Another month in another year

I have to write a reflecting of my first semester of teaching in the South, and I have to have it ready for Tuesday.  As you might guess, I haven’t started to write on paper or screen, but have somewhat begun in my head.  I have the perfect opening line: “The Devil is an ass, and so am I”, and now that I’ve finished reading The Devil in an Ass, I can say that with some veracity.  In truth, though, my teaching was the best part of my semester, so perhaps the line doesn’t apply to a reflection based on teaching alone.

The Devil is an Ass was a little hard to get into.  I also expect it’s one of those plays much better seen than read.  It was hard, indeed, not to sympathize with poor Pug, the minor devil obviously in over his head in Jacobean London.  As I think on it, the concept of the play is easily adaptable to modern day, but a modern adaptation would be, or at least feel, much darker.

I’m about to begin another book that’s been on my list for awhile, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman, a book which I suspect was made for me, as the aforementioned gentleman is jovial and long-winded.  I sure could use a little levity in my life.


Being mad at the right person

The end of the semester is nigh, and I think we’re all ready.  As I can no longer put off grading certain assignments that will be unpleasant to grade, I’m finally doing it.  It’s been unpleasant.  On the one hand, I feel like my students are willing to do only the bare minimum to meet the requirements of the assignment, as expressed in the prompt.  On the other, I could fix that simply by making the prompt more detailed.  Would that help or hurt?

One of the tutors for chemistry told me that some students  come to tutoring after having done the lab, asking her to explain what the hell it was they did in lab.  She said that, despite the inclusion of a prelab, many students apparently do not read the lab before they actually come to lab.  She also delivered the unpleasant news that I likely will not have a tutor for my class in the spring on account of doing plenty of second semester topics this semester, so no potential tutor would have done most of what I’ll do next semester.  As it is, I feel like I didn’t do plenty of what I have done as deeply as I would like.

“It’s hard to translate”

I have a travel mug that was given to me as a gift at my last school.  It has Chinese characters on it, so it was with some nervousness that I carried it into class for the first time here.  Last week a couple of my Chinese students asked where I got it.  I said it was a gift and asked them what it said.  It’s a poem, but it’s hard to translate.  It’s about tea, spring, poetry, and the moon.  The poem is comprised of eight characters, and to touch on all that, one concludes Chinese is a richly expressive language.

My own language learning has stalled somewhat under the weight of grading assignments, writing solutions keys, and keeping my frustration with passive students in check.  Passive is a word one of my colleagues used, and it fits well, I think.  I think many of my students expect that sitting in class and making notes should be good enough, and that working on a single problem, especially if it is not so simple it’s obvious, is too much.  I’ve begun to call on students and send them to the board.  Given how late it is in the semester, I’m sure it’s obvious to at least some of them that I’m frustrated.  And from that perspective it feels like a punishment.  On the other hand, I don’t think it’s terrible that they know they aren’t stacking up.  If they want a passive lecture, they can go to UGA and sit in a 200 student lecture hall.  If they can get into UGA.

But to come back to languages, it’s frustrating to not be able to practice as much as I’d like.  My German progress has stalled a little and I’m just trying to hold my Italian where it is.  I am going to Atlanta for a wine tasting hosted by the Goethe Center next weekend.  I’m pretty excited for that, and also just to be exposed to people with similar interests.  The dearth of intellectualism in Macon is suffocating.

At least new home is like old home

I’ve lived in Georgia for about two months now.  In many ways, it’s like Tacoma.  It’s gray and dreary for weeks at a time, and city excitement is so damn far away.  It’s different too, though.  For one thing, Georgia has humidity and air conditioning.  For another, the restaurant options are less exciting.  But I can drive home for the holidays, and I’m looking forward to that.  I’m going to stop in Roanoke, the city where I first found I was alive.  I’m going to see Tinker Mountain again.

I’m less moody now than I was two months ago.  Teaching has consumed all my energy, so I have none to spare on things that are not immediate irritants.  I am somewhat amazed at all of the ideas I’ve had about teaching and growing science that I desperately just need a weekend to sit and write them all.  Fall break starts at the end of next week.  I’m going up to Atlanta to enjoy myself, dammit.  Gonna eat, shop, wander, and see a play.  Maybe I’ll stop in at the Goethe Center.  I’d like a membership, and I want to get it before I buy a ticket to their European wine tasting.  I’ll be up in Atlanta in early November, too.  And maybe early December, too.

In which I’ve rambled

I see it’s been a while since I’ve shared anything here.  I once held it a badge of pride that I had made at least one post per month.  I had vowed to myself that I would not abandon writing here as I was statistically likely to do.  Oops!

At least I can partially cover my omissions with actual rambling.  And I don’t mean the wordy kind, although I might still do that.  Since I last wrote here, I’ve moved from Washington state to Georgia, with stops in Virginia, Baltimore, New York City, and Turkey.  I learned that I live in a vast, strange, beautiful country.  I learned I’m still a Virginian, but I’m also a bit Washingtonian, too.  I am learning to be a Georgian, and in fact, I have already successfully driven from my new home in Macon to IKEA, and back, twice.  And I didn’t wreck my car either time.  I listen to 99.1, which is country music for “the heart of middle Georgia”.  It’s very strange to think of myself as a middle Georgian.  I feel like I don’t really have anything that makes me Georgian, even though I like to think I’m Southern.  I’m trying to be relentlessly polite, although I’m still not a patient person.  I’ve forgiven myself for chewing out most of the Cox Internet folks to whom I spoke in the ten goddam days it took to get Internet in my apartment.  I forgave myself the instant I got off the phone with them.  In fact, I wouldn’t even say I chewed them out.

My new license plate says “Peach State” on it.  It also says “Bibb”, the county of registration.  I suppose if I had wanted it, I could have gotten one that said “In God we trust” at no extra charge.  But I didn’t want it.  And I don’t particularly want to be picked up in a taxi that has a Bible verse printed on the bumper, but I guess if I need a taxi I’ll have to accept whomever arrives to get me.  I don’t particularly want to patronize a business that prints Bible verses on its signs, either.  I suppose I have to acknowledge that this makes me prejudiced against Christians.  But it does seem very holier-than-thou, of-course-I-have-sound-morals, when as we all know, down that path lies repression and repression comes out in ugly ways.

I’m already planning my first trip to Atlanta.  It’ll be a relief to have a choice of restaurants again.  And to know that if I meet jackasses in a restaurant, I don’t have to go there again because I’ll have plenty of other options.  Look at me, being so cheerful.

Experiencing project fatigue

Last summer an idea that had been percolating for awhile crystallized into a fantastic (and somewhat fantasy) plan to turn an obscure play, Look About You, into a screenplay for a teen movie.  Which is strange because I’ve never really cared for teen movies, even when I was a teenager.  But the major plot device in the play is disguise and mistaken identity, and when more than one such character is involved, imagining it fulfilled by adults is difficult.  Unless they’re all spies, but I’m not really feeling it as a spy movie.  The play itself is a little dark, but I feel like the source of conflict is obscure for modern audiences.  Where a teen movie could be made lighter and use the mistaken identities to be uplifting by the end.

I recently read Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, about a poet who travels to a remote city and becomes entangled in the lives of many of its citizens, including his former classmate and love interest.  Reading about his instances of inspiration for writing poetry left me feeling as if I should push myself to write more.  Of course, I have been much more successful in identifying compelling topics for poems, and their titles, than I have been at writing the poems themselves.

I’ve moved right into the introduction for Lattimore’s The Iliad, and I was a little annoyed to see that it covers only a small portion of the Troy story.  I knew it didn’t cover everything, and most events are report after the fact, but The Iliad covers only a tiny piece about men and how easily their feelings get hurt.  And it made me think of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Tauris, which I have read, and Iphigenia at Aulis, which I haven’t.  But I want to.  I wonder why Iphigenia’s story gets lost in most renditions of the Troy story, including presumably, the recentish Hollywood film, Troy.  I haven’t seen it, but I assume I’ll be caught between snickering and rolling my eyes when I finally do.  And I should, soon.  I always sympathized with Clytemnestra.  She got a raw deal and Agamemnon got what was coming to him.  I wonder if Clytemnestra had been more motherly to Electra that Electra would have sympathized with her more.  Maybe Electra would have been glad to be sacrificed for her uncle’s sake.

Many worlds

Classes start in two days. I am neither fully prepared nor fully panicking. What I have been doing is thinking a lot about my last couple of weeks.

I drove up to Renton to have work done on my car earlier this month. Knowing that I had gotten little exercise recently, and knowing that I did not have many opportunities to eat Indian food, I planned to drop off my car at such an hour that I could walk two miles to an Indian restaurant to eat, and then walk back. The walk down consisted of hills. Hills always seem bigger when you have to walk up and down them. I knew that the walk would feel long when I was actually doing it, but goodness, I was ready to eat when I got there, and it was only 11:30. When I got there, it was completely empty. It felt strange to be the only one, and of course I wondered whether the place had a poor reputation. I thought, maybe the work crowd gets off at noon. Indian buffets are not bad lunches, though obviously the food is better if made to order. The man working seemed eager to have a customer and readily brought me water. He never came to see if I wanted anything else to drink though, which was a little annoying. I guess my expectations have been raised by eating at more ritzy places. The food was okay, but nothing special. All of the items were labeled, but few of the labels appeared to be over the dishes they described, which was annoying and lead me to take fish pakoras (seriously?). The chana masala was watery. The naan was okay. The whole time I was there, no one else arrived. It cast a depressing air over lunch, and also my view of Renton and the wider Seattle area.

There were Indian music videos (short films?). As an outsider, their style was incomprehensible to me, as was their intended audience. I mean, the intended audience does seem obvious, Indians, but what I should understand about that audience, their conventions, aspirations, and values, is less so. I paid in cash. I would have been embarrassed to hand over a credit card with my name on it. As I walked out, I noticed that, despite the decent amount of car traffic I saw, there didn’t seem to be a ton of shoppers. The lack of diners in the restaurant may have been more due to the place, not the restaurant. One of the first things that impressed me on my first trip to the Northwest was how scrappy the place and people seemed. Houses and land plots looked small. Businesses looked practical. No body seemed worried about things looking nice, so why worry about the broken sidewalk or trash by the road?

While I was at home over the holiday, it occurred to me that women are the only thing (and people) I see where it seems important to keep up appearances. That was a bit of a shock to me when I moved out here because I had assumed that West Coast women would be laid back and wouldn’t really care about having perfect make-up, clothes, or hair. How wrong I was! It’s pushed me to learn to apply make-up and be more conscious of how I dress. I think it’s women’s way of saying “fuck you” to the environment. You wanna be windy and rainy? Fine. I’m still wearing my shirt-dress, leggings, heels and MAC eyeshadow. I’m still carrying my Tori Burch bag. Of course, I’m trying to tamp down on my spending, so I don’t quite fall into that category, myself. I don’t need to. I don’t talk to strangers.