May 27, 2011

Existential Question of Writing

On my other blog (visit there if this one is dormant) I wrote yesterday about feeling out of sync with my own era.  I also think it was in response that I had to turn in a short story to my newly formed writing group last night and I had nothing new.  I have written only short, blog posts for several years now, avoiding the heavy work of long-form fiction writing.  I do think about, and often revise several times, what I write on blog posts, so the craft of writing still peeks its head up when I'm composing the short form.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, who is about my age and stage with children launched and grandchildren woven through our lives, and mentioned my angst about all this to her.  I wondered if I was up to the writing, the work, if at my age I had the energy. Her (brilliant) insight was that when we were young mothers and surrounded by work and laundry and fixing meals and cleaning up and activities we would look far into our future and say that when all the children left, we would do_________ and then we would fill in that blank with whatever we--at that point in our younger lives--imagined that we would want to do.  She observed that now that we have finally arrived at that fill-in-the-blank spot, all is changed.  What our 35-year-old self thought is not what our 55-plus self sees as a possibility.

It's a bit disconcerting, all of this shifting around.

In some cases, the shift happens because of forces outside our lives: the recession and business failures, health problems, the dynamics of our extended family.  Some interior forces might be a different way of looking at things, a banking of that proverbial fire in the belly, an altered moral viewpoint.  Whatever the situation that brought us to this point, those dreams we once had--that may have gotten us through that crunch--are seemingly ephemeral and must be redrawn, reimagined.

May 9, 2011

Slicer Meet-Up

A Slicer Meet-Up!
Yep, Carrie (on the right) has traveled out here to California with one of her friends and came to stay at my house last night.  We both think it's great that we were "pen-pals" for a while--via the Slice Of Life Challenge--then had a chance to meet.  Thanks, Stacey and Ruth!

May 6, 2011

Get To Work

I have a lot of blogs in my Google Reader, and most days I just skim over the lot of them, clicking "Mark All As Read," before I move on to my schoolwork.  Today I had a little extra time, so I watched/listened to a presentation (from Swiss Miss' website) given by Andrew Zuckerman about his creative process.

I tried to take a couple of screenshots to capture some of the quotes from his book, Wisdom. In that book, he interviewed the "elders" or people who had lived some years on this planet and had something to impart.  Here's one quote:

And another: "You can't get to wonderful without passing through all right." (Bill Withers)  Over at his website, he has a short of these simply beautiful projects.  He's also done Bird, Creatures, and a host of other projects.

I have a quote on the upper right of my blog that runs along the lines of what Close, a painter, said.  However, the idea of work and of getting to it doesn't belong to either Close or Butler.  Our writing group seems to be coalescing after a faulty start, and I look forward to using this group to prompt me to the computer--to get myself into the chair, hands on the keyboard and to pry off the top of my head and let the imagination come forward in some fashion.  I don't know where it will go.  I just want to try.  I hope I'm not too old, or too tired, but the age of the people in the Wisdom book/film clip and how they speak their minds lets me know that all can create.  All.

May 1, 2011

Throwing Out the Favorite Thing

There's a lovely and brilliant article on drawing over on the New York Times website about drawing.  Apparently what I caught is only the last one in the series, but in it is this quote:

There’s a theory about writing that applies — that, when you reach a serious sticking point, the key to moving on successfully is to throw out the element that you had been hanging on to because it is your favorite thing. 

I had heard variations of this all through grad school, and so have developed a method to deal with this: whatever I had to cut, I carefully pasted over into a new document titled "Cut Stuff," and then saved it. Silly, but it worked. But aside from how to deal witht the loss of "your favorite thing," this article reminded me of the value of sticking with something until it evolves.  In this day of blogging, of throwing writing up on the wall of the internet to see if it sticks, I'm not sure this process of polishing and of looking critically at the elements of how a piece is constituted--whether it be drawing, writing, creating--factors into our process anymore. 

I certainly see it in my students.  They are required to turn in a preliminary rough draft of their research paper, then after conference, go home and revise it.  Most make minimal changes, such as a comma or a short phrase, or correcting a comma splice, never digging at what lies below the surface.  I worry that I have become like that some days.  Perhaps unlike James McMullan, who wrote the article and who went through multiple iterations to get at his finished painting, most of us don't labor to get at the brilliance that is certainly buried there, only waiting to be revealed and polished up.

April 29, 2011

Summer Plans

Continuing with my theme of "cabin fever," school-wise, I found this great photo on one of the multiple blogs I read.  I can't remember the last time I made a summer list, with any hope of finishing any of it.  As I've gotten older, I find the concept of "self-editing" at times to be a crippling attitude.  Why put it on a list, my older self seems to say, if you know it won't get done/get finished or even be started?  The energy level starts out at about 70% of what my thirty-year old self used to have (maybe 50%?) and goes downhill from there, so that by the end of the day, I'm reduced to clicking my way through the web and drooling as I read about other people's productivity.

But the sign above doesn't just speak to productivity--it's about experience.  I love the entries "learn some Spanish" and "back-yard movie night."  (I have to assume also that "make paella" is more the child's mother, than the child.)  So, in this spirit of experience (and well, some productivity), here's my first run at a Summer: The Extended List.

Drive through a small town
Get a tan on my legs
Make a berry shortcake
Travel to family reunion

It's a start.  Now to find some poster paint and a cute child to hold it up.

April 27, 2011

Need an Atta' Boy?

At this point in the semester--which, by the way, seems like it will go on FOREVER--I'm sending you an atta'boy to remind you all that we are all above average.  That's just my .02 worth.  Now, back to the grading.

April 18, 2011

Thinking on Their Own

It's about this time of the semester that I start to push the students out of the nest.  I figure I've taught them lots and lots and lots of things, but now it's time for them to start using their tools.  These thoughts were prompted by this email:

I have a quick question, for .edu and .org, do these count against the one free web you told us about? You might have told us during class, but i have forgotten. 

My response:
It depends on the source.  You have the tools to evaluate your sources, so I know you can figure out what is a reputable, scholarly source.  I've seen good sources on both of the those domains, as well as poor sources.

I then advised the student to bring the sources in question to their research paper conference, where we could talk it out. I know that for myself, when learning a new task, it's not until I put the skills into play that the knowledge is added to the mix.  I remember my friend Rosalyn, a kindergarten teacher saying that after the winter break, she never ties a pupil's shoes for them.

We only have about 8 days of class left in our semester.  Time to let them tie their own shoes, time to prepare them to leave the nest.

April 14, 2011

A Student's Worst Nightmare

To go along with yesterday's post. . .
(Click to enlarge.)

April 13, 2011

Make-Up Tests or Quizzes

Here are two emails I received yesterday after class:

This is A. from your English 101 class. I am sick and will not be in class today. I know the MLA test is today, and I was wondering if I would be able to make it up? Please let me know. See you in class on Thursday! Thank you for your time.

Prof. E.
    I woke up today with the flu or something and I can't even get out of bed. I was wondering if I don't go to class today, if there is anyway I could still make up the test.

Other than the fact that the second one was sent to my department chair, instead of me, both of these emails look fine on the surface: requesting a make-up exam for one they planned to miss.  Except that my syllabus clearly states there are no make-up exams. After doing some math, I figured this test was worth about 2% of their grade, if that.  Was it worth all the hassle?

Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search on Make-Up Exam Policy.  The response varies but I did like what the University of Indianapolis states: Make-up exams are a courtesy that is extended to students by their instructors. An instructor is never obligated to provide a make-up exam for any student.  In addition, a recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Negotiating the Demands of Students' Lives, had this to say: 

At most colleges, individual faculty members are forced to negotiate the demands of students’ lives in their classes as the semester plays out. You provide extensions, you let students take exams early, you give make-up assignments, you decide to excuse absences. Individual faculty bear the burden of making semester-long classes fit a student’s life, and some are better at doing that than others.

It helped to realize that what I was thinking about doing, was "making classes fit a student's life," so I decided in this case to try and accommodate their requests.  This required a series of emails to the person who proctors exams for the Writing Center, setting up the cover letter, me sending him the two-part exams, trying to find a time.  Then I had to email back to the students the arrangements, cautioning them that their deadline was Thursday by class time, when I had planned to hand back the tests.

That only took an extra hour.  What was interesting was when I emailed the students to let them know about accommodating their request, there was no response from either of the students; not even a thank-you. Whenever I deviate from my syllabus, I always feel like a 90-pound weakling who just had sand kicked in her face.  So, from now on--no make-up exams.

April 7, 2011


I am a frequent reader of Teaching College English.  Recently she posted an historical overview of tips that teachers have given to get around the odious task of grading.  (This caused me to think of some things I've tried to do to help with this task, rather than sinking to GA--Grading Avoidance.)

I am trying to get the grading down to a more minimal level as well.  While I am more streamlined that my earlier self, I still wish I could be quicker.  Here's what I do now:
  • Minimal Marking: At the beginning of the semester I pass out a sheet with my grading symbols and codes.  Some of them are standard editing symbols and some are my inventions.  In the margins of their 1st essay, they get an X with the code beside it, and I either underline or circle the error.  Essay #2, no circling or underlining, but still the X's and codes.  Essay #3, gets them an X in the margin only, with an occasional code.
  • Error Log: After each essay the student is required to make a list of their errors, and where in the handbook they can find the answers for fixing them.  They have to compile all the essays onto one sheet; hopefully they'll see their progression and "own their errors."
  • Rubric: I make a rubric, adjusting it slightly for each essay.  This keeps me honest and helps the student know that while I did mark off for POV switches, they overall only lost 3 points (thereby helping with the whining).  The bulk of the grading is not in the "mechanical section" but in structure and content, and the rubric keeps me focused.
Problems with marking a lot are, a) it takes too much time, b) it's usually a waste of our time, and c) it's discouraging to the student to see their paper filled with our ink.  On some of the more recent essays, I heavily marked and coded the first page and a half of student's essays that contained multiple errors.  I then drew a line across with my ruler and wrote that while the errors persisted, I would not be marking them.  However, the student was under obligation to locate and fix the errors if they were to do a re-write.

I have to say that the rest of the essay was far less tedious to grade, and I could focus on the more significant problems of structure and cohesiveness, content and support.

March 31, 2011

Final Thoughts on Slicing

Ruth asked us to reflect on this month of slicing.

First off is the commenting.  Given the increase in our numbers, I no longer could post on everyone's site like I have liked to do in past years.  Today/tonight I have been reading and posting for close to 5 hours, and every time I refresh TWT's site, there are two more blogs to visit.  I'm determined to do everyone at least once: I apologize to those whose blogs I couldn't comment on because their spam-getter-thing didn't like my spelling somehow.

Like any teacher worth their salt, I like the give and take of this brilliant little community of slicers that Ruth and Stacey dreamed up.  You know--you see all the students on that first day of the year or semester and you are so pleased with each other and so eager to share and to invest in.  But the real relationships begin when that first assignment is handed out--and then handed back.  The conversation begins.  The give and take, the ups and downs and the hard roads to climb all start there.  Ours began on March 1st and for some of us the conversation continues.

I've got a new Facebook friend, another Slicer is coming west and we plan to meet up.  A Slicer in Canada read my travel blog when I was on a trip to her country and I loved that our relationship continued (and that she liked my assessment of the food in Canada). Tracey's sheer determination to write every day both shames me and inspires me.  I love looking in on different people because their lives fascinate me (Bonnie, with her travels is living my alternate life, I'm convinced). And I've come to enjoy reading Wanda from Maine's blog.  As grandmothers, we seem to think just alike on so many things.

But most of all I love returning to see some of my old Slicing Friends every March--to catch up on the Quidditch competition or see how life is faring Down Under.  I've missed Stacey this year, but look forward to next year when she rejoins that community that she and Ruth began.

Thanks, guys.  You're the best.  Happy Slicing!

P.S.  You can visit me at my regular blog if you like.  I sometimes forget to keep posting here.

P.P.S.  I visited EVERYONE's blog in the last 24 hours just so I could say that I did.  That's over 70 blogs, 70 comments.  What a way to end this thing!

What Binds Us

For my last slice, I thought I'd offer a poem I've been working on.  


When I think about quilts I see
Patches flying free, held fast
By lines of even stitches;
Patterns, colors,
Mathematical designs finding order
In radiant angles and languid curves.
Cut the cloth into parts, like the tumbling glass
Of a kaleidescope, glinting broken dishes
Or the strokes of time: ascending with the constant task,
And my everpresent anonymity in the washing, folding,
Chasing dirt, wiping tears, turning taunts to reason. 
Ancient kneading of bread replaced with endless driving,
Idle sojourns on sun-splashed fields, musical drills,
Homework.  Morning repeats, and sun up
'Til sun down, what holds the heart
In the re-doing?

Purposeful lines holding
These patched-together pieces
Of our lives.

My mother, when talking about our family, always quoted that famous saying about what binds us together is stronger that what pulls us apart.  And what binds our little community of slicers?  A love of words, enthusiasm, a limited and an achievable task, fearless leaders, and a sense that what we are doing--and daily re-doing--has in many ways, contributed to each of our lives this past month.  Thanks for all your comments; I'll see you now and again on TWT and for sure, next year!

Click to return to the Ultimate Day of Slicing: SOLSC--Day 31. 
P.S.  You can visit me at my regular blog.  I sometimes forget to keep posting here.

March 30, 2011

happy happy happy gone gone gone

happy happy happy Mr. Plagiarizer dropped and is gone gone gone

That's the big news.  It was not before I spent close to 2 hours putting together copies, and writing the letter to the VP of Student Services, but at least it was before I had to grade his (potentially plagiarized) research paper in three weeks.  He pulled another 43%-er out to sea with him (they always walked together), and she dropped too.  I talked with the third 43%-er today, and he thinks he'll drop because quite frankly he doesn't really care if he can write because he just wants to pass my class (I kid you not.  He said that.)

The last 43%-er started crying when she looked at the score of her latest essay (not an illustrious showing, shall we just say.  I stopped grading her errors on page two after the count hit 26).  She waited for me outside the classroom, and we talked about her paper.  She became angry, accusing me of stupid requirements that "no other teacher on this campus" would require her to do.  Some of these (there were a few) were:
  • writing in a consistent point of view (POV) I don't allow them to use "you" in their papers--call me old school but I think formal composition is a good skill to have tucked away
  • requiring a thesis (which she kept referring to as a topic sentence)
  • insisting on structure in the paper.

She's a dynamo in front of the class--always poised and able to speak clearly and keep the class' attention.  I don't like to make the students cry.  I certainly don't grade their essays thinking "I wonder if I can make them cry."

The final shot was she pointed to her paper and said, "I could turn this paper in anywhere else on campus and get an A, but you?  you?"  She sputtered.  "If it weren't for you, I'd have an A in this class right now!" 

There were a few other things said, and I felt bad for her.  Bad that her meager effort was not getting her what she wanted.  Felt bad that her 9th grade skills were not enough to help her pass a college-level English class.  Felt bad that a young woman who had missed roughly a third of the class sessions and was nearly 15 minutes late every day thought that just wanting it would  get it done.

I can't help a lot of things.  Her grades stand.  I'll be in that classroom again on Thursday minus two and maybe four students.  I'll show them MLA and thesis construction for argument and formal POV and topic sentences and insist on proper spelling and punctuation and sentence construction.

Just like the rest of you.

March 29, 2011

Grading Avoidance

We start the Research Paper grind tomorrow, when their first assignment comes in.  For one of the examples, I suggested the topic of street art--graffiti gone upscale, which led me to explore lots of different art by Banksy.  It's a nice controversial subject, and one of his renditions is shown above, the gleaner taking a break.

I sat down at the desk today, and except for a short break for lunch and quick errand, I graded.  And graded.  And graded.  Pizza for dinner.  Back to grading.  Finally at 8 p.m. I finished the last paper--a rousing 38%--and said (like the gleaner above), I need a break!  So I stitched on my flower quilt and watched another couple of episodes of Doc Martin (BBC-TV) downstairs with my husband.

Grading Avoidance (GA) is an art, and each of us has to find our own way in this world of teacher-generated procrastination.  Since most of my grading is done at home, my list will have that particular flavor.  Here are some of mine:
Call Judy (friend and teacher colleague)
Call Dave (husband)
Make sure the fridge is working by checking its contents.
Call Mom.
Call Barbara, my daughter.
Tweeze eyebrows.
Get some of the pretzel-type snacks from the back of the cupboard.
Sync the iPhone.
Download an audio book for later.
Facebook to see if anyone commented on my update.
Read the paper standing up at the kitchen counter.
See if Judy sent me any mail.
Answer it.
See if the Slicers have written any comments.
Read them.
Write on their blogs.
Think about what I might write for the next day.
Check to see if mail has come.
Check to see if there are any more comments.
Shuffle the papers.
Update the grades.
Pick out the staple holding the essay together.
Work up the gradesheet for the essay.
Eat a cookie.
Decide what we're having for dinner.
Bring in the trashcans.
Print out the rubric.
Sigh, and realize that it's no good to wait any longer. . .

March 28, 2011

Spring Wildflowers

Today was filled with spring wildflowers--first found by my husband in the hills around us.  

And secondly by me, pinning the final flowers on the quilt I've been working on since last fall.  It's been a long slog, with moments of joy and moments of When Will I Ever Finish--kind of reminds me of teaching.  I began quilting when I was twenty and pregnant with my first child.  I wanted something that would stay done--as laundry, toilets, and dishes never did stay clean or done.  I still have my first quilt--it's laughable--but I like having it around to show my progression as a quilter.  I hand-stitched around a yellow Holly Hobbie print, and not knowing what to do with the knots, I left them on top.  I've improved since then, coming to learn applique when I lived back in Washington DC as all the quilters there know how to do handwork, brining little baskets or bags of their handwork to meetings.  So I learned.  
Spring Break's over.  Back to serious grading, the research paper, dealing with Mr. Plagiarism.  But the flowers will await me in my brief moments of free time.

Three more days to go until March Madness is finished for another year.