Category Archives: Academe

They Say You Can’t Go Home Again …

onmymindSo here’s the deal: As many of you know, my academic career kind of stalled out right around the time I had my first kid. I was one of those silly, silly people who  went straight through from my BA program (in MN) to my MA program (in OH) to my PhD program (in CA) with nary a pause for rest or reflection. I’ve always known what I wanted to do (theatre), and I’ve always been good at school (nerd), so it seemed like … uh … the thing to do, you know?

And don’t get me wrong – I loved my grad programs. Loved the people, loved the classes, loved the late-night last-minute research-paper cramming sessions, loved living in new places, loved learning new things, LOVED. IT.

But it’s funny how when you’re in your early twenties and not super self-aware (I know; redundant) you can convince yourself that doing a dissertation is totes no big deal, and you can fer sher take that full-time teaching job in another state while completing your thesis, and, heck, you don’t even really need a lot of contact with your committee! You are a self-motivated power-house of academic fortitude! Sure, you suffer from medicate-able levels of anxiety and depression and wrote 90% of your term papers the night before they were due and possibly your chosen topic is a little broad but WHAT POSSIBLE EFFECT COULD THAT HAVE? No, YOU shut up.

Man, my twenty-something self was dumb. Continue reading

The 13 Original Colonies blues

Ellie has entered the “Colonial History” phase of first grade this past month, and let me tell you, it is AWESOME. The other day she had an assignment to draw the Battle of Lexington (!) and her ink rendering of patriots and redcoats running hell-for-leather at each other, loaded .45’s (sorry, Dad) gripped in both hands (those colonials were HARDCORE, y’all), with little dotted lines to mark the bullet trajectories … well, if they don’t hire that girl to illustrate elementary school textbooks when she grows up, it’s a crime, that’s what.

The colonial era is one of my favorite historical periods, and one of the only periods of American history that interests me. (Yeah, I prefer European history. I also voted for Obama, eat arugula and yearn for a single payer healthcare system. I’m a pinko, is what I’m saying. Try to contain your surprise.) It never occurred to me until this month that one of the probable reasons for my enthusiasm about the American Revolution is that I grew up in one of the original 13 colonies. And you better believe that even in the free-lovin’ 70s, every little Georgia scholar had it drummed into their brains that we were among the first – the last of the first, to be precise, squeaking into that elite group at the late date of 1733. It’s cool, dammit! Even as a first-grader, I was awed by the ineffable link between my boring daily life and the exciting days of Boston Tea Parties and cruel winters in Valley Forge. Starvation! Marching with your feet wrapped in rags! The Redcoats are coming! SHIT JUST GOT REAL, YO.

I kind of wonder if wee Minnesotans have that same sense of wonder about something that happened not only so very long ago, but also so very far away. Anachronistic illustrations of weaponry aside, can they comprehend the reality of the Revolutionary era? Or is it just another story from “once upon a time?” I don’t know, but having volunteered in Ellie’s class recently I can tell you that (1) Ms. Larson, Ellie’s teacher, is an enthusiastic and creative leader on this historical journey (her in-class reenactment of Jefferson throwing out discarded pages from the Declaration of Independence is a sight to behold), and (2) first-graders think the word “Monticello” is HILARIOUS. I have no idea why.

Continue reading

I write letters

Dear Every-Creator-of-Plus-Sized-Clothing-Ever,

It’s my ASS that’s bigger, and possibly my tits. My arms continue to be normal human length. Please take note.

For chrissakes,


Dear Student,

Actually, “Because I have a lot of homework that has to get done” is NOT generally considered a valid excuse for leaving a 3-hour class 2 hours early. Particularly when you haven’t been exactly awesome about completing the homework for MY class. If you were expecting points for honesty, think again.

I mean really,


Dear Powerball,

If anyone else ignored me so repeatedly, despite all my best efforts, I would totally leave their asses in the dust. But I just can’t quit you, baby. Maybe next time you’ll gimme some of that sweet financial sugar I want so bad.



Random Tidbits of a summer evening

  1. The waking-up-early-to-meditate thing? Is not going well. Possibly because the staying-up-too-late-reading thing is still in full force. Turns out that lack of sleep makes me a raging bitch mama! Who could have foretold?
  2. Possible TMI warning: I don’t know if I’m going through peri-menopause or if my IUD isn’t working or what the hell is the matter, but I have been going through mega-crazy PMS this last week and it is getting really old. I hate how even knowing that your responses are purely irrational and hormone-overload-based does not actually help you calm the fuck down. Also, why does it have to be that the older I get, the more completely psycho my monthly cycle makes me? WHO IS THIS HELPING?
  3. One of the awesome things about having both girls obsessed with knock-knock jokes is being able to listen to them tell said jokes to each other over the nursery monitor after they’ve been put to bed. The Hatchling knows some actual knock-knock jokes, but the Sprout basically tells one “joke,” which goes like this: Knock Knock. (Who’s There?) Banana. (Banana Who?) (pause) … PUT IT IN YOUR EYE! (cackling laughter). Surreal, yet satisfying.
  4. In case there was any doubt that an academic nerd still lurks underneath this stay-at-home-mama façade, I spent approximately two hours this afternoon composing a carefully worded email explaining why I think essentialist feminism is a bunch of bunk. (Actually, pretty much essentialism full stop.) On the plus side, it’s nice that I know people with whom I can have such exchanges. On the minus side, this is time that could perhaps have been spent more profitably cleaning my incredibly dirty floors. June Cleaver, I am not.

I write letters

1. Dear student,

Contrary to popular belief, it is not actually my problem that you haven’t gotten your textbook yet. Having ordered the books for the school bookstore, posted direct links to three different online vendors, and provided you with copies of the first two weeks’ readings, I really feel like my job with respect to your acquisition of the (single, reasonably priced, REQUIRED) text is completely done. I mean, really.

Best wishes, the Squab

2. Dear Other Student,

You registered two weeks late. You didn’t contact me until I noticed you on the roster and emailed to see why you hadn’t logged in. You said you needed to talk with me on the phone to “discuss expectations,” but the number you provided was non-functioning and though I gave you my number you never called. We’re now in week five and you still have not logged in … to this exclusively online course. Can you please just cut me some freaking slack and drop already?

For real, the Squab

3. Dear Language Disorder,

Please back the FUCK OFF my kid.

Incredibly sincerely, the Squab

4. Dear State of MN,

Thank you for finally stopping the sociopathic weather and granting us several delightful June days. Now can you please hold off with the 90s and high humidity until we get the new patio in? I’m not joking. YOU OWE ME.

Much obliged, the Squab

Just call her Che

So the Hatchling staged a coup at preschool last week. I knew I was in trouble when her preschool teacher (whom we love) came out of the classroom to where all the parents wait in the hallway, and pointing her finger successively at four of us, said, “You, you, you and you – I need to talk to you.” We winced and slunk into the classroom while the other parents looked on in sympathy mixed with relief. It TOTALLY felt like getting called into the principal’s office, NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW, since I was one of those kids who never GOT called into the principal’s office, because my whole aim in life was to please my teachers. Because I’m an oldest kid, and we like to get approval from authority figures. UNLESS YOU’RE MY DAUGHTER. Because apparently nobody told the Hatchling this, and she and three of her favorite little playmates went completely Mutiny on the Bounty on their preschool teachers. Collectively, they refused to help clean up at clean-up time, would not join the group at group time, trashed the reading nook during snack time, and (thus) did not get to go outside and play at the end of the day. As soon as we walked into the room, the Hatchling and the other little girl in the group both started crying; they knew they were in trouble. The little boys opted for the avoidance tactic, and just looked away like they didn’t even know any of these people and where were they, anyway? We spent about 10 minutes sternly exhorting our wayward progeny to clean up the mess, pronto, no I mean do it right now, RIGHT NOW, miss, you are going to get in TROUBLE, and now go apologize to your teacher and we are going to have WORDS on the way home. Sigh. Of course, their teacher was horribly sick that morning, so my theory is that they sensed weakness and went in for the kill. Which maybe makes it even worse. Honestly, y’all, I have no template for this. I was a goody-two-shoes all through school. I mean, there were MAYBE two times when I got my name up on the board for talking too much, but lawsy, that alone was enough to just about bring me to tears. I didn’t even start THINKING about sticking it to the man until grad school. I am trying to look on the bright side. Perhaps she’ll be an inspirational activist type! Or … a union organizer! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Alternatively, she could end up stealing hubcaps after dropping out of school at thirteen. That’s parenting! Always an exciting option somewhere down the road!

Christ, how did it get to be Friday already?

The house is a mess, they’re doing road work so the water is turned off all day, the kids are extra cranky, it’s like a sauna outside, and all I really wanna do is take a long nap in my air-conditioned bedroom.

Oh, plus I wanna move to France. Via Kevin Drum:

Matt Yglesias translates some questions from Le Bac, France’s college admission test/high school leaving exam. These are from the philosophy test:

— Does objectivity in history presuppose the impartiality of the historian?

— Does language betray thought?

— Explicate an excerpt from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation

— Are there questions that are un-answerable by science?

I mean, I know I’m an elitist liberal pinko commie treehugger, and I know comparisons are odious and all, but honestly: can you IMAGINE such questions on any kind of high school test in the US? ‘Cause I sure can’t.

Back in the saddle

Well, I have officially survived my first two classes. I don’t even want to KNOW what my blood pressure was yesterday – we had the Hatchling’s first ECFE class of the year, and I had to finish copying, collating, and assembling my course materials (which, yes, this is something I should have brought to the college copy center, but have I mentioned the procrastination? PROCRASTINATION.) The Hatchling took an extra long nap, which was helpful in giving me more time to prep/freak out, but then when she woke up I had to make a last minute run to Target for folders which left me a little less time for the commute into St. Paul (at rush hour, with lots of traffic) than I ideally needed. So I arrived at the classroom on the dot of 6, breathless and a little sweaty, my head filled with nightmare visions of surly students who will think my every technique is, like, totally stupid.

I was, of course, being a little melodramatic. (You’re shocked, I know.) Turns out, teaching is kind of like riding a bike; I slipped right back into it like a well-worn pair of jeans. It’s a different group of students than I’ve taught before – for one thing, it’s almost all boys!! That never happens in theatre classes! – and it’s definitely not going to be like teaching theatre kids. I’ll need to keep reminding them how the crazy games and scenework are teaching them skills they can use in the music industry, but that’s not really different from teaching nonmajors at more conventional schools. And they seem willing to give it a shot, which is all I ask. So, you know: whew.

Autumn with a vengeance

This week definitely feels like the start of the school year. This is true mostly because it IS, in fact, the start of my school year – I start teaching my classes Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week – and also of the Hatchling’s school year, with a new ECFE class beginning tomorrow morning. But there are other signs as well:

1. The weather is doing a perfect imitation of Real Fall Weather. Autumn is my favorite season, so I’m perfectly happy with the cooler temps, only knowing Minnesota this likely means that we’ll be getting snow in a week or two, to which I say GAH!

2. I suddenly have like a million things to do and places to be. This morning, for instance, I had TWO doctor’s appointments. You will be happy to know that my blood pressure is right down where it needs to be, and I saw the Bubba via ultrasound and he/she actually has a face and hands and stuff now. Which is a relief, because faceless babies with no hands are nowhere NEAR as cute as the other ones.

3. While I’m still fighting the fatigue factor (alliteration!) I do feel a bit more brisk than I have for most of the summer. Maybe it’s the cooler temps, maybe it’s having more to do, but whatever it is, I’ll take it.

4. I’m up right now at a quarter to one in the morning, finalizing my syllabi and course materials. Because I am a procrastinator of EPIC proportions. (And also I somehow had convinced myself that my new school is on the quarter system, only to realize tonight that they’re on semesters, thus necessitating the revision of all my schedules. Why? Why am I so dumb?)

That’s it for me. Are you all in an autumnal place, or are you still clinging to the last vestiges of summer?

Saturday musings

It is a GORGEOUS day today here in Minneapolis. Sunny, not too hot, a nice breeze – really just a perfect day to be outside. Not that I really know, mind you, since I’m at my regular coffee shop all day, doing the writing thing, hoping that there will be more perfect days once I’m done with the damn diss. Which I now have even more incentive to finish in a timely manner, because that job I interviewed for? I got it. One course in the fall, one in the spring – a perfect load for getting back in the swing of teaching, and hopefully it won’t be too hard to work out the childcare/scheduling thing. I gotta say, I’m excited to get back in the classroom. Teaching is really one of my passions, but unfortunately, it’s not one of those things that you can just get up and do for the asking. It will be good to mix with students again and get back to figuring out how to help them learn how to learn.

I was thinking last night about what I’ll call avocations, for lack of a better word. You know, “callings” – the things that you’re drawn to do no matter what. My senior year in high school when they asked us for quotes for the yearbook (seniors got special pictures and quotes) I eschewed the ever-popular Bowie/Changes quote and chose this one from Robert Frost instead:

But yield who will to their separation
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Almost twenty years ago, and I still have that memorized. And though it’s a bit highfalutin’ for a high school senior, in a lot of ways it still defines how I think about work and career. I am, I have discovered, not one of those people who can be satisfied with a “day job” – you know, the place you work to cover the bills, so you can live your “real” life outside work hours. I just can’t do it. Part of it is probably from growing up in an academic family, part of it is being overeducated with an overactive imagination, and part of it is just my nature. But whatever the cause, Frost’s idea of uniting avocation and vocation is pretty much what I’m always after. And I’m lucky, really, because I do have something that I feel “called” to do: theatre’s been my calling since approximately junior high, and teaching got added into that calling somewhere towards the end of college.

Having a calling is a gift, I know – I’ve pretty much always known what I wanted to do and be when I grew up – but of course it can also be a curse, because when you know for certain what you want to do, it’s pretty difficult to accept anything else as a substitute. Tenure track theatre positions aren’t exactly falling into my lap, you know? But I value it, nonetheless, because it’s a very centering thing to have in my life. Even if I can’t get that tenure track job I’d dreamed of – yet – I can get courses here and there, maybe start up a new theatre company, coach auditions, try to publish some articles in dramatic criticism. I mean, I might not know exactly what I’ll be doing ten years from now, but I know the general area I’ll be working in, because I have this avocation – theatre – and I’m the kind of person who has to make that my vocation, my “day job” as well.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because of a conversation I was having with some former students of mine, some of my favorite students, in fact, with whom I was talking about career goals, avocations, vocations. Over the years, I’ve taught a fair number of students, some of whom were interested in theatre, some of whom were not. All in all, out of the hundreds of students I’ve taught, there have been maybe a dozen that I really believed could and would and should make careers in theatre. It’s a demanding discipline, and you have a weird combination of talent, stubbornness, drive and insanity to do it for a career, but there were these few kids that I really thought would go there. And none of them – none! – have ended up doing it. Oh, they’re all doing various worthy activities. Lots of them are in public service jobs, working with underpriveleged kids or teaching in other disciplines or doing related humanities or nonprofit work. But none of them have made that lifetime commitment that I thought they would. In my more cynical moods, this feels like failure on my part. Why couldn’t I inspire them to follow that dream? I’ve found such a wonderful home in theatre – why don’t more of my students want to stick around and play? I know, of course, that this is a silly response. Like a parent, a teacher’s job is to prepare her students to find their OWN way, and as long as they’re happy and productive that’s what counts, right? But still, I wonder: how many of my students are even looking for a combination of avocation and vocation? How many of them will be brave enough, or crazy enough, to hold out for it? Will any of them find it where I have, in theatre? And is it my job to help them find theatrical avocations, or to use theatre to help them find whatever avocations or vocations will be their own? Heady thoughts for a Saturday, dear readers. How about you? Are you of Frost’s mindset? Or are you more contented with a separation between your work and your play?