Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Joy of Conference Papers

As I sit here writing a conference paper that I'll deliver in two weeks, I am reminded how much I like writing and giving conference papers. And I think I'm starting to understand some reasons why this is the case:

  1. Writing such papers is way better than grading.
  2. Since I will read the paper aloud, I don't have to perfect my footnotes and bibliography in impeccable MLA/Chicago/MHRA style.
  3. The papers are short. 10 pages. It's like writing a poem. It's long enough to be a challenge, but short enough that that I can spend a lot of time tinkering with it and practicing it aloud so that it will sound just right. Also, it's not as unwieldy as a chapter or article. I don't feel like I'm wrangling a giant squid.
  4. I can be playful. Although I want my argument to have substance, I feel like my voice can (and should?) be more conversational and informal that it would be in an article or, certainly, in my dissertation. Therefore, the writing feels a bit more creative and experimental.
  5. I am isolated as I write my PhD thesis. My university is in the UK, and I am in California at a community college. I work in my own little bubble. As such, I really enjoy conferences (even though they intimidate me a bit) because I like to hear what other people are saying, and I like having the chance to throw my own words out into the world.
  6. As I write, I regularly envision myself at the conference, in the hotel. I love staying in hotels.

The paper I'm currently writing is especially fun because I likely won't be presenting to a room full of eighteenth-century specialists. As much as I love my fellow c18 people, I feel great inferiority regarding my own knowledge of the c18. I am not yet an expert even though I feel like I already should be, so presenting to other c18 people scares me. But this conference is not an c18 conference, so I am a bit more relaxed.

Tonight, my family is camping, and I have stayed behind to finish a solid draft of the paper and do a bit of grading. I am having a great time writing (and ignoring the grading). My enjoyment is enhanced by my the three-course dinner that I will consume over a span of several hours:

First course: strawberry-rhubarb pie paired with English Breakfast tea
Second course: boiled peanuts paired with beer
Third course: dark chocolate paired with port

Good brain food, I'd say.

What about you? Do you like writing conference papers as much as I do?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Stepping Lightly but with Purpose

I will go ahead and begin with a truism: It's been a long time since the last post. Frankly, I became a little disenchanted with blogging and the whole bloggity blog world. But around the same time I stopped blogging and participating in blog-related writing groups, my productivity towards my PhD thesis/dissertation* slowed. I'm not sure the two are related (what with correlation not implying causation and all that), but I'm thinking that maybe I should take a page out of Amstr's book (or blog, as it were) and use the blog as an dissertation account, of sorts. She has been blogging, and she has finished the PhD! (Not that one caused the other, of course.) And I send such a huge congratulations to her! Way. to. Go.

Nevertheless, I think I will step lightly back into this blog as a place to keep track of my thesis goals, once or twice a week. It will feel a little lonely without Amstr being on the same path, but I know she will be cheering me on from the finish line, which she has already crossed.

Currently, I'm writing a conference paper that I will give a the beginning of next month. Typically, I would be at the polishing stage by now, but, alas, I have barely started, so the paper is my current priority. From that paper, I will try to build a draft of Chapter 3 of the dissertation.

Between now and Sunday:

  1. Review a primary text that is central to the paper
  2. Read two articles or chapters related to the paper
  3. Craft a clear working thesis statement for the paper
  4. Write at least 500 words of the paper

*I am American, so I am used to referring to the PhD project as a dissertation. However, my PhD university is in the U.K., so I also will sometimes refer to it as my thesis. I'm not really consistent about this.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Summer Lovin'

In the spirit of summer, I have updated the look over here at Chez GEW. It's not customized or fancy (it only has to be "good enough" after all), but it is cheerful and suggests the summer season that is blowing in. Granted, here on the Central Coast of California, spring is still blowing hard and cold off of the ocean, but soon the winds will settle, summer will arrive, and . . . foggy marine layers will settle over my town. But still . . .

Finals are over, and I am firmly limiting service work this summer. I am still grading exams and essays this week, but really, who cares about that? I still have time to tidy the house, purge a closet, have lunch with a friend, and then get back to the essays. This year, it's especially nice that I have been chipping away at the PhD thesis in early mornings throughout the semester. In the past, at this time of year, I have often felt panic about thesis neglect because summer, for me, means family time, for the most part, rather than extra time for the thesis. But since I have been chipping away in earning mornings, and since I will continue to do so during the summer, that panic is greatly reduced.

Plus, yesterday I finally bought a sugar dish. I have been looking for the perfect sugar dish for a few years now, mostly in thrift stores. The one I found isn't perfect, but it is good enough, and it was only $2.95, and I felt happy when I used it this morning as I prepared my tea.

This week's thesis goal: finish reading a chapter from a secondary source book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Once a Year Whether I Need it or Not

At home this morning, things got busy, and before I knew it, I didn't have time to take a shower before class. In addition to my daily morning showers, I often take quick evening showers before bed since they seem to facilitate sounder sleep.* Last night, however, I was up until 1:30 a.m. working, so I skipped it. But I'm often a two-shower-a-day kind of person.

But no shower last night. No shower this morning. I'm still at work, and it's 5:30  p.m.

I feel so grimy. And, perhaps since I'm teaching Twelfth Night this week, I just keep thinking about how grimy those Elizabethan Londoners must have been under all of those layers of clothing as they crammed in next to each other at the Globe.

I'm sorry, I know it's natural, and we're all human, but eeewwww.

*There is some data that seems to support my perceptions. Apparently, we sleep better when our body temp is falling (as it is after a warm shower) rather than rising (which mine does when I slide into my bed with freezing feet, and curl up in a fetal position as I wait for the heavy blankets to work their magic).

Monday, March 18, 2013

What You Will

About 45 minutes after we put the kids to bed, we heard a funny noise from their room. Turns out, the Girl was still awake, and the noise we heard was a sheet of paper being ripped out of a spiral notebook. She was awake, with a booklight, writing a play.

She will be unbearably tired tomorrow, but I must admit that I am excited by how engaged she was in her writing process. I went in to kiss her goodnight (again), and she told me that she wants to videotape the play and that she thinks I would be perfect for the parts of Mom 1 and Mom 2.

One of the weekly activity centers in her class has been "reader's theater," and I can tell that she has internalized (at least to some extent) the dramatic format.

I just finished prepping Twelfth Night for tomorrow, so her playwrighting (not a word?) makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

College Crisis Resolved

For the most part . . .

We still have some work to do before we are entirely in the clear, but our progress has been praised, we will not be shut down, and I got a personal shout-out from the college President in his campus-wide e-mail announcement about the issue.

I am both proud that I helped save the college and slightly mortified than I am now in league with "the man." I am so establishment.

But, I still have a job, and so do the rest of my colleagues. And the students still have a place to go to school.

So there's that.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Not on my A Game

I'm a pretty good teacher. I am not spellbinding or mindblowing, but I'm pretty good.

But so far this semester, I feel like I'm sucking in the classroom. I don't know what's going on. I feel disconnected. I'm prepping a lot and excited about the work, but things in class seem to be falling flat.

I want to turn it around, but since I'm not sure what's wrong, it's hard to figure out what to do.

Friday, January 25, 2013


For the past few years, I have regularly taught five days a week with meetings filling up the afternoons and in-between times. All of my prep work and grading have been done late into the evenings and on weekends. The ongoing college crisis has added significant stress to the daily routine. Every day is jam packed with working and parenting. Life is wonderful, but certain things just don't fit well into the schedule, and the days, at times, seem rather frenetic.

But this semester, I don't teach on Fridays. Granted, most Fridays I will be on campus at meetings, but not always. And not today.

Today, after the kids went to school, I went for a run. Then I spent a couple of hours working on the dissertation. Then I worked on boxing up some Zappos returns that I've neglected for months, and I finally took them to the post office. Then I finally got a flu shot. Then I returned some boots to Sears that were too small for my daughter. Then I read for a while at a coffee shop. Now, I'm heading home for movie night with the family.

Exercise, quietude, productivity, relaxation, family time--it all seems so civilized and *balanced*.

I am so grateful for this day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thrift Store Haul

I just returned from a trip to a local thrift store, and I just have to share the details of my haul. I got 23 items, including the following:

  1. Four shirts for Hubby, including one Eddie Bauer
  2. A few tops and sweaters for me, including one Banana Republic cardigan
  3. A couple of skirts for me including an Izaak Mizrahi for Target (sp?) and an Old Navy
  4. A bunch of jeans and slacks, including but not limited to the following:

  • two pairs of Gloria Vanderbilt pants (I know, so 80s, but still nice)
  • one pair of Old Navy jeans
  • two pairs of Carribean Joe slacks
  • one pair of slacks from Anne Taylor Loft
The total price? 

$20.00 even, including tax.

Once when I bought from this shop, I found $25 in one of the pockets. *fingers crossed*

Monday, January 14, 2013


Today I worked on the syllabus for my Brit Lit survey course. Each spring, I alternate teaching between the first half of Brit Lit (Old English to mid-c18) and the second half (French Revolution-Modernism). To clarify--one spring I teach the first half, and the next spring I teach the second half. I have been doing this for about 10 years.

As I was updating the syllabus today for this spring (which is the first half), I found myself making some significant changes to the readings, which is something I really haven't done much of since I've been teaching the class. Some of the changes are the result of me adapting to a new text. Others were the result of some kind of internal impulse, the source of which is mysterious.

Here are the changes:
  • No more take-home exams. Sick of plagiarism. From now on, we'll do in-class exams which will be totally fair but full of surprises!
  • No more Faerie Queene. I know. I know! But I like to teach Book III, and none of the texts have Book III, and many of the students fight the text anyway, so I'm going to take a break.
  • I'm teaching Chaucer's "General Prologue" in translation. Gaspe!
  • I have gotten rid of the Cavalier Poets in favor of adding more background on the English "Civil War."
  • I have kicked out Pope and added more Johnson.
These changes felt very weird and even a bit wrong and scary, but, at the same time, it was liberating to delete "To His Coy Mistress" and "Essay on Criticism." I know these texts are important and show us things about the time periods, but Marvell really is a bit of a tool in that poem, and novels totally beat out the heroic couplet (Sorry, Pope! You lose!), so I'm thinking we might try focusing on other things.

So there. I am ruling my own curricular kingdom! 

Do you have any favorite texts that are great for survey courses but still somewhat off the beaten path?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Things Students Say (or Write)

I am finishing up my grading for fall (yes, really--our grades are due tomorrow), and I stumbled upon this surprising sentence:

"Castration is as much a part of history as art."

Huh. I'm certainly curious about what will follow . . .