know that I respect these men and trust them. I would like to talk to them and learn their rationale…can we discuss without retreating to our ideological home bases? I would like to think so. 

With that said, I am happy to live in a gun free home. I am comforted by the signs on the doors at my workplace, at my gym, that declare the buildings weapons-free zones. Yes, I know such signs are futile in the face of those bent on destruction. But it’s a modicum of comfort, and on days like today, I’ll take it. 

This post is as rambly and mixed up as my thoughts, but what I most want to say, to beg, to plead, is to find a way to recognize the contributing factors, the blind spots, the places where freedom and safety collide, and create a better way. 

Let’s begin by acknowledging that we live in a pluralistic society with competing, conflicting values and beliefs. Let’s further chip away at the stigma of mental illness, providing equal coverage for mental health preventative care and treatment. Let’s close loopholes on background checks on gun purchases. Let’s restrict access to military-style weapons and large capacity clips and magazines. Let’s revisit school security procedures and protocol. Let’s discuss the link between patriarchy and violence. 

As I read through my students’ blog projects on Frankenstein, I thought about Shelley’s warning in the text–that we create, out of good intentions, technological advancement, and human curiosity, something capable of unspeakable destruction. When you read Shelley’s compelling and prescient novel, you sense her sympathies extend to both the misguided creator, Victor Frankenstein, and his creation. Victor wanted power and renown, and desired to usurp female creative power. The creature wanted love, companionship, community; abandoned by his creator, he turned murderous, causing pain to match his own pain. At the end of the novel, Shelley suggests we abandon our obsession with progress, and take care of each other. 

We can start now, moving beyond memorials and facebook memes and into real action. But we must tackle the problem as the complex creation (of our own making) that it is. If an 18 year old novelist, pregnant, and still heartsick over the loss of her own child, can write such a complex moral novel as Frankenstein, surely we all can come together and talk. Really talk. And then act to create a better, safer community for all of us. 

 

escaping between the pages

The last few weeks have been strange, a mix of post-wedding letdown followed by travel anxiety, honeymoon bliss, travel anxiety, and now post-honeymoon and post-wedding and pre-move and pre-semester malaise. 

My summer: blessed and beautiful. My heart: grateful and full. 

And yet, with a creative, year-long project already relegated to memories and photographs…with hellos and goodbyes to far-flung family and friends already uttered…with small extravagances settled into everyday realities…it’s difficult not to feel that bittersweetness of completion. That flailing around in search of the next creative endeavor, the re-adjusting to internet connections between family and friends, and the planning of monthly treats of meals out complete with apps, wine, AND dessert rather than a week of indulgences. 

Mostly, I miss the people. The time out of daily life to connect with my husband in a world without TV and internet and anyone else we know. The many weeks of chatter and work with my Mom. The hours with dear friends and family working together to frost cupcakes and assemble flowers and set up furniture and celebrate. 

It’s a little lonely here.

But I always have friends between the pages, and so I’ve read several books, across genres, in quick succession, staving off the loneliness with edgy chefs, plotting spouses, sensitive girls, racist townies, Shakespearean profs. 

It’s a delicious drug, reading.

It’s home.