Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Professional Meetings

I spent most of last week at my discipline's annual professional meetings. This is the first time in two years that I went due to conflicts with dissertation data collection. Last time I was there, I shared a room with Dr. Brazen Hussy and Dr. La Blonde Parisienne and they were sorely missed this year. Say you'll come back to hang out with me someday? Sniffle.

This year's meetings is the first time that I have presented any of my dissertation data. I wasn't going to present anything at all, but my friend asked me if I would be his co-author and do a presentation synthesizing some of our research. I said that sounded good. I had most of my stuff ready before the meetings, but I still had some anxiety about it. He was still putting together his end on Thursday night when we were supposed to give the paper later that week.

I really wanted to see what was going to be presented before it was presented, so he said he would meet me after lunch. I assumed that meant around 1:30. At 3:30, he finally showed up ... he was late because he just had to "take a nap". I was PISSED OFF. We only had time to practice it once, so it was kind of choppy and not very good when he presented it. After the session was finished, I was invited to lunch with the other speakers. I knew I HAD to go to, for face time and schmoozing and answering questions, but I really would have preferred to relax and get a beer with my friends. After FOUR HOURS of talks, the last thing I wanted to do was to be mentally on my game some more.

On the walk over there, another one of the presenters in the symposium told me that she has an article in press that covers a small portion of my dissertation data, using the very same methods. The first thing I thought was ... shit. Then she said that her data came up wildly different. Double shit. Then she asked me a whole bunch of questions, some of which I think I answered kind of badly (about my study subjects) and some of which I answered kind of well (about statistics). Lunch was a little awkward and I sat there silently trying to look intelligent, and attempting not to say anything stupid.

Good things that came out of the meetings:

(1) Because this woman has something in press about my dissertation data, I have re-evaluated how I am presenting mine. The power of my study is in that I have a lot of complementary data on different things. I am going to concentrate on that aspect of my work.

(2) One of the other people who presented in my session is doing really cool work on complementary stuff and wants to collaborate with me at some point. Yay!

(3) I discovered I have the perfect data set to publish a paper on an extremely trendy aspect research angle.

Please hire me? kthxbai.

Monday, April 14, 2008

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

fiction/literatue, (c)1930, 288pp
rating: ***

Despite being an english major, I never read any Faulkner as a college student or as a high school student. I've been trying to expand my literary horizons now that it doesn't feel like such a task to read "the classics", so I pulled As I Laying Dying off of my book shelf and gave it a read. I purchased it during my senior year of high school to read in preparation for the AP English exam. I never even cracked the cover. Now, 10 years later, I have finished it.

As I Lay Dying tells the story of a country family making a pilgrammage to the big city to bury Addie Bundren, husband to Anse Bundren and five children - Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. Each chapter is told in Faulkner's signature stream-of-consciousness style by a different narrator. The chapters are labeled with the narrator's name and the reader is immediately plunged into whatever internal monologue the character has at that particular time. The trip to Jefferson to bury Addie Bundren is part tragedy and part farce. While the plot of As I Lay Dying is extremely simple - a woman dies and the family goes to bury her - the themes of the novel are not. Issues of greed, the tragedy of motherhood, illegitimate children, mental disease and rape are all covered through the lens of each character's internal monologue.

I can't say I loved this book. I recognize the skill involved in writing that, and I recognize that Faulkner is an extremely influential writer. The first part of the book was very slow going while I was waiting for Addie to die so that the family could get moving. The stream-of-consciousness narrative vacillates between being really effective story telling and being really difficult to properly figure out. At one point, I had to read a general description of the course of events just so that I could be watching for them in all of the different narratives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Historic Richmondtown

About a month ago, I told my friend T that I really wanted to go to Historic Richmondtown. Historic Richmondtown is on Staten Island and it is sort of the poor man's version of Williamsburg (or Skansen, for those who have visited or live in Stockholm). Richmondtown was one of the first towns on Staten Island and used to be along New York harbor (before large chunks of the harbor were filled). The historical society has preserved a lot of the colonial buildings in the area and made it a living museum to the time period. My friend T is really into the history of New York City, and has also always wanted to check it out - though found it difficult to find someone else suitably dorky enough to go along with it. I figured I would check the schedule and see if anything really fantastic was going on, and that is when I found it.

Revolutionary War Re-enactment Weekend.

Clearly, we had to go for that. There is so much delicious kitsch there that we absolutely could not miss it.

Thus, T, FR, S and I gathered at 11:30am on Sunday morning to make the two hour trek to Staten Island. In order to get to Historic Richmondtown, we had to take the subway, to a boat (the S.I. Ferry), to a bus. This was actually my very first time on Staten Island (not counting the times when I have taken the ferry across and back to give visitors a view of the Statue of Liberty). All of the clocks were still an hour off, leading us to believe that by leaving Manhattan, we had actually entered a different time zone. (Okay, not really.)

When we showed up to Historic Richmondtown, the revolutionary war extravaganza was well on its way. The Continental Army was recruiting small children by arming them with bayonets while delighted parents snapped photos of their children mock-killing people. Good times for all. We visited all of the old houses and learned many interesting factoids. For instance, did you know:

- The term "sleep tight" refers back to the time when bed springs were made out of rope. It was necessary to tighten them periodically, as they tended to stretch out over time.

- the term "straighten up your room" comes from moving all of the chairs into more formal positions across the walls for entertaining

- the term "bar" replaced "pub" or "tavern". The term "bar" comes from a series of bars that would come down around the barkeeper, the liquor and the money in case of a fight or robbery

At one of the houses, there was an exceedingly irritating re-enactor who seemed a little drunk and was not very imformative. He leeringly asked us to sign a loyalist petition and pledge our allegiance to the King. We told him that since we were women, we were clearly not allowed to read or write so he'd have to ask our fathers and our husbands.

The actual skirmish in the town was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Actual revolutionary war re-enactors came in from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and were really excited to be able to skirmish in an actual town instead of on an open battle field. However, this led to a production that was really more for them than for us. We were pretty excited with the rebels (that's us amurricans) finally began to die. There was much booing of the loyalists and "huzzahing!" of the rebels. One of the re-enactors children was among the spectators. He was carrying a bayonet larger than he was. This was the conversation that ensued:

T: That kid is going to get hurt.
S: Nah, he's more likely to bump into someone else.
T: Exactly. He's going to hit me with it and I'm going to kick him.

The last activity of the day was a reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Tavern. We were all excited for the prospect of beer and liberty until we got to the tavern and THERE WAS NO BEER. There were cups! But they were empty. There were toasts! But no beer to toast to. Regardless, the reading was kind of fun. The tavern keeper read the preamble and then different people around the room were asked to read the different complaints. The tavern owner was smart enough to pick educated looking adults, so it was pretty nice. However, one women read redress as "Red-ress" as opposed to "Re-dress" and another man kept talking about the "Tye-ranny" of George the III as opposed to the "tier-anny" of George the III.

The lack of beer was a bummer, but luckily the Staten Island Ferry has its very own bar! So we toasted Staten Island and Richmondtown with our Michelob Ultra as we sailed away from one time zone and went back to our own.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


During class today, a student asked to make an appointment with me on Friday to go over some of the course material. What is the problem? you might be thinking.

Well, here is the problem. This same student comes late to class almost every week, and leaves early from class more often than not. He failed his first exam. The material that he wanted to make an appointment to go over was the material for today - since, as usual he left early.

I relented and agreed to an hour on Friday. But I am resentful. I am not paid for any of my time that I spend meeting with students outside of class hours except for a single office hour - which I spend between the two classes I teach on Tuesday afternoon. I am going to have to make a special trip to University for this student because he couldn't be bothered to sit through the normal class time.

When I told him I would only give him an hour on Friday, this student was resentful and wanted even more of my time. I told him that when he began attending the full class sessions, I would give him more time outside of class.