Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hopped Up on Immunoglobulin, or No Good Deed Goes Unpunished by a Shot in the Ass

My mother says you learn something new everyday. What I learned today is that you should never try to put a stray cat in a box, no matter how friendly they seem. I also learned that the modern rabies vaccine is a literal pain in the ass.

On our weekly walk-and-gossip session, my two friends and I ran across a small black cat, mewing in the path and generally being lovable, if walking kind of funny. Given that it's Halloween soon and we trust frat boys about as far as we can throw them, we decided that it would be best to see the cat taken to animal control. We got it to follow us home, and I called the police to come pick it up, and then went outside to try to lure it into a cardboard box with some wet cat food.

This is, of course, where it all started to go very wrong, because kitty did not want to go in the box, and I had gotten a burr that the cat was going to go. It was for his own good, clearly.

So he got close, and I grabbed him. I got him into the box, but only for a few seconds, during which time he bit both my hands, chewed up my right pinkie finger, and left assorted gouges in my person. I eventually gave up and let him go tearing off, with a few choice swear words to hurry him on his way. The amount of blood dripping, combined with the fact that the cat was apparently composed of pure evil, suggested that a trip to the E.R. was in order, post haste. I grabbed some homework out of my apartment and W and H kindly drove me to the E.R., despite my insistance that I was perfectly fine to go by myself. Insistance that was, admittedly, a tiny bit of a lie as I wasn't entirely sure where the E.R. was, but whatever. I could have figured it out.

Anyway, I get checked into the E.R., wait around for an hour, and finally get called back to wait a tad more, with a quick stop at a sink to wash off the intervening accumulation of blood. This reveals a deep puncture wound near the thumb of each hand, as well as a relatively mangled pinkie. The doctor comes in, takes a three-second look at my hands, and says, "When was your last tetanus shot?" I say, "High school sometime." He goes out again. I wait for my tetanus shot.

Some time later, the nurse returns and says, "Well, it looks like you're going to need six shots." She starts prepping syringes.

I say, "Habbada? Six? He said one. He said tetanus!"

She goes out again.

The doctor comes back and says, "Well, I should explain the course of treatment to you." I nod and suppress an eye-roll. "We're going to give you a tetanus shot. We're going to have to start you on the rabies vaccination series, including some immunoglobulin. And I think we're going to go ahead and get some X-rays of those hands, so we can see if there are any bits of teeth left in there, and so if you get a bone infection we'll be able to see what's going on."

I nod. I'm a nodding machine. He goes out again.

The nurse returns and I get my tetanus shot. As I'm putting my arm back through the sleeve of my shirt, there's a knock on the door. It's the radiologist. "Ready?" she says. My nurse looks surprised. "Uh...yeah, I guess." Apparently she knew nothing about X-rays, but off I went with the radiologist to hold my hands in positions odd and painful for someone with puncture wounds. I narrowly avoid cracking my skull on the machine as I stand up and head back to my certain doom.

As I get back to the exam room, the nurse is laying out seven syringes. "Looks like it's actually going to take seven more shots," she explains. "One for the start of the rabies vaccine, and then six immunoglobulin shots to help your body fight off any incipient rabies. Pull down your pants."

So I get seven more shots: the rabies in the left arm, and two of immunoglobulin in each of the left hip, the right hip, and the left front thigh. As W said when I walked out, my career as a pincushion is looking promising.

And now I have to go back four more times to complete the rabies cycle, although I managed to negotiate that last shot so I don't have to find a hospital while I'm in Ireland next month. On the upside, my insurance covered everything, and I got a prescription for Vicodin, coolest of painkillers.

Plus, for the entire day tomorrow I get to run around going, "Guess how many shots I had last night?" and totally impressing people when I say 8. Immunoglobulin, tequila...whatever they want to assume, it's no skin off my nose.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm so putting that second one on a T-shirt

Awesome commentary I received when I gave my students an evaluation about what I should take off the syllabus next semester:

"Titus Andronicus — not one of Shakespeare's best"
"Pride & Prejudice — a book about marriage? Come on, nobody cares."
"Poetry — poems are the most worthless form of writing"

Awesomer yet: all from one kid. Whose handwriting I recognize.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Erin's Recipes for People Who Can't Cook: Pumpkin Cookies

This is a great recipe for fall, and also for the indecisive. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin, but seriously? Pumpkin comes in two-cup cans. The solution seemed fairly obvious to me, and now I have 6 dozen cookies. Whatever. Guess the department will be receiving some bounty on Monday.

2 c. canned pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)
1 c. shortening
2 c. sugar
4 c. flour
3 capsful lemon juice (~3 tsp., I guess? The original recipe called for grated orange peel, which I did not have on hand, so I substituted a random amount of lemon juice until the batter tasted interesting, which...your mileage may vary)
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Raisins and/or chocolate chips (optional)

3 oz. cream cheese
1/3 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 375. Mix pumpkin, shortening, and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Decide batter needs nutmeg. Sprinkle some in until it looks right and mix. Divide batter three ways, leaving 1/3 plain, putting 6 oz. chocolate chips in 1/3, and the tail end of that box of raisins in the back of the cupboard in 1/3. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes (mine looked great at 8 exactly). Mix frosting ingredients, first with a spoon, then with the handheld thing your grandmother gave you last Christmas that is like, the second most useful thing ever for scaring the cats. Frost the cooled raisin and plain cookies, but not the chocolate chip ones, because that's just sugary death.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I can't give you a grade when I've never seen your work, child

I realize I should be in bed right now, dreaming the dreams of good little English teachers, but I doubt it's going to happen that easily tonight.

It's been kind of a hellacious day, and I blame students. Or rather, one specific student, who is, thankfully, no longer mine, but an ulcer-provoker nonetheless. I'm sure 90% of the people I know have already heard this story, but I've gotta hope typing it out one more time will help me get to sleep.

So this kid shows up in my class on the first day and then not again. A week goes by, I figure he's dropped. Fine. Then I get an email from the registrar--his mother died the month before school started, he'll be out until Sept. 4. Again, fine, he's excused, and I feel bad for him. It's a tough break, to be sure. He emails me around that time to tell me the same, plus that he's been ill and had no internet. Fine, see you in class Wednesday.

He doesn't show for three more weeks, in the meantime missing three scheduled meetings with me and an untold amount of work in class. I'm still sympathetic--he's having panic attacks, he writes, is not ready to come back to class--but baffled. Why is this kid even in school this semester? Clearly his brain is trying to get him to deal in a place that is not the classroom. Also, his major technically excuses him from ever having to take my class, so it would seem an obvious one to drop. He's missed eleven of my classes, and even with the four excused absences, that puts him at a C- for attendance/participation for the semester, if he misses not a single class more.

He emails again on Friday and asks to see me Monday, brusquely apologizing for missing our last scheduled meeting. I say fine, I'll be in at 9:45, see you then. He comes in at 10 and basically informs me that a) all his other professors are letting him start over as if the last four weeks of class had never happened, and b) he is an A student and can get no less than a B in my class or he'll be "done with college," whatever that means. I'm trying not to be offensive or unsympathetic, but still clearly establish that there's no way I can ignore 7 unexcused absences in a discussion-based class, especially not when combined with a slew of missing work and little to no prior warning. He's not hearing it, and finally I cop out and say I have to talk with my director to see what the department policy is; I'll find out this very day and get in touch with him ASAP; in the meantime I say that his work can probably be made up to some degree and that he's welcome to a three-day, over-the-weekend extension on the major paper due Friday. He informs me that he will be talking to my program director this very moment (i.e., he will not be attending the class that I would be teaching directly after our talk). Fine, I say. I'll be in touch.

I spend the rest of the day (minus an hour of teaching and an hour of being in my own class) chasing around after information for this kid. I talk to my pedagogy mentor, I get advice from three other graduate students, I email the College of Liberal Arts briefly and my program director much less briefly. Both answer promptly, clearly saying that the student is responsible for making up missed work and that I am not responsible for managing that process, and expression confusion about why he's still in my class. I forward the former sentiment to my student not five hours after we've met, phrased somewhat more kindly, along with a matter-of-fact outline of what's to be made up and a suggestion that he schedule a meeting with my program director to get everything concretized. My program director, who I've cc'd on the email, says it looks good.

I call my mother and repeat this tale in full, trying to purge the ulcer I feel forming. I work on other homework.

And then, at 11:30, I get an email from the student "thanking" me for my "feigned sympathy" and saying that he'd dropped the class "like rain" (he's a cloud? As I frequently say to my class, "I'll buy it") the minute he walked out of my office because I was the only teacher out of five who refused to just let him start over with no consequences.

So while I'm relieved that he's out of my class and no longer my problems, I'm left with a few questions. Namely:

1. He couldn't have informed me sooner that he was dropping so I didn't have to chase-ass around all day working on this?

2. Did I come off that coldly, or is he just mad that I wouldn't let him forget over two weeks of absences? I realize I'm not super warm and fuzzy to people that I don't know, but neither was I trying to make a really bad situation really badder.

3. Dude. Seriously?

4. Are all the other instructors and professors at this school pushovers? Because I'm pretty sure this is not the way things work in real life. You have a job and your parent dies, then yes, you get time to grieve, but you also have to DO YOUR JOB after a certain point in time, and some jobs you have to go back and make up whatever you've missed while you were grieving. It's not disrespectful, it's just...life. Things go on. I feel heartless, but it's not fair to my other kids who have been in class, including my Army reserve kid who's had no time on the weekends to do homework because he's training but still brings me response papers, or my kids who have things happening that I have not the tiniest inkling about, but who still keep showing up and at least filling a seat, if not actively engaging.

So I'm wondering if I handled this as well as I possibly could. I just don't know. I mean, I probably could have been...warmer, and I'm really very sorry if my interactions with this kid made his situation worse. But academically, I can't see how this could have had any other good resolution. He stays in my class, he's most likely going to fail, or, at best, pull a C that's unacceptable to him. He won't be familiar with the class dynamic or any of the work that we've been doing in class, and will never be totally caught up, even if I repeat verbatim for him the 11 classes he's missed. He doesn't stay in my class, he gets an easily explained W on his transcript and sends me a nasty email so I feel guilty and can't sleep, but I don't have to deal with him ever again.

Fine. I wish him well and Wednesday we'll move forward with class as if he had never been there. Which, indeed...

Monday, September 18, 2006

"He eventually drowned and that ended his life."

The above gem from a response paper on "Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith.

So I've been teaching General Literature for a month now. It is, of course, a continual rollercoaster between wildly enjoyable and deeply depressing, but in general things are going quite well, and I am actually pretty good at this, I think, except:

1. I cannot manipulate chalk properly. The first day of class I got chalk dust all over the front of my black shirt; I constantly have chalk on my thigh, hands, chest, or ass. Not only that, but I'm averaging about two pieces of broken chalk per 50-minute class session. I prefer when it breaks as I'm writing, rather than when I drop it on the floor.

2. I tend to underestimate my students. Not always, but sometimes they get the point of things far faster than I want them to, and I'm sort of left without anything to say. "Uh...okay. Yeah. Gregor turned into a bug because he's always led a bug-like life. My lesson plan is complete and we only have 40 minutes left." My new technique for dealing with this? Extensive in-class writing. That'll learn 'em.

3. On the flip side, I frequently can't stop laughing at things they say. Usually I'm able to control it in class, but one of the best things about being a teacher is that you get to report all these things to others, particularly fellow instructors who can usually one-up you. A gem from Titus: "Was Lavinia that bangin', that everybody was fighting over her?" Yeah, Lavinia was totally a bangin' bitch, and where do we see that in the text?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Latin Words I Have Learned This Week

hasta, ae, f. (spear)
ferrum, i, n. (sword)
ignis, ignis, m. (fire)
finis, finis, m. (end)
vulgus, i, n. (rabble)
ultra (on the other side, beyond)
tollo, tollere (to lift up, destroy)

Great. Apparently I'm going to be translating the Book of Revelations next week.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Erin's Recipes for People Who Can't Cook: Potato Salad Interlude

My dad once infuriated—infuriated—E3 by announcing that no matter what she did, he would never like something she had made as well as he would like the same dish made by my mother. This is not to say that E3 is bad in the kitchen—in fact, all four of the E's have decent, if wildly divergent, culinary skills.

In some ways, however, this gastroxenophoboic comment is not a surprising sentiment from SB; he's always been extremely loyal to my mother, particularly when it comes to food. He turns up his nose at anybody else's pumpkin pie, which is, admittedly, discerning of him, as my mother is a crust wizard. Many people who claim to despise crust will happily eat the crust on Mom's pie. I, sadly, did not inherit the crust gene (on a different chromosome than the gravy gene, apparently), but that is a story for another day.

Dad has the same attitude about potato salad: no matter who makes it, it cannot possibly be as good as Mom's.

Potato salad is a tricky thing—mustard or mayo, relish or no, what kind of potatos and how many hard-boiled eggs? My mother (and grandmother, as well) both make pretty kick-ass potato salad. Having been invited to an Independence Day barbeque/potluck, I called my mother last night to get the recipe. I discovered immediately why nobody can can make it like Mom.

"Well...the first thing is...you know there's not really a recipe, right?" Great. So here's the directions I got from Mom, for the best potato salad ever. Good luck, and don't try to feed it to SB.

Best Potato Salad Ever
Cut your potatoes in sort of length-wisey strips, to facilitate cubing later. Boil potatoes and cube. Put in bowl. Add "some" diced hard-boiled eggs, "some salad dressing as a binder," and some kind of onions "if you want." Some pickle relish, salt, pepper, and a little paprika. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg and radish.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How I know you're an all-star

All-star is the derogatory name my friends and I used for the annoying kid in every class who thinks he knows everything. "Swot" is the British term, "suck-up show-off jackass" is a good alternative. These are the clues I used to identify the all-star in my Latin class this summer.

1. You have hipster glasses. Not a smoking gun, but definitely suspicious. Especially when combined with your perpetually unkempt hair and stained white T-shirt.

2. On the first day of translation, you asked whether you could rephrase something because "I'm an English major and it really bothers me." An English major? Really? Good work. You're one in a thousand, literally, at U of I. Shut up.

3. You laugh at your own (unfunny) jokes.

4. You said "shit" in class when called on to conjugate a verb. While I agree that it's a rather casual environment, that's still annoying and offensive in a semi-professional setting where you don't know your classmates. You know, swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary. Some English major.

5. Today you asked, in all seriousness, if it was bothering anybody else that a lot of the source material was about serving the state and having leisure time, because you are a Marxist and it just doesn't sit right with you. A Marxist, really? How...sophomore year of you. Can I interest you in a beret and an all-black wardrobe? Come to me after your first year of graduate school and we'll chat about theories that people actually take seriously. Marxism. Good grief.

6. You asked the instructor if she wanted to get a drink. During class you asked this! Seriously!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Erin's Recipes for People Who Can't Cook: Aunt Jessie's Psuedo-Healthy Bran Muffins

When we were in Washington last month, my Aunt Kathie made these for us, and gave me the recipe, which came to her from her husband's aunt Jessie. It is what Kathie calls a KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetie [Kathie is a nice person and doesn't like to call others stupid]) recipe.

1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. + 1 Tbs. oil
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. bran cereal (the flakey kind, and without yogurt clusters or dehydrated whatever fruit)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. raisins*

Pour boiling water over the raisins and let them sit while you dump the rest of the ingredients in your mixing bowl. Drain the raisins, add to the rest of the ingredients, and mix well. "Put in refrigerator," Jessie's recipe reads, without reference to how long or why. Just do it; I'd keep it in there for a couple of hours, at least, to let it work its magic. Overnight is not out of the question. Get out your dinosaur muffin cups and put them in the muffin pan. Do NOT stir the dough after you take it out of the refrigerator; just put it directly in the dinosaur muffin cups. Tip: just use an ice cream scoop with a spring handle for dumping it in; it's about the right size and it will keep you from consuming a muffin's worth of dough when you lick your fingers. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. "Keeps 7 weeks," Jessie says, but if it takes you 7 weeks to eat two dozen muffins, you're not trying hard enough.

*I like more raisins than that, so I use 3/4 or 1 c. You could also substitute Craisins, I've heard, but that has not been tested by this cook.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Go outside and eat your weight in mosquitoes! Make us both happy.

Did you know that I am afraid of bats? Not in a neurotic, irrational way, but in a "if one is dive bombing me in my bedroom at 3 a.m., I am going to lose my shit" way.

That totally happened last night, and I did, in fact, lose my shit.

I don't know how the bat got into the house, but it's not a particularly freakish occurrence—we live in the country (I am kicking it at my parents' for the next week or so) and bats abound. Our house is a relocated Victorian; it's solid but not airtight, and bats are sneaky bastards.

I woke up at 3:40 last night when Lyra went racing across the bed, leaving a long scratch mark on my ass as she launched herself at the bookshelf and then wentcareeningg off the shelf and into the middle of the floor, chattering like a mad thing the whole while. I heard squeaking and figured she had chased a mouse up from the basement or something. I've dealt with that situation before, and it's a pain, but not too traumatic—you pick a towel up off the floor, find the mouse (usually near or under the cat), catch it, and throw it outside. Then you go back to sleep.

Cursing all the while, I dragged myself out of bed to find a towel, and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Unfortunately for my composure, the movement was in the upper right-hand corner of the doorway.

My sister sleeps on the same floor as I do, and although she's not a light sleeper, she would probably wake up if I screeched "BAT!" and pelted down the stairs. I manfully restrained myself, and groped instead for some pajamas so I could slam the door on cats, bat, and bedlam and spend the rest of the night on the couch. As I was groping, the bat made two low dives over my head, inspiring some impressive, if fruitless, leaping from Lyra and some suppressed shrieks from me.

I finally got my pajamas on and the door mostly closed behind me. I parked it on the couch, enjoyed a few full-body shudders, and then the neurotic second-guessing started. Did I have a duty to get the bat out of the house as soon as possible? What if it was a vampire bat and it latched on to one of the cats? Seriously, I have seen this happen to cows before and it's disgusting. I don't think Lyra would be able to chase her beloved milk rings with her usual dexterity if she had a bat hanging off her neck. What if the bat got guano on the clothes I had strewn all over my room? Gross. Clearly something had to be done. I formulated a plan—I would protect my head with a blanket, dash into the bedroom, grab the cats, throw them in the hall, open the still mercifully-unscreened window, and run out again, slamming the door behind me. Hopefully the bat would succumb to the lure of the outdoors and never be heard from again.

After some refining of the plan—clearly the blanket had to be abandoned to avoid hampering my speed—I forced myself off the couch and began sneaking up the stairs, James Bond style: flush against the wall, head low, just in case the bat had somehow learned to turn the doorknob, open the door, and escape to launch guano bombs at my vulnerable skull. I slid around the corner to my room, eased the door open, and flicked on the light switch. Ha-HA!

The cats blinked at me and resumed reclining indolently. The bat was nowhere to be seen. I instituted a search. Bedroom corners: clean. Hallway ceiling: clear. Behind shower curtain in bathroom: under control. I didn't risk turning on the light in E4's room because her attitude immediately after being awakened is worse than being guano-bombed, so I just did a quick visual inspection using ambient light from the hallway. No bat in sight.

When I got back to my bedroom, Lyra was showing a mild interest in the tallest bookshelf, but as I couldn't see anything suspicious and Lyra is notoriously retarded, I headed downstairs to leave my early-rising parents a post-it that said, "BAAAAT! 3:45—Lyra and Regan have a bat in my room. 3:57—Bat is gone and I don't know where it went, so keep an eye out for that." Then I went back upstairs, tentatively crawled into bed, and read for an hour until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. If I heard some suspicious squeaks from the direction of the bookshelf, I chalked it up to overstimulation and put it out of my mind. The bat had magically disappeared, and that was good enough for me.

It was less good enough around 11 p.m. tonight when the bat reappeared in the living room, just as I was trying to tell SB something. It sounded like this: "I think the one old couple was—aaaaah! BAT! Freaky, freaky-ass bat!" and included a charming visual of me cowering in my chair as the bat did agitated laps around the room. It was probably even more agitated when M4 slammed the door to the library, hoping to keep it safe and ignoring the fact that the windowframe above the door does not and never has had glass in it.

Fortunately, SB has considerably more presence of mind in these situations, which is good as it is clearly the dad's job to deal with flying-rodent home invasions. He managed to corner it in the upstairs hallway, trapping it with nothing more than a bit of chicken wire, a shoebox, and a cookie sheet. Then we got in his pickup and drove like bats out of hell away from the house. Okay, not really, but I couldn't resist the expression. We drove like reasonable human beings about 3/4 of a mile away and then SB got out and released the bat into the woods, where it promptly made a 90-degree turn and flew off in the direction of the house. Son of a bitch.

Whatever, the bat was still out of the house and I could look forward to sleeping guano-free in my own bed with nothing more than cat hair to irritate me in the middle of the night. Until SB had to go and mention that where there's one bat, there's probably six of his little batty relatives. Guess I'll be sleeping in the basement with the mice.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Notes from finals week

—Is there any nutritional value in dilly beans? I hope so, because they're the only green things in my diet right now. Unless you count green Skittles, which I suspect aren't getting the RDA of anything but Yellow No. 3.

—I turned in 16 books to the library this evening. That was all the ones I had out for my Shakespeare paper. I checked out 5 more, leaving me with a grand total of 45, down from the semester high of 69. It is so awesome to be a grad student. The new books I checked out tonight? Not due until Jan. 24, 2007. Seriously.

—I've pretty much decided that the coffeeshops in IC need to be segregated. Like, the undergraduates can have all the Java Houses, the humanities and social science grad students can have the two House of Aromas, and business students and med students get Starbucks, the Terrapin, and Caribou. Science and engineering students have to stay in their labs, so they may come get take-out coffee from anywhere. I don't care who gets what, as long as the giggly, noisy frat girls and their screechy voices get the hell away from me. Annoy someone who doesn't have to write 20 pages that may determine their future in their graduate program of choice, and thus their achievement or failure of life-long goals, how about that, hm?

—The aforementioned 20-page paper is on divine wrath in the medieval illumination of Psalm 109, which is about the most kickass topic ever, except for the part where the theoretical background keeps expanding like bread dough with too much yeast in it. I have to set up the medieval interpretation of the psalm, medieval illumination techniques and practices, theories on the perception of divine wrath, and the typical iconography of medieval psalters from A.D. 700-1400.* Awesome. The worst part is, I totally did this to myself. However, it is kind of fun to look at all these illustrations to see where they're hiding God's anger. Kind of like The DaVinci Code except with less Tom-Hanks mullet.

*Important grammatical note: If you're indicating a year in the A.D. era, A.D. goes before, always. So A.D. 1066, as opposed to 1066 A.D. This rule gets broken fairly frequently and, of course, that annoys me. Of course, the new trend in politically correct scholarship is to use C.E. and B.C.E. (Common Era and Before Common Era), which are awkward and, if you think about it, not much more politically correct than before, since they still use the Christian division of time at (approximately) Christ's birth. However, they do both come after the year, so 1066 C.E. or 54 B.C.E.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

You totally want me to be your professor, don't you? Rowr.

I just finished writing my course description for the class that I'll be teaching next year, one of the university's required classes for non-English majors. It's basically an introduction to literature; the equivalent of Huma 101 if you went to Rice and need a reference point. I thought I would share it so you can be jealous of my students and how awesome this class is going to be.

Interpretation of Literature (section 24)
Instructor: Dr. N.N. Mind

Novelist Sinclair Lewis once said of authors, “We have the power to bore people long after we are dead,” a point that’s been well-taken by students in literature courses the world over. In this course we will break down “literature” into its constitutent parts, whatever we might determine those parts to be, taking on the question of “good” versus “interesting” and hopefully finding the convergence point between the two. Can we possibly read a “classic” without feeling the need for a nap after every chapter? We will attempt to develop the critical and analytical skills that make that more likely while looking at two novels, two plays, and a selection of poetry, short fiction, and essays. Along the way, we will consider how we are influenced as readers and how we, in turn, influence what we read, as well as taking on the question of what makes something “literature” and whether it matters. The goal will be to build critical reading and writing skills that can be applied both to future literary encounters and to encounters with the scholarly and professional world at large. Course requirements include two critical essays, a variety of informal writings, and a final exam, as well as, of course, active engagement and participation.

Required texts:

Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus (Signet Classics)
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (Avon)
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Penguin)
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Doubleday)
Literature: A Portable Anthology, eds. Janet Garner, Berverly Lawn, Jack Ridl, and Peter Schakel (Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Unfortunately, a house did not fall on that irritating kid in my calligraphy class

So yes, for those of you who don't watch/read the news, a tornado did hit Iowa City last night, taking out a Dairy Queen, a Happy Joe's Pizza, and the roofs of several buildings including St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

I, fortunately, was in Coralville at the time, watching Big Trouble in Little China with friends and completely ignoring the situation. We heard the hail and the tornado sirens, but as we were in a basement apartment, we just turned up the volume and figured we'd hear the freight-train sound of the tornado if it got close. It didn't, fortunately. Instead it hit downtown Iowa City, knocking out power to a good chunk of the area and providing an occasion for drunken undergraduates to wander around and get in the way of emergency workers and National Guard personnel working to contain a gas leak downtown.

My apartment survived unscathed; fortunately I had gone home before going out to close the windows. The shed behind the building is listing pretty severely to the right, and down the hill you can see people working to close the giant hole in the Menards roof. Right now the biggest problems, though, seem to be that people are rubbernecking like idiots, making traffic kind of a pain. I'm solving that by hiding out in the library, and once I'm done here I'll take the roundabout way home.

So that's the story of the tornado. Unlike many of my friends, I did not see any funnel clouds, hear a noise like a train, or feel my ears pop from pressure. But my house and myself survived without damage, and so I think I'll just be grateful and go do some homework.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Think of the noodles!

So I was hosting a prospective graduate student earlier this week, which basically entailed spending $100 of the department's money on dinner and making sure she got all her questions about grad life answered, more or less.

We went to my favorite Thai restaurant for dinner, along with a few of my colleagues/cohort/friends (we wear many hats) from the department. Discussion was going along pretty swimmingly; we had heard about the propective's boyfriend, about her apartment hunt, and answered some questions about workload and so on. Very normal.

I had turned aside to talk to Mrs. K. about...I don't even remember, probably an assignment for class or our one classmate who keeps getting arrested. Something. And then I heard, "Yeah, if they do it wrong, you can totally lose all sensation."

I thought this was rather a weird sentence to hear from a prospective out of the blue—were we talking about some sort of surgery, a bizarre homeopathic remedy, or, most likely, some sort of medieval torture procedure that she had been reading about?

No. We were talking about clitoral piercing. To be specific, her clitoral piercing.

I will allow the women to pause for a full-body shudder right about...here.

Now, why would you get a clitoral piercing, honestly? Is the risk really worth the reward? I think it's pretty clear the answer is "hell, no." More important, though, is this question: if you had such a piercing, why in the name of all that's holy would you talk about it to people you've just met? People with whom you're going to be working in a (semi-)professional capacity for the next six years? It's beyond the pale, really. Although it was enjoyable to watch the dinner table's only male try to repress his repulsion.

I think this falls in sort of the same category as the phenomenon whereby strangers feel free to talk to me at all times for reasons I don't understand. Do I emit some sort of pheremone that says "tell me anything; I've got time for your crazy"? If so, I need to find that switch and flip it to "off."

Clitoral piercing. For the love of little green apples. I may never eat pud thai again.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Also, men who don't own a fairly sizeable drill. Freudian of me, I know.

So this is sexist and sort of irritating of me, but it's also true, and so I will tell you.

I can't really respect men who can't drive stick shift.

(That is not a euphemism, by the way.)

I mean, you know, not really. Like I don't correlate it with cheating on your taxes or being stupid. I just find it weird, like if someone told you they didn't know how to count to ten in another language. Isn't that something you're supposed to learn at some point?

Not to mention the fact that I am widely acknowledged to be a...questionable driver, and even I can drive a stick without stalling out. I can even start from a stop on a hill. I'm not saying I learned this effortlessly—oh, there were tears, my friend, tears and screaming—but I did learn it at 16, the age where no one can be taught anything.

And I'm not sure why I don't hold other women to this standard, although the more that I think about it, it's probably because I assume other women have the same being-taught-to-drive experience I did: namely, my brother was taught nearly from birth by my father, and I didn't learn until I was 15, from my mother. This is the sexist system that was used in my household, and which my sisters and I still vaguely chafe at whenever it's mentioned, although it really makes no difference at this point. Although, my younger sisters haven't been fully taught how to drive stick yet, for which my brother occasionally mocks them. However, please note which child gets the most speeding tickets: it's not a daughter.

So anyway. I'm not sure what the point of this is, except that when a guy mentions he can't drive stick, I have a little moment of superiority, and when a girl mentions that she can, I automatically (ha!) think she's cooler.

I realize this is a weak post, so let me just add: stop playing your guitar at MIDNIGHT, downstairs neighbor! And also, BASEBALL!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Preferred sleeping positions: cats vs. girl

In order of preference:

1. Me in center of bed, cats out of earshot
2. Me in center of bed, cats at end of bed
3. Me on right side of bed, cats on left
4. Me in center of bed, one cat in front of stomach and one cat behind knees (rolling over no longer an option)
5. Me in center of bed, cats making noise in hallway
6. Me in center of bed, cats fighting at end of bed
7. Me in center of bed, cats fighting by face
8. Me in center of bed, one cat perched on hip, other cat self-trapped in bathroom
9. Me on couch, cats in bed
10. Me on couch, cats on stomach

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Weird things from my seminar on medieval gesture and emotion:

1. Did you know people used to use Psalm 108 (109, for the non-Vulgate readers among you [i.e., Protestants]) to pray people to death? Apparently, recite it every day for a year and a day, and the person you hate will drop dead. Vicious.

2. The book I ordered for this class last week: Images of Lust: Sexual Carvings on Medieval Churches.

3. If you were a Benedictine monk in the Middle Ages, you weren't supposed to get angry. If you did, you couldn't receive any sacraments until you had begged forgiveness from whomever you were angry with. However, the monks spent a lot of time cursing people who crossed them—they just weren't angry while they did it.

4. Until, oh...1996? Or so? Scholars had this crazy idea that people in the Middle Ages were just totally lacking in emotional control. It's called the "Grand Narrative," and basically is this idea that "emotional control" and the increasingly private nature of emotional display started in the 17th or 18th century and developed until it reached its zenith in, what, 1956? Something like that. If you think about it, though, that's just completely patronzing and ridiculous.

5. If you see someone in a medieval illumniation or painting cupping their cheek, don't assume they have a toothache. It's the gesture for sorrow, and would have been automatically recognized as such by any contemporary person viewing the piece.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stupid injuries I have sustained lately:

1. Bruise on left foot from putting chair leg down on it
2. Scald on inside of right index finger from grabbing spout of teakettle instead of handle
3. Bruise on knuckles of left hand from slamming in shower door
4. Goose egg on forehead from hitting it with car door (admittedly, this happened almost a year ago, but it was extra stupid so I'm including it)
5. Irritated right rotator cuff from flipping comforter for cats to chase

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Survey for Nerds

I'm writing a paper on Much Ado About Nothing for my Shakespeare class, and I have two quick questions for the two of you who are still reading this thing.

1. Do you think Margaret understands the implications of her behavior when she appears at Hero's window with Borachio?

2. Does the fact that Kenneth Branagh has no upper lip bother anybody else?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Guess what? You're not the boss of me; I'll blog when I damn well want to. Or whatever.

Okay, I am fully not dead at all. My new year's resolution was to be less susceptible to guilt, and therefore I decided to give myself a month (or so) off from blogging. Or I couldn't think of anything to write. And apparently my Toshiba had the same resolution, because it gave itself a month off from the internet, and I replaced it with a new Compaq. I shall call it Squishy and it shall be my Squishy.

Despite what I said about not being dead, the new semester has been a little bit of a struggle for reasons that remain entirely mysterious to me. Not an academic struggle (did I tell you my grades were good last semester? They totally were, mini-wave), so much as a struggle to...care. I can't decide if it's the weather or a general malaise or the creeping melancholies that are going through the department, but mostly I just want to curl in a ball and eat chocolate, which is weird because chocolate is not even my drug of choice.

Other than that, though, things are chugging right along. I have acquired three new calligraphy hands, although two of them are pretty boring and therefore useless to me. But let me tell you, using a dip pen to write is great, in that it's like crack to English grad students, because now we (the four of us in the class) feel like we are Jane Austen and/or whatever ye olde writer we prefer. Next week we are slated to learn how to make and write with quills, which is...awesome. We can feel like Chaucer or Cicero or something. It's like a dork-factor boost.

My Shakespeare class is cool, although it does not involve a dip pen, as they are rather awkward for taking notes. But we're reading all the plays nobody ever reads (a.k.a. "the bad plays"), which is interesting. Although I spend a lot of time going, yeah, there's a reason you never see this one. This week's selection is 2 Henry VI, which is a scintillating treatise on how Henry VI was Very Weak and his dukes were Always Scheming. But it does have a random scene of devil worship, so...yay?

Okay, I am tired of writing—I don't have my blogging legs back yet—and I still have two acts of Henry to Suffer Through. I will just give you a quick run-down of other stuff that I think you need to know:

1. See Nanny McPhee because it is awesome. I know, I was skeptical too, but...Emma Thompson! And more importantly, Colin Firth! And, most importantly of all, gay mortuary assistants!

2. I bought a teamaker, which is awesome. It's like a coffeemaker, except for tea, and now I can use loose tea without having to pick it out of the cup. Did you know they sold such things? Me neither, but they do, and sometimes they are even on discout, which, extra awesome. Mmm, Earl Grey.

3. Have you seen Horatio Hornblower? If not, you are totally missing out, and not just because Ioan Gruffudd is frickety hot. There are sea battles and Captain Pellew and scurvy and things on fire. My dad got them for Christmas and we watched them all, and then Sarah and I had to get out the one where Hornblower wears the straw hat because of the infernal heat and also, the Plague. Seriously? In Iran?

4. Lemon curd. It's the new condiment of choice.

5. Happy Valentine's Day. Go away, you bother me.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Prominently featured: A Jackburger and Fried Mushroom Balls

Hello, kids. Long time no blog. I would say that I've missed it, but it would be a lie. Besides, upwards of half my readership is currently in the same house that I'm in; they're fully aware that I have spent every day for the past three weeks getting up at 11 and then either reading or advancing my love affair with Horatio Hornblower.

There have been some notable moments, most of them involving my sisters and gaseous bodily emissions, but nothing quite so...special as yesterday's mini-adventure.

M4 and I didn't have anything better to do, so we decided to drive the hour up to Vermillion, SD, to attend a bookstore that had been highly recommended. Of course, we didn't call ahead, and so when we got there we were disappointed to find that the store was closed until the 9th, presumably because the owners are lazy bastards who are out to thwart me. Or something. Anyway, it was close to lunchtime, so M4 suggested we eat, and I suggested we eat at Old Market Cafe, which we had passed on the way to the damned bookstore.

The Old Market Cafe was on Main Street; the side of the building had a mural of the sun setting over the plains. Perhaps there was a coyote and a cactus—isn't there always? This should have been my first indication of what I was getting into, but I pulled open the door, undaunted.

It was like walking into someone's grandma's basement, except that it smelled like fried stuff instead of mothballs and mildew. There were three small, often-painted wooden booths along the right side and some tables of dubious sturdiness scattered around the rest of the room. After quick consulatation, M4 and I chose the booth closest to the kitchen; when we sat down there were two worn chair cushions waiting on the bench for us, probably sewn in the 50s by the aformentioned grandmother.

I started looking around more closely as soon as we sat down, and M4 and I had to contain our laughter until after the (very nice and competent) waitress walked away to get our drinks. On the wall opposite from the benches was a large Bud Light clock and a USD football poster; all very normal. Not so normal were the eight or nine small porcelain heads mounted on a yellow board that domiated the wall; apparently there are some decapitated garden gnomes and Hummel figurines somewhere in Vermillion, probably waving their ceramic arms above their ceramic stub necks in ceramic panic. Flanking the heads were a longhorn skull sans horns and some other, slightly smaller bovine skull. A tube of red lights ran all along that wall, around to the soda machine. Or I should say, the parts of the soda machine; it was apparently in the process of being repaired and its innards were fully on display for most of the time we were there. The repair process was frequently interrupted so the repairman could help himself to another cup of coffee from the pot behind the counter.

The tables were all tidily set with silverware rolls, mismatched mugs (Christmas tree, Merriweather Lewis, State Farm Insurance, Wedgwood knockoff), and small plastic water glasses at every place. Our table was attached to the wall with only one leg supporting it, which would have been fine, except the leg was only partially attached to the floor, which was by no means level. Every time I set my elbows down on it, it moved three inches down and away from me; M4 almost ended up with a lapful of water a few times.

The menu was enjoyably limited; there were literally only about 10 options for lunch and seven of them involved the word "burger." M4 and I both had the "Phily," which turned out to be chopped up meat (chicken on mine, beef on hers), copious amounts of Swiss cheese, green peppers, and unfortunately carmelized onions, which I was forced to pick off the hoagie bun. We had onion rings and ranch dressing to complete a delicious if artery-clogging meal.

Halfway through lunch I noticed what had to be the piece-de-resistance: a taxadermied jackalope head mounted on the wall behind M4's head. If you don't know what a jackalope is, it's a rabbit with antlers; you see them on postcards and, apparently, in cafes in the West. This one had a remarkably pleasant expression, considering its final fate; its buckteeth protruded from a rather cheerful smile. Added character came from the jaunty woman's scarf tied around its abbreviated neck; apparently the grandma touch extended to all corners and details of the cafe.

After we finished eating, the waitress brought us our ticket and we left her a nice tip, mostly in change and mostly for the amusement value of the place. We paid at the counter where the soda machine repair man was putting the finishing touches on both the soda machine and his approximately tenth cup of coffee. We walked out the door, passing the proprietor, who was sticking a sugar packet under the leg of another wobbly table and greeting a mother and her son who had come in for lunch. On the way out of town, we stopped at the winery and sampled their product, finally settling on a white wine called "Cock & Hen," and then we headed home, congratulating ourselves on a successful afternoon and already planning what we'd have when we came back next week, so we could attend the bookshop and figure out what, exactly, the jackalope was so happy about.

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