Thursday, May 31, 2007

The kid

The kid has gone off to stay with her grandparents for the first half of the summer again. The house is odd without her. Quiet, and the dogs are more important, and mr. delagar watches a deal more TV. I wrote until ten o'clock last night because no one needed dinner. It's just...bizarre.

She's going to Hawaii, btw. Going to bring me back a rock. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Summer One

Summer One, the first of the two summer sessions we run here in Pork Smith, has started. I'm teaching two classes this semester and two next semester. Hoppin', I tell ya. This makes me happy, because now I can pay the astounding electric and gas bills that, I have no doubt, will be stacking up. (Gas is 3.39 a gallon here. Ai! And what this is doing to our power bills and grocery bills, I do not have to tell y'all.)

Twenty-five students in my Comp One class; 13 in my WLIT class. Good students, so far. The comp students, when I came into class, were all reading the novel -- I switched from Major Barbara to True Grit, by Charles Portis. I gave up on Major Barbara, finally. I surrendered. Now I'm hoping True Grit, which, as you may remember, begins in Pork Smith, and is written in the dialect of Arkansas, might be a better fit. So far the signs look favorable -- they were engrossed. They were reading it of their own free will. None, however, had read it before, which was a bit of a surprise to me. They hadn't even seen the movie. These kids today.

The World Lit class -- sophomores and juniors in there, not freshmen -- they were also lively. I told them we would be reading plenty. I warned them we had to blaze through 2300 years of literature in five weeks, so they needed to gear up and buckle down. I said this wasn't any sort of soft ride, not in my class. I started them with my What Is Literature For? lecture, which appeared to astonish them. Apparently they had no idea that literature was for anything. Then I cross-hooked them with the What Is Literature, Anyway, While We're On It? lecture, and that made their eyes spin.

Five or six of them crowded around me afterwards. "What did you mean when you said Milton was trying to make people Christians in Paradise Lost?" one demanded. "Where did you get that? Is that what you mean by purpose?"

"How did you know that the X-Men movie was the Blood Libel Myth?" another wanted to know. "How did you know that? Is there a book on that?"

Another gave me an orange jelly bean.

Another wanted to tell me about a graphic novel she was reading that she was sure I would like.

Don't I love students?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Business as Usual

Twisty posts about this, but in case you haven't heard, it's utterly appalling:

Some baseball players in San Jose raped a drunk 17 year old -- gang-raped her -- while their team-mates cheered them on -- and the DA has tossed out the case, because, well, she was drunk, wasn't she? Bitch shouldn't have gotten drunk. Drunk bitches make bad witnesses. (Never mind that she had other witnesses she might have called on and didn't, not to mention hard evidence. Nah. Screw that.)

The other girls who stepped in and took her away from the players speak out here:

Twisty's story is here:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cool blog

Go here:

Race and Immigration

Over on Pandagon today


Links still down)

Amanda Marcotte is blogging about how racism informs the immigration debate -- a good post, worth reading -- I'm thinking of the reaction I get from my History of the English Language class each semester, when I get to the sections of the class where we talk about the English Only movement, and Hispanic/Texas English, and California dialects in general.

You might have noticed from earlier blog entries that I live in a culturally mixed area: traditionally it's hard baptist bible-belt, but in the seventies a heavy chunk of Asian refugees were settled here; and what with the huge chicken industry and Wal-Mart, we've had a large influx of Hispanic immigrants over the past 30 years as well, and -- and! a small influx of upper-midde class white folk to manage that work force (some managers are local, but not all). Plus, we always had a thin vein of educated liberals, running through the mix, keeping the libraries going, running the tiny art museums, insisting on funding the parks.

But most of my students are poor -- that's the mission of my university. We're aimed at the working-class students. This means a big percentage of them are further to the right than I am (no shock there -- most of the planet is further to the right than I am). Still, most of the HEL class enjoys listening to me go off on grammar and that, class issues and how they need to arm themselves with the tools of knowledge so they can infiltrate the citadels of power and start the revolution: it's all fun and games until I get to immigration.

Then it stops being funny.

When I have them read James Crawford's essay

showing that no, Hispanic immigrants are not, in fact, wilfully refusing to learn English; that the English Only movement is, in fact, motivated by class issues and by a desire to oppress, rather than by any motive to "save" some vision of the true America (whatever that would be, if it isn't people coming to America to make a free country, where we can live according to our own ideas of what we should think and do), they sull up on me.


Well, fear, of course.

It is a class issue.

They are, after all, most of them, very close to the edge. I had one student in my office not too long ago cheerily telling me how she had not been able to pay the power bill for the past few months, and the neighbor who she usually went to live with when that happened hadn't been able to pay hers, either, but it wasn't so bad, really. They just got out the kerosene lanterns, and as long as you kept'm out of reach of the little ones, it was fine.

They say it's the Hispanics outbreeding them; they say they resent having to learn Spanish ("They don't have to learn English, do they?" some student will demand every semester. "No one makes them take an English class, but I have to take three semesters of Spanish." "Um, dude," I always say. "You don't think someone who wants to make a living in this country has to learn English?" I don't add -- not that you're learning Spanish anyway, from what I've heard.); they say it's how "those people" live that bothers them (whatever that means, and I refuse to ask), but it's fear. They're in the same economic niche as the Hispanic immigrants. That's the issue. And now that this Lou Dobson and the English Only people and Rush and the rest have given then a legitimate reason to hate the immigrants, they aren't about to let a few things like facts make them let go of that hate.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Plato's Ideals

Reading Twisty on the perfect bag

(over here

of course, and if you are not already reading Twisty Faster daily you should be)

reminds me of why I do not like cake.

This is an issue for mr. delagar, as he comes from five generations of bakers -- flour in his blood, he is fond of telling me -- pastry issues, he tells the kid, serious pastry issues. He makes tarts, he makes tortes, he makes bread and pizzas and glaces and all sorts of fine baked goods, and we enjoy them all. But I can't like cakes. Not even his.

I tried to explain why at the last dinner party we had, at which he had made a perfectly enormous white cake with smooth butter-cream icing and rose-buds iced on top. Raspberry jam in the middle, of course.

"Because," I said, poking at the half piece left on my plate, which I was not going to finish, "because, you know, it is never the ideal cake."

He gave me a mutinous look from his end of the table.

"Like..." I tried to think how to explain. "Plato's ideal cake. The perfect cake. That's the cake I have in mind. It's just dense enough and just fluffy enough and has just the right weight and flavor...just enough icing and not too's Plato's cake. Do you see? No cake is ever going to be that cake."

"You're not funny," mr. delagar growled.

"No, I'm agreeing with you," I insisted. "If it wasn't such a serious matter, who would care? I don't mind about potato chips, you know. Or nachos." (This is a lie. It's why I've given up eating nachos, because Tostitos stopped making the round nacho cheese ones, which were the ideal nachos, and what was the point after that?) "But cake -- why eat cake if you can't get the ideal cake?"

He got up and took his cake to the kitchen. Uncle Charger and the kid were both trying not to laugh.

"And you never can," I said sadly.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Heckova Job, George

If, like me, you were one of those made ill by the vidclip over on Twisty Faster's site, of the men in Iraq stoning the young girl to death for the high crime of loving some guy not in her faith group, you'll want to read what Katha Pollit has to say about it, here:

(Links busted again.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Having concluded the semester, I am worn to the bone. Grades are in. Students are done. (Well, I am done with them. Many of them are still sending me plaintive emails, wondering just why they got that D or that F, or why I failed them for plagiarism, when, after all, all they did was plagiarize half their final paper.) I am still waking at seven b/c the kid's school year is not yet done; then I spend the rest of the day messing around with my novels and the novella I am working on, and, once I can write no more, bouncing about the net reading blogs and news sites, being boggled and bemused in equal measures. Sometimes, in the afternoons, I do some of the work I didn't do any of this winter -- like, this afternoon, I finally raked last fall's leaves out of the front yard. And two days ago I mowed the back yard for the first time this summer. That was a treat, may I say. Who knew grass could get that high?

Soon Summer Session One will start, and I will be at leisure no longer.

The life of a university professor in 2007.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What To Do With Nine Year Old

We've been grading exams and final papers and portfolios all weekend, mr. delagar and I -- final grades are due Tuesday by noon, an impossible deadline -- and the kid is off school, which is just deeply vicious on the part of the Montessori School, ma I mention in passing, and what does one do with a nine-year-old in the Spring in Pork Smith? (She turned nine last week. How did this happen? We just got her. What's she doing coming up on 9?)

She has been playing in the yard a great deal (she's building a swamp, she informs me, and honestly? I don't care. Let her, is my feeling at this point) and reading a great deal and running through epic sagas with her molded plastic dragons and griffins and other mythological characters, which we got from the cool toy store, and her battalion of tiny cheap plastic soldiers, which we bought for $1.29 from the gas station on the corner...but all this can only occupy her so long.

So yesterday she says she's bored.

"What?" I cry, with fierce loud delight. "What did you say?" (This is what I always do when she says the b-word.)

She quails. "No! No! I didn't mean it!"

"You're BORED? Are you BORED? Oh GOOD!" I leap up from my stack of essays. "Splendid! Because I have just the THING!"

"I'm not -- I'm NOT bored! I--"

"Come on!"

I filled a bucket with water and soap and made her scrub the kitchen floor, which my God did it need scrubbing.

Not only did she do a splendid job, she loved it. "I like scrubbing!" she told me, half an hour later. "What else needs scrubbing?"

Maybe nine isn't the worst thing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What I've Been Reading

It's almost done, this semester --I'm giving my last final today, and after that, nothing but the grading (ai! the grading!) -- so I've been collecting things to read. (Some of them I went on and read: couldn't wait.)

(1) Neil Gaiman. But I have already ripped through everything he has written. I just finished American Gods. That's the novel I like best, I think, except I like his short stories better than his novels. I haven't done his graphic novels yet. I have trouble reading graphic novels. Problem seeing the page. Don't ask me why -- probably some ADD thing or the other. I can suck it up if I try hard enough, and I might with Gaiman.

(2) Karen Joy Fowler, who also I had never heard of. So far I've only read The Jane Austen Book Club, but it was very good.

(3) Kelly Link, another SF writer. I really like her, too. I'm having a hard time finding anything by her except short stories on line, but she's great.

(4) Three different fat books of SF short stories -- Wizards, Fast Forward I, Strahan's The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year -- all of which are the best collections I have read since I sent away for the three Tiptree collections, just after New Year's. (Those were brilliant, too, if you're looking for good collections.)

(5) Anne Lamott's latest collection of essays, Grace (Eventually), which isn't very new. It's all Christian/ spiritual and I'm so not, but I really like reading her when she talks about it.

(6) Jane Austen. Yay! It's time to read Jane Austen again. I'm starting with Sense and Sensibility this time. And! And! I've LOST my copy of Pride and Pejudice somewhere! You know what that means! YES! I get to buy a new copy! AI! Yow! Is there anything sweeter than shopping for a new edition of Austen? Oh, I can't wait. Better than sex. No, really.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Finals week, and I'm grading away. Two sections of HEL this time, one of Chaucer, one of comp. I got sick of reading papers on the history of words, which is what I used to assign in History of the English Language, so I sent them all out to research a dialect or a sociolect for their papers this time. At the beginning of the semester, when I told them they would have to do it, they looked at me like spotlit deer, but I pointed out that most of them likely already knew or even belonged to some dialect/sociolect group they could study for their paper, and they grew interested; by midterm, with their rough drafts finished (well, most of both classes had a draft by then) they were so intrigued they were pestering me with questions; and these final papers are -- well, real papers. Actual academic studies that are a delight to read.

My history major, here from Fort Chaffee, did his on the sociolect of the recruits in basic training, noting that it's influenced by languages from all over the country and the world, since the recruits come from everywhere, and by incidents that have happened at bases all over the country. (He was also worried because several of the terms in the wordstock involved profanity, which he didn't know if that belonged in an academic paper, but I assured him they did.)

One of my factory students wrote about the sociolect of "the floor," the language of the workers -- now this is an interesting paper: she looks at what the workers do with the language of management, once it gets in their mouths, how thoroughly language is used as a tool, even a weapon, by the workers -- and effectively, if the paper is accurate.

One of the best papers, though, was from a student who went to buy a horse from a guy in Oklahoma when she was about seventeen. He spoke with this heavy Okie accent, and didn't seem so much interested in selling her the horse, but she wanted the horse, so she didn't back down. He let her pick the horse she wanted out of three in a corral; he gave her a bucket of feed, to let her try to approach the horse. (It was a mare, about two years old then.) It bit her, not the feed, but she still didn't back down. The guy stepped up and showed her what to do next, and for the next seven years, he taught her everything about how to handle horses -- what she wrote me was about his dialect, and the socialect of dealing with horses -- but what came through in the paper was how much she had learned from this guy. Near the end of the paper, she says the guy told her that when the horse bit her and she didn't run off, he knew she was worth teaching.

Now. What I am trying to decide is this: why are these papers so much better than all the other papers I have ever gotten from any of my students? And dude, they are. They're a quantum leap better. I only have, maybe, five papers that suck out of the fifty-two papers I collected from these two classes. About seven or eight more are average. The rest are really good papers -- not all are brilliant, but at least ten or twelve or them are so good I don't want to give them back.

Why? What's different about this assignment?

And how can I do it again?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Learning Stuff

I went to a lecture in our Math/Science building yesterday afternoon on Evolutionary Game Theory (which, can I just say, cool?) and though I didn't get *all* of it, because I couldn't understand the part of it that was in math, the part I did get has had my head buzzing since.

To which I want to add, crap, I love learning new things.

It's the best part about being at a university, being able to go to these lectures -- people who know things, telling you about them, for free! For fun! Because they think you might like it! I mean, how cool is this?

Plus? Cookies!

I love university life.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not That I Am Surprised, But...

One of our favorite students here at the U is graduating this spring cum laude.

Yay, Mouse!