End of Semester Breakdown

There’s just one more week left in the Fall Semester and, as usual, I am ready to be DONE. There are still piles of grading and then two more classes to teach, final exams to put together, and student evals to prep.

Yet, as I look at my office whiteboard, I feel somewhat accomplished. I checked off nearly everything on my semester long to-do list (something new I tried this semester), except for one article submission, which I have three days (!!!) to complete. Being able to see so many accomplishments checked off is a great feeling and reminds me that I do quite a bit during an average semester. Usually, I am scrambling like a maniac at this time and worrying over everything I haven’t done. This time, I am scrambling like a maniac but not worrying about a lack of productivity, because I can just look at my whiteboard and relax.

Posting has clearly been a bit spotty lately, and will likely be pretty light until the end of the year. But I’ll be back to consider 2016 in review, for sure.

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Conference Con 2016!

Apologies for no post last week–my work load got a bit overwhelming and then the election sort of deflated me for a few days. Then, I had to head off the the 2016 convention of the Midwest Modern Language Association (MMLA) in St. Louis. I assumed that the conference would be filled with references to the election and discussion of same, but it was not entirely gloomy. In fact, I even managed to find some inspiration while I was there.

I presented on a panel that was in the very first slot of the very first day of the conference, and yet we had a surprisingly good number of people who attended (8). My presentation was about conducting effective–and respectful–discussions in an online class environment, particularly with respect to race and gender. So, it seemed somewhat timely, anyway.

There were some graduate student scholars doing amazing work throughout the conference, which was great to see, despite the dismal nature of the job market right now. But I was most inspired by an informal talk hosted by the Civil War caucus, which featured  Barbara McCaskill of the University of Georgia and Eric Gardner of Saginaw Valley State University. In particular, Dr. McCaskill’s discussion of her work in archives and with digital humanities tools to explore and publicize the story of William and Ellen Craft was motivating and encouraging. She spoke of having to fight for her focus on early 19th century Back writers back in graduate school and that she still has to fight to do the work she thinks is important, regardless of what would be most effective or efficient for her career track. She also made an important case for collaboration as a legitimate scholarly activity, even though it is typically dismissed by tenure and promotion committees and other higher level administrators in higher education. She did observe, though, that over the past 10 years, she has seen a shift toward acceptance of interdisciplinary (and multidisciplinary!) work in English and the humanities more broadly, so she thinks the same thing will happen for collaboration.

I left that talk feeling more empowered to do the work I think is important, and to continue my work of centering minority and female voices in the classroom. This continues to be critical work. I do consider my work in the classroom as a type of activism, and while there is much more I know I should be doing, I can at least keep doing this.

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A Scientific Literary Analysis

A new article in the journal Bioscience (the actual article is currently behind a paywall) purports to use mathematical models to determine just what would have happened had Victor Frankenstein provided his Monster with a female mate in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Needless to day, this has intrigued me and my literary colleagues alike.

I appreciate the cross-disciplinary approach to this study. It’s not often that scholars of the sciences bother to find any professional intellectual curiosity in the dusty corners of the humanities. The humanities have been crossing over to the sciences for quite a while, though medical humanities, investigative journalism, science writing, science fiction, and more. But to go in the other direction is still a rarity. So, I commend the authors of this article for reaching out to the other side of the campus. Continue reading

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Injured, Probably

This isn’t a real blog update, as I seem to have injured my knee somehow and the discomfort is making it hard to focus. I’m a runner, and I’ve been having some pain issues on and off with my knee. I didn’t think much of it, since I am prone to IT Band Syndrome and my running shoes were on their last tread. I’ve replaced my shoes and made a few other changes, taken some rest days, etc.

But on Friday, something must have gone quite wrong, and now I cannot bend my knee without a remarkable amount of pain. Something has pulled or strained in the back of my knee, and walking normally is impossible. I don’t think it’s the posterior cruciate ligament or anything quite that serious, as I didn’t have an acute incident or hear a “popping” sound at any point.

I am going to try to see a doc as soon as possible this week, so stay tuned until the next real blog post. May your week be injury-free, dear readers!

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The Simpsons Enter “The Town”

I realize it’s become pretty de rigueur to dismiss The Simpsons these days. I mean, even I, a die hard fan who remembers watching the very first episode way back in 1989, can admit that it’s not as strong as it used to be. Partially because almost nothing could ever compare to the near-perfection that is Seasons 2-6, or to the extreme greatness that is everything up to, say, Season 20. Now, in its 28th Season (that’s right, TWENTY EIGHT YEARS), The Simpsons, as Lisa once said about Itchy & Scratchy, simply can’t have the same impact it once had. This is especially true given the deaths of key cast members and the labor struggles amongst the core voice actors.

And yet, the show that competes only with The X-Files for 1st place in my personal TV pantheon, just put out what was perhaps its best episode in years, titled “The Town.” And with it came a phrase I hadn’t heard since childhood: “So don’t I!” Continue reading

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Election 2016 in Black & White

A funny thing has happened during this tumultuous dumpster fire of a United States election season: Black poets are getting play from the Republicans. That’s right, the Tump side of the Presidential race has been highlighting the work of a few Black writers, much to the chagrin of, well, most decent folk. The irony is that these writers have not been quoted by the likes of Donald Trump and Scott Baio because they want to share and promote the poetry of Black artists; rather, they are co-opting these words, stripping them of context and authorial identification, and presenting them as promotional speech for their own racist–or to be more charitable, nationalist–purposes.

  •  Trump likes to quote from the song “The Snake” by Oscar Brown, Jr. The Chicago Tribune linked here notes that Brown’s family has asked Trump not to quote his work but Trump hasn’t responded. The song retells a fable of a woman who helped a snake only to be bitten by it later. Candidate Trump likes to use this as a metaphor supporting his anti-refugee stance. Rather than a cautionary tale about being “wise as a serpent,” Trump seems to interpret the song as being applicable to traumatized Syrian children. Given Trump’s racist positions and race-baiting rally speeches, I’m not sure “ironic” is even a strong enough word to describe this situation.
  • At the Republican National Convention, Scott Baio paraphrased part of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.” I can’t add much more to Pajiba’s excellent analysis of the irony of Baio using this particular poem, but I’d like to discuss the other portion of the poem that undercuts the entire Republican platform as represented by Trump. Toward the end of the poem, the speaker says:

O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be!

So, after the speaker has thoroughly interrogated the typical American slogans and found them empty, he swears that though this is how America stands today, he will not be content to see it remain so. He swears that someday America will be America for him, and for others like him. It is a kernel of hope in an otherwise sardonic analysis. And this only adds to the irony of a group of people invoking Hughes’ poem to advocate for a return to a mythic America–the speaker in Hughes’ poem intends for the country itself to change, to move forward from the “America” that Trump and Baio and their ilk wish to see return. Hughes’ poem is not one of stasis, or even merely of complaint, but of possibility–however small.

  • On the more positive side of things, The New York Times celebrated the opening of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture with a full page reprinting of Hughes’ “I, Too.” Langston Hughes is given his due here, with no paraphrasing, no editorializing, and in support of a project that he, no doubt, would support.

Despite the somewhat gloomy pall cast by this election season, examples such as these at least remind me–and thus, I remind my students–that the study of literature is never just an isolated activity. Texts never remain within the four walls of a classroom or office; they are vibrant, living entities that can crop up when you least expect them to, and they demand an informed response.

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What Do You Find Boring? podcast edition

I am an avid podcast listener. I have a number of subscriptions of my phone and separate set of subscriptions on my running iPod. They run the gamut of genres, from true crime (Casefile) to comedy (The Flop House) to sports (Garbage Time with Katie Nolan). But I was thinking this week about the podcasts I don’t listen to that everyone else seems to love–any of the This American Life type podcasts, other podcasts kind that do long form storytelling, or which examine tiny details of popular culture, etc. And I don’t listen to them because I find them boring. Like, really boring. But why? I couldn’t really articulate it, so I’ve been pondering the qualities of “boring.” Continue reading

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Research Grant News

Over the summer, I applied for the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) Grants for Researchers with Heavy Teaching Loads. I was honestly unsure of my chances with this grant, although I absolutely fit the criteria to a T, in my opinion. Well, dear readers, I was notified last week that I WON THE GRANT! This news has reinvigorated my research agenda and given me an academic self-esteem boost that I really needed.

With my book proposal currently under external review with a publisher, I haven’t moved too far forward on any of my planned upcoming research projects. If I were to consider my various plans, they could amount to nearly two or three books scheduled for the next several years! However, as a visiting appointment with a 4-4 load, I have very little support or opportunity to conduct sustained research or to travel for research. Enter the ASTR Grant.

The research proposal I submitted to ASTR is something I’ve wanted to get started on for a while. I came across the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) during my dissertation research and haven’t had a chance to research them in any real depth. They were an activist organization in the 1970s dedicated to promoting women’s rights and were radical intersectional feminists before we even used that terminology. I know they had a theatre/performance wing, and put on plays, but there is no secondary research available about this. Fortunately, Smith College has their archives!

And so, my plan is to visit the archives at Smith and spend some time exploring the 7 boxes worth of material housed in the Sophia Smith Collection. I don’t know yet what I’ll find–I need to get in touch with the librarians and archivists there, of course–but I am excited about a new research adventure and the ASTR Grant has made this possible.

In the same collection are the archives of the Theatre of Light and Shadow, which was a women’s performance collective that I know nothing about; they just happen to have the entry above the TWWA in the list of finding aids at the Sophia Smith Collection website. There are 10 boxes of material related to this group, so I’m hoping I will have enough time to poke through some of those items, as well.

Given the already tight constraints of the fall semester, I am tentatively setting my research trip for spring break 2017. As it happens, the library with the collections will be closed next June through August for relocation, so a summer trip is right out. Once I have a little more time to plan and have gotten in touch with the library, I’ll have a better idea of what I’ll need to do and how long it will take. Either way, I am so happy to have this opportunity.

Imposter Syndrome is a real thing, hating even those of us who have degrees and employment in the field. I feel quite confident in my pedagogy on any given day, but I often feel shaky in my research. I know I have something to offer my field, and I enjoy the process of research and writing (sometimes, anyway!), but I am often plagued by self doubt and procrastination. Of course, these are intensely normal feelings, or so I am told. But they are still hard to shake. But winning a grant based on your own ideas and plans goes a long way to making you feel at least a bit more confident. And so here’s to the rest of the fall semester, with more confidence and less impostering!

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The Literal Kindness of Strangers

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was the recipient of some kindness from strangers. Unlike Blanche duBois, though, I never rely on the kindness of strangers. In fact, I avoid strangers as much as possible. Whether that’s a holdover from growing up in the “stranger danger” era of the 1980s, or due to my general introverted personality, I’m not sure. It’s probably both. Yet this recent experience is challenging me to rethink my relationship with “strangers” and the various ways I tend to interact with those around me. Continue reading

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Labor Day Break

In honor of Labor Day, there is no post this week. Although I suspect, that like most professors, I will be grading or working in some capacity on this fine day, regardless.

Enjoy whatever form your day takes, readers.

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