Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back soon

Off to NYC for a mini-honeymoon: three nights, three plays, two museums, one extravagant meal. Priorities!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting It Published, part one billion

(Previous installments here, here, here, here and here.)

So, that was fast: I got my second outside reader's report last week--just five weeks after the editor announced they were soliciting a second review. The editor also included the new report from my first reader, which the press had told me was positive, but had wanted to hold onto until both were in.

The good news is that the first review is really, really good. Warm and enthusiastic, complimentary about the revisions I'd made between the first and second version, and with very precise but incredibly useful suggestions for further tinkering (stuff like, "in paragraph three you say X, but you don't set up X until paragraph ten; put that information sooner").

The bad news is that the second review is not good. Pretty strongly not-good, but also pretty obviously written by someone who has different interests and quite possibly a different subfield of specialization than I do.

The less-bad news is that my editor has urged me to revise in order to address "at least some of" Reviewer Two's comments, which I suspect means the press recognizes the limited utility of the second review.

And I can do that. There's still useful stuff in the review, and even if all I'm doing is shoring up my defenses and showing I'm not ignorant of possible counterclaims, those are valuable additions.

Whether I can convince Reviewer Two with my revisions, though, is another story.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Life in a northern town

I don't think I ever had specific fantasies about what the life of a professor would look like. When I was in grad school, I wasn't sure enough that I was going to get a job--and although I hoped I would, I guess I figured that I couldn't afford to imagine its specifics, lest I be disappointed.

But spending a Sunday afternoon reading on the sofa, in front of a roaring fire, is probably someone's professorial fantasy. The reality isn't half bad either--though I suspect that, in the fantasy, the reading isn't mediocre student writing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Excitement is exhausting

I think it's accurate to say that this has been the most intellectually exciting semester I've spent at RU, with "at RU" being the key descriptor: there have been other semesters in which I've had my mind blown at conferences or in which I've made great progress on my scholarship. But although I've always valued my colleagues and students, for the most part my work environment is merely pleasurable: I have nice conversations with my colleagues; I feel happy about new curricular initiatives; I have a few new thoughts about an old text sparked by a great classroom discussion.

And I'm not discounting the value of everyday pleasure. I'm lucky to be so content. But here's what I've got going on this semester that has raised me above that baseline:

    -I'm directing a senior Honors thesis on John Donne. (I've never directed an undergraduate thesis, since only the Honors students do them.) -I'm directing an M.A. thesis on Renaissance drama. (I've never directed an M.A. thesis, since until recently I hadn't taught M.A. classes.) -I'm in my third year as advisor to our Oxford study-abroad program, and it seems to be gaining real buzz among our majors. -I'm team-teaching a genuinely incredible class, with a great co-teacher, and I'm learning a ridiculous amount from him--and he seems to feel the same way about me. Next year, we're planning on swapping classes for a semester, with me teaching Bible as Literature and him teaching Shakespeare. -We have, so far, brought in three kick-ass speakers for our reading/lecture series, gathered together other local scholars to help fête them, and gotten a nice turn-out for their events. A fourth speaker is coming in a month, and a big headliner of a senior scholar has agreed to come in the spring.

To be honest, it's all been rather exhausting, especially the last two bullet points. In addition to the sheer amount of labor involved, my colleague and I have had to cobble together funding from a dozen different sources and do a bit of politicking to get some of the stuff we need. Nevertheless, in the end everyone has been generous and helpful, and I've met some amazing local people. (Wait, RU just hired a Classical archeologist? Wait, there's a guy at the local div school with a degree from RADA who does postmodern theology? What?)

These are nice experiences to have as I'm on the verge of tenure and considering what it would mean to be here for the long term, but they've also helped me to realize that creating a community of scholars is work, and would be work wherever I went: I think I kinda assumed that at big research schools stuff just happened, or was already in place and required no real maintenance: reading groups, scholarly colloquia, works-in-progress seminars. And it's true that bigger institutions have, in addition to more faculty, more readily-available bucks and administrative staff to handle the minutiae of buying plane tickets and booking hotel reservations. But someone's always doing the work to organize--and indeed it can feel like work simply trying to find the time to attend or participate regularly.

And a little effort can go a long way. Over the course of my four undergraduate years at Instant Name Recognition U, a billion famous people came to campus: writers, artists, politicians. There were multiple theatrical performances and concerts every weekend. But I'm sure I never averaged more than two readings, talks, or performances per semester (including a cappella "jams"), and I can't recall ever being encouraged to attend such events by my professors. Maybe they felt they didn't need to. But I almost always tried to do stuff that was tied to my classes--attending optional movie screenings, for example, or visiting the art gallery to check out the actual paintings after a professor had shown us slides--and I suspect I'd have made time for a lot more events if someone I respected had said to me, "hey, you should go to this thing! I think you'd really like it!"

So it's important to me to make sure that our students at RU know about the events that are happening on campus, and get a nudge to attend them. The BFD poet and scholar (and reader of this blog!) whom we had on campus yesterday didn't just give a reading for our series or for the benefit of our 400-level students. She hung out with the young English majors in my Introduction to Literary Studies class and talked passionately about poetry for 45 minutes--how she writes, why she writes, what poetry does, and why it's worth spending time with. My students were obviously, visibly in love with her from about minute two, and couldn't stop asking her questions. A third of the class showed up for her reading that night, many of whom I suspect have never been to a public reading before.

Still, organizing this kind of shit takes work, and though I'm a conscientious person I'm not a high-energy or efficient one. I whine and complain and wish I could get eight hours of sleep a night and also have time to fuck around on the internet and just default on all my stupid meetings and those emails awaiting reply. But if this is what it takes to make my students the kind of students I want to teach, my institution the kind of place I want to work, and--oh, yeah--myself the kind of scholar and teacher I want to be, I guess I have to suck it up.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The neurotypical and the less-so

A few weeks back Tenured Radical had an important post on the ways that colleges and their faculty are (and are not) prepared for students who are on the autism spectrum. Right now, this may be a phenomenon that those of us at public colleges have the most familiarity with; in any case, I've taught an average of one student a year whom I'd identify as being on the high-functioning end of the autism/Aspergers spectrum.

But as I mentioned in my comment at TR's, I haven't generally had any more trouble with these students than I might have with a neurotypical student who for one reason or another needed extra attention or had to be gently-but-firmly told how discussion worked in our classroom. The kids on the spectrum whom I've taught are often among my smartest and most participatory students, and though they sometimes sit in the front row and blurt out answers without raising their hands, or want to monopolize conversation, or get audibly upset when they feel reproved or ignored, I've mostly learned how to deal with those things. Because honestly? In every class I have at least a couple of students, neurotypical or otherwise, who are works-in-progress or diamonds-in-the-rough or whatever metaphor you prefer for students who have equally extreme strengths and weaknesses. Autism-spectrum students present a specific set of challenges, sure, but from a teacher's perspective I wouldn't say they're more serious challenges than those presented by students who are manic-depressive, or going through problems at home, or who are just reallyreallyreally high strung.

The PROBLEM with spectrum-y students--or at least the students I've had--is therefore not the students themselves. It's the other students in the class.

By and large, the other students do not like the students on the spectrum. They sigh, roll their eyes, grumble, and make faces indicating how annoying, weird, or troublesome they find them. Once, I had a (very bright and otherwise very nice) student grab me after class to ask whether there wasn't something I could "do about" the front-row blurter. "You're handling her very well," she said. "I know it's not your fault. But she's really distracting the rest of us."

These students seem not to understand that the person they perceive as annoying is genuinely wired differently; instead, they experience her as arrogant, nonresponsive, or deliberately rude. And since disabilities are a confidential matter, there's no way for me to fully communicate why they should cut their classmate some slack or even reach out and try to get to know her.

So I'm asking the rest of you: have you experienced this problem? And if so, what have you done about it?

Monday, October 10, 2011

53 and pregnant

Because of that whole wedding + tenure thing I'm behind in my reading, but I just got around to Lisa Miller's "Parents of a Certain Age" from New York magazine a couple of weeks back. It's a troubling article, and one I haven't seen discussed around my usual haunts on the internet.

Miller's article examines the apparently growing phenomenon of older parents: women (and men, too, but it's the women who come in for most of the scrutiny) who are starting families in their late 40s and even 50s. The article's major flaw is that it talks about all older-parents-with-young-children as if they're in the same category, and they're decidedly not; one couple she profiles adopted children from Guatemala and Vietnam when they were in their mid-fifties--after raising biological children of their own. But most of the parents she's looking at are first-time parents who seem determined to have children semi-naturally, i.e., with the woman going through labor, even if the eggs are not her own and even if she has had to be medically brought out of menopause in order to get pregnant in the first place.

Now, first-time parents whose ages hover around 40 are commonplace in academia, and if Cosimo and I have kids we'll surely join their number (given that he's already in his early 40s and I'll be 37 in February and the child-having discussion is definitively tabled until we're in the same place full-time). Contrary to the seven billion articles that get written about declining fertility and how if you wait too long, you'll be sorry!, I don't think that pushing parenthood back is a sad state of affairs, either for individual women or for Women As a Whole. People who put off pregnancy are, I assume, making a conscious decision and understand the trade-offs, and those who want kids can always have children in their lives even if they can't conceive: they can adopt, they can be foster parents, they can serve as doting aunts or uncles or second parents to kids in their neighborhood or whatever. There will always be children desperate for adult love and support.

But although I absolutely do not think that it is selfish or narcissistic to decide in one's 40s or even 50s that one wants to be a parent (or at any rate, it's no more likely to be a sign of narcissicism than wanting children in one's 20s or 30s is), I confess that I don't get the desire to have one's own biological children at all costs (I understand it as a strong preference, sure, but not as a need)--and I definitely do not understand the desire to go through pregnancy for its own sake. So I see a real difference between people in their late forties/fifties who either are lucky to get pregnant naturally, or who adopt, and those people who, because it makes them feel young and bogusly fertile and more like "real" mothers, go to great expense and incur quite extreme health risks in order to carry a child--a child not necessarily sharing any of their genetic material--to term.

Maybe I'm just lazy and risk averse? But if I were to decide, around age 45, that I had the energy to chase small children around for the next decade or two, you'd better believe I wouldn't be putting myself through an exhausting and dangerous nine months of pregnancy first.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sitting at the grown-up table

It turns out that I don't have much to say about the process of going up for promotion and tenure. Partly this is because it got subsumed in the larger craziness that was my September of wedding-planning, house-furnishing, team-teaching, and lecture-series-organizing, and partly it's because RU does a five-year review, too, which means I already had the vast majority of my materials assembled, three-hole-punched, and organized into neatly tabbed and labeled binders.

But it's also that RU has a pretty transparent and humane promotion system. I don't know that I'll get tenure, and of course I'll have nagging doubts until I get the final letter from the president or the chancellor or whoever sits at the end of the long series of approvals my file has to go through. But I've more than met the standards for tenure, and in my time in the department seven or eight people have gone up, all of them successfully.

Moreover, the tenured Flavia just isn't going to be greatly different from the Flavia of today. I experienced joining the tenure track as a radical shift in my self-identity, and one that it took a while for me to come to terms with--as the early years of this blog indicate. But we have such a young department and such a mutually supportive one that I've never felt that being untenured made me a kid, waiting to be invited to the grown-up table; I was already chairing a major committee in my third year on the job.

But I'm looking forward to what it might mean to have a bigger, official stake in my institution and in my community. RU is a healthy institution, and one that is genuinely committed to the humanities (English and History are the college's two biggest majors, have the strongest faculty, and together we're getting the first new academic building to be built on campus in decades--how many institutions can say that?). Our students are an interesting mix, and it's my impression that the best students we get are better every year than they were the year before. Being tenured at RU would mean really committing to this city and this region, its students and its workforce--and as someone who just bought a goddamn house here, I've already started thinking in those terms.

I don't know that I'll be at RU forever. If Cosimo can't get a job in the area, we'll start looking for places that might want both of us. But I'm comfortable committing to RU and this region--if RU wants to commit to me!--for a goodly while to come.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wedding snapshots

So the whole wedding thing happened: parental and sibling meet & greet, rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, Sunday brunch at our place. And it was awesome. Somehow, although I'd thought through every damn detail with an eye toward its being fun, running smoothly, etc., I never paused to imagine my own pleasure. That is, there were things I thought would suck, and things I thought would be cool, but I was always imagining the events from the perspective of a guest. Turns out? When you design exactly the wedding you'd like to attend, it's really fun for you to attend it!

Herewith a few observations:

-The idea that weddings require gifts is deep-seated. We got gifts from people we've never met (my brother's girlfriend's parents), people we know only slightly (the parents of friends), and a whole bunch of people we love but couldn't invite. Maybe this shouldn't have astonished me, but it did.

-On the other hand, we got some sweet gifts. And lots of bucks.

-Advocates for same-sex marriage are right in wanting in on this--not the gifts per se, but whatever it is that causes people to feel a unique stake in relationships that are publicly validated and celebrated. (But the gifts are awesome too. Waterford crystal, yo!)

-The wedding coordinator provided by the church was horrible: exactly the opposite of everyone else who works for the church--including the priest--in her reflexive wedding orthodoxy. She acted like our procession (best man/best lady, Cosimo's parents, my parents, us) was the weirdest and most confusing thing in the world; she didn't know how to handle seating arrangements when there wasn't a parade of attendants, and she couldn't imagine how the priest could possibly introduce us to the congregation without using the formula "Mr. and Mrs. Cosimo de Medici."

-Fortunately, that was nearly our only encounter with that kind of attitude.

-The downside of doing everything yourself: you have to do everything yourself. And you wind up owning 12 white tablecloths and 14 pots of chrysanthemums.

-Wedding cannoli are infinitely superior to wedding cake.

-Happiness is having friends who, when you make a 4-hour dance mix (just in case!), stay, dancing, until the goddamn last song.

-Also, friends who bust out their break dancing moves. And aren't afraid of the air guitar.

-In fact, let's just say that happiness = friends who feel like family and family who feel like friends. And a weekend spent expanding both circles is extra-special awesome.

-I promised I'd give the price tag, so here it is: $6,200, for literally everything involved in a church ceremony and a luncheon reception for 75 people--all the way down to ring-sizing and postage and printing costs.

-It was a great weekend and it was exactly the wedding we wanted, but it's over and that's fine. There's life after wedding planning, and thank goodness.