2

To Whom It May Concern

I got through today’s normal load of classes and dance classes, but at least I’m commitment free until Monday. Wahoo!

I forgot to mention that the other day, I went to the library’s bi-annual used book sale, and against my better judgment, purchased about 10 books. The first one to catch my eye was entitled Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Once I started reading it, I literally could not put it down; I think I was 150 pages in before I realized my latter was getting cold.

Dear Committee Members is an epistolary novel detailing the life of a frustrated, overworked college professor. Jason Fitger teaches creative writing at Payne University, a fictional college in the Midwest. He seems to attract students – and other people, later in the novel – who are in need of recommendation letters. He doesn’t hold back, giving his absolute honest opinion of everyone despite the application or his relationship with the person. Through these letters, we learn not only about the ridiculousness of the letter of recommendation (or as it’s called, the LOR), and how little Payne University cares about its English department (to the point where he needs a hazmat suit to go to his office), but about the less snarky and more serious side of Jason. We learn about his strange relationships with his ex-wife, Janet; his true thoughts on his co-workers; and the demons with whom he’s been living since his flash-in-the-pan success as a graduate writing student. Although the book is mostly lighthearted and funny, it takes an unexpected, dark turn in the final few pages that alters Jason’s outlook on the world, forever.

I related to this book in so many ways. Like Jason, I am in an underfunded humanities department in a Midwestern university. Even though my office is not a biohazardous area – I actually kind of like it – I am sure that there are graduate students who do less and have it way better. It is frustrating, however, that in none of the classrooms in which I teach do I have a smart board, or a way to show a video without needing to lug a projector around and waste 5 minutes of class time setting it up and praying that it works. I have not been in very many academic buildings, but it does seem like the ones which house the humanities are, in a word, neglected. The rooms in Vilas have TVs with VHS input, for crying out loud, and today  as I was setting up to teach my 1:20 class, in comes a building inspector to identify and document a small leak in the ceiling. And it’s not even on the top floor of the building. Science labs and athletic facilities, however, get tons of funding poured into them, with the money coming from tuition and who knows where, since we seem to be in an eternal hiring freeze.

Jason also deals with the flurry of emotions and stresses that seem inhabit just about every university discipline. Everyone I know in the university workplace is overworked, underpaid, and treated like the end of a loaf of bread that no one eats and either ends up in the garbage or in the back of a cupboard growing old and moldy. It’s a rare moment when people are joking around, and usually it’s to distract from the stress of an upcoming deadline or a massive, soul-crushing workload that makes you wonder why you’re in this line of work in the first place. It’s just like – while we’re here, trying to make ends meet, slaving away over funding forms and project proposals, and trying to navigate the politics of the higher-ups, college presidents are out shopping for their new lakefront homes and football coaches are appearing on radio shows and getting massive endorsement deals. Now you tell me, who deserves to get paid more? And yet, in almost every state in the USA, the highest paid state employee falls into either the category of university president or collegiate athletic coach.

Also, like Jason, I seem to get called upon for recommendation letters quite a lot. Every time I mention the subject to another grad student, they say that they never get requests. I guess either I’m popular, available, or a pushover; you take your pick. And I have not been afraid to write some really honest ones. At one point, when I was recommending a student for a program in Israel, I deleted an entire paragraph and just wrote something like: “Listen. I’ve been on an Israel program, and even though Jaclyn Rosenberger (name changed) isn’t an A+ student, she’s no trouble at all. From what I know of her, she is a sweet and genuine person, and not a crack addict. She is well-behaved, polite, and would probably be easy to live/work with. Bottom line, she would not cause you or your program any problems because I can’t see her fucking shit up, so just let her into your program and let’s be done with it.”

I wonder if she ever got in.

This book review is brought to you by all the recycling I’m too lazy to take out but will save the environment…eventually.

5

A Tough TA Day

Oy, what a day.

Am I a terrible TA?

1. Student, to me at beginning of class: “I have a mid-term next class, can I leave early to get ready?”

Um, no. You’re here for all of 50 minutes. If you want to leave, I can’t stop you, but if you ask me, I’m going to suggest that you stay in class because poor planning on your part does not constitute you skipping out on class with me.

2. Student, to me in email: “I have a mid-term next class, can I skip today’s discussion to get ready?”

You can skip, it’ll count as an absence, like it says in the syllabus. Three allowed absences, no reason required. But ultimately, see above.

3. Student: “Someone died, can I skip class?”

Again, see above regarding absences. But please, don’t kill your loved ones to get out of class; just tell me something came up. Sometimes I say “so sorry” or “deepest sympathies” but really…am I supposed to treat it differently? And asking me? I mean, “sure, yeah, I’ll skip class too!”

4. Student: “I was sick, so I didn’t do the reading.”

Props for honesty, but no reading = no participation for the day.

5. Student: “Thank you for being so accomodating!”

It’s no big. I do kinda like that you think it is, so we’ll go with your thing. Glad to help.

 

1

Love in the Time of Google

I know it’s been AAGGEESS since an update, especially after mentioning that this month would feature some good content. And it will, I just need to get through a couple of projects first.

At least I’m down to just six major things: 1 paper for British Drama, 2 projects for Postdramatic, and 3 projects for Drama in Education. Mostly, I’ve spent the weekend worrying about the Drama for Education projects; two are just minor write-ups that I could probably do in a good sitting, but the other is a full-blown drama curriculum with theories, citations, etc., culminating in what will be a 90 minute lesson, led by me in 6 days. Fortunately, I just reread the syllabus, and I have probably been running around like a headless chicken gathering hundreds of sources for no discernible reason, since I only need a broad idea of an eight-to-twelve week curriculum, and just one detailed lesson plan (with references, citations, theories, activities, reflection questions) rather than all of the weeks.

I guess the problem is that I cannot decide which week I want to do. But before I go to sleep tonight I need to pick that one lesson, even if it means reading between all the lines of everything.

I’ve been doing a lot of index-combing in the library and citation-based detective work, mostly because I am an easily-amused academic idiot, when I Googled a few simple search strings and came up with several websites I could conceivably cite for a definitive game plan, full stop. I think I may have fallen in love with a guy named Joel and a lady named Miriam, who are writing on exactly what I’ve been desperately trying to find in the library.

It still doesn’t make me less nervous, but it’s a start.

Also, I’m sad. I should do something fun soon.

14

My Office and A September Challenge

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.

It’s also my first day as a TA, and with being a TA comes an office, so…I have an office! A real one! With four walls, three desks (one for me, one for my office-mate, and one for a computer), a sofa, bookshelves…and a whole lot of empty space. I need to change that. Being in the digital age, I don’t have a huge amount of photographs of people (at last count: three), so I have a bunch of random celebrity pictures up (Marlene Dietrich, the Supremes, some couple dancing the Lindy Hop), and Madame X, and that’s about it. I need some more fun on my wall, so if you’re reading this and want to send me a picture or a postcard or something for my wall, just comment here with your email address and I’ll send you my snail mail address.

And…an odd-numbered month challenge!

So this September, I challenge you to find nine blogs (for the ninth month), read a post, and make a comment. That’s it! Then tell the person to comment on eight more blogs (and nine, including commenting on your blog). So, I’ve picked a random selection of bloggers, listed here, so I’m going to go your blogs and leave a comment, hoping you’ll come back and comment on one of mine!

So, keep those comments coming, and wish me luck tomorrow!

5

One Step Closer

One paper down.

One 21-page-6840-words-total paper down.

One more to go.

One step closer to my torrid fantasy menage a trois…

…consisting of me, my bed, and my books.

Actually, make that an orgy.

One more paper in the way though.

But I’m almost there.

And of course, some howdies to all the continents but Australia: North America (USA and Canada), South America (Colombia), Europe (UK, Germany, Norway and Portugal), Asia (India and Singapore), and Africa (Nigeria and Mayotte). Eh, almost there.

10

Final Paper of the Semester: This Is Not A Drill

So many potential titles for this post – “Final Countdown,” “The Last Night of the World,” “It’s the End of the Semester As I Know It,” “One Midnight Left,” “I am going to finish this paper tonight, dammit, part II” – but here’s the deal. I have one paper left, 15-20 pages. It’s due tomorrow at 1:00 PM, and as of 8:57 PM, I have exactly one page written.

So, game on.

Ride or die.

No sleep until Pune.

It’s all or nothing.

And during writing breaks, I am going to be live-blogging my progress, so stay tuned. I will probably be doing a pilgrimage up and down State Street. I’m currently at Michelangelo’s, with a sugar-free almond iced skim latte and a cheese sandwich.

I am shaking already.

UPDATES:

10:11 PM. One hour later, 1,011 words written – most of them probably crap – and only 6 sticky-noted pages covered out of about a million. Sigh.

11:19 pm. On my second latte. The coffee shop closed at 11, so I have migrated elsewhere, to the library. My laptop does not like being on campus and does not agree with the campus wifi so I might migrate again soon.

12:59 AM. Somewhere on page six or something. Took a night walk. Bad idea. Four more pages at least before I can think about sleep.

4:00 AM. Why the hell am I still awake? I’m typing like a madman to make up for the time I took off to take a walk. Probably none of what I’m writing will make sense tomorrow morning. Speaking of which, someone please wake me up in 4-6 hours so I can finish this thing. Around 2700 words at last count, so that means I’m just about at the bottom of page 9. 8 pages, not too shabby for one night’s work.

10:48 AM. Four hours of sleep, wake up to a fresh start, and probably too much of a Buzzfeed break = only about 10-11 pages. Gosh, could I go any slower? GAH. This next hour needs to be flawless.

Aftermath: 

So, all in all, I did not finish 15-20 pages. I got up to page 12, barely, but I did turn it in on time. I texted a classmate about it, and asked if it would have been a better choice to turn in 12 pages or nothing at all, and she said that she herself had once done something similar for the same professor – not a great option, but better than nothing. It’s only a first draft anyway, and I attached a note to it saying that even though I fully acknowledge that it’s only 12-ish pages, I did a lot of research and backing up of said research, and proofreading for grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and clarity, all things that have been issues, anyway, so I hope she doesn’t fault me for trying to get it right the first time. Hopefully it’ll result in feedback along the lines of, “…it’s short, but well researched.” Is that so much to ask? I would rather get that than have submitted 15 pages that were terrible.

But it’s been a six-continent day, so at least that’s happening.

Welcomes to North America (Canada and USA), South America (Peru and Brazil), Europe (UK, Switzerland, Germany, Albania and Finland), Asia (India and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Mozambique) and Oceania (New Zealand)!

4

Complex: Me, or My Writing?

So, today I got an assignment back from my professor. It was a review of a very academically-written article on an arcane topic. Turning to the final page, I saw that the professor had written about four comments, and gave me an A.

This is the same paper I turned in a draft of two weeks ago to the “undergraduate writing fellow,” an English major assigned to critique our work, and was returned to me with a litany of comments in tiny black inked letters.

And from the way he/she wrote about it, I had written the worst thing ever…trouble for me, or just plain trouble?

I don’t like to preach or toot my own horn, but let’s back up a second. First of all, even though I hate playing the age card, I’ve probably got at least a good five years on you. Second, I’d be highly surprised if you had several published articles and a 150-page master’s thesis. Third, judging from the comments you wrote, you clearly had no idea what I wrote about. And clearly, my professor understood what I was writing about. So, I feel like I might have a little on you?

But maybe I’m wrong.

Eh, I don’t care, I still got an A.

 

4

So Much Better

Sometimes, a little victory can go a long way.

So, about a month ago, the grad student organization that I’m in had a meeting. One of the topics was how to increase sources of revenue. Someone brought forward the idea of selling concessions at a university theatre show, but noted that “it hadn’t done well in the past.”

After some conversation, I was among the few who suggested, “Why don’t we try it again now? What do we have to lose?” in the face of a sea of nay-sayers.

So, fast forward, we bought snacks and sold concessions. I helped.

Fast forward even more, to today. We had another meeting and I found out that we actually turned a profit with our concession sales! Granted, it wasn’t a huge profit, but there was money where there wasn’t before, and now we’re actually planning on doing it again.

As the treasurer for our organization, this was a victory for me. Someone put forward an idea, I pushed it, we did it together, and now we are all better for it. I can’t take full responsibility, but as the group’s treasurer and someone who was committed to believing that this was worth a shot, it was refreshing to hear that finally I’m doing something right.

This calls for a Legally Blonde-esque celebratory YouTube clip.

Oh, and thank you to viewers from Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Brazil who have recently visited and helped me have a six-continent day earlier this week!

4

Wisdom from Pleasant Diversions

This past week in Chinese and Japanese drama class, we read portions of an ancient dramaturgical text entitled Xianqing Ouji, or Pleasant Diversions, by Li Yu. Li Yu was an author and theatre theorist who lived in China in the 17th century, and Pleasant Diversions centers on his thoughts and theories on drama. He also seemingly had a way with words; maybe the translation helps bring out the humor, but nobody else in class spoke up against the translation and almost all of them speak Chinese. So, I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I learned from Li Yu,

Section 1: On Dramatic Structure

Though one’s ability may be limited, if skill is honed and put to good use,  one can still achieve distinction. Otherwise one might boast of huge talent  and claim vast learning, but if one’s essays are full of allusions to the dead  and gone and one’s books are only useful for covering sauce jars, all is in vain (33).

Not everyone can write a play.

Section 2: On Forgoing Satire

The sword of the warrior and the pen of the literary man are both instruments for killing people. Everybody knows that swords can kill. It is not widely known that pens can kill, but still some do know (37).

Yeah writers!

For a long time I feared I would have no sons to carry on my line, now I have five sons and two daughters, wives who are pregnant, wives who have given birth but will be pregnant again. Although none of my progeny show promise, yet  they give me comfort in my declining years, and relieve me of the worry of having no kin to turn to (40).

My kids suck.

Section 4: On Getting Out of the Rut

There is an old saying, ‘the most expensive fur coat is made from the fuzz from more than one fox’s armpit’, which is most apt to commend the new plays of our contemporaries (43).

You had me at “fox’s armpit.”

Section 9: On Plot and Personality

If his speech is not dull and predictable, one or two sentences out of ten will break the mould; if his writing is not prosaic, one or two passages in a composition will be creative. This will be someone capable of writing plays. Otherwise he should look for some other occupation, not expend useful energies on a profitless pursuit (54).

If you can’t write a play, get a job.

Section 13: On Wordliness versus Conciseness

I would in fact prefer to save my energy by giving latitude to the actors; the problem is, there are intelligent actors and stupid ones: can I be sure that their amplifications all accord with the author’s intentions, and they will not introduce irrelevant and superfluous stuff (59).

Don’t allow actors to fuck your shit up.

Section 16: On ke hun (light relief)

If your diction is good, your plot good, but your light relief bad, then not merely will your vulgar playgoers be turned away, even your gentlemen of high culture will nod off. The dramatist must be adept at driving away the demon of sleep. Once the demon of sleep has come, though what ensues may be celestial music or the divine ‘Dance of the Rainbow Skirt’, they will still fall on stopped ears and closed eyes. It will be like bowing to statues, discussing the sutras with a clay Buddha (65).

Don’t be boring, but if you are, make sure you have a topless scene; chances are the audience won’t notice.

1

Honey Cake on a Whim for Rosh Hashanah

I woke up this morning, and I was like, holy crap, it’s Rosh Hashanah.

Well, not now, but later tonight.

And I haven’t done anything for it.

Then I went to class, and when I got home, it hit me: I should totally bake something. Last year, I baked a honigkuchen (honey cake) so I thought I’d bake it on a whim, and thereby establish it as a traditional honigkuchen (ooh aah). I found my old recipe, and with about two hours to go until class, I decided to give it a try.

That’s So Jacob’s Kitchen Presents

That’s So Nom

Episode 2: Between-Class On-A-Whim Honey Cake for Rosh Hashanah

Step 1: Gather ingredients.

Step 2: Realize you don’t have all the correct ingredients midway through preparation, so run out to the corner store to buy the remainder for rip-off prices. Be pleasantly surprised when the store actually has normal prices for things – $5 for applesauce, cinnamon, baking soda, and brown sugar? SWEET.

Step 3: Return home and complete the cooking to the sounds of the Ronnie Spector station on Pandora.

Step 4: Put in oven, for twenty-five minutes.

Step 5: Start your reading for class, occasionally checking on the cake.

Step 6: When the timer beeps, check the cake. If it’s still a watery mess in a tin, close oven door and set timer for another 10 minutes.

Step 7: Repeat step six about 5 times because it doesn’t seem to be baking.

Step 8: If on or about the sixth time you check on it it’s still warmed-up ingredient soup in a tin, call mother and freak out at her. Then put on bottom rack in oven for about 10 more minutes, for the last. fucking. time.

Step 9: Remove hot cake from oven, finally cooked, but realize that the batter has overflowed the pan and it looks like somebody pooped in your oven.

Step 10: Laugh uncontrollably at the fake poop in the oven, then take picture of it and send it to your sister in Washington. Consider leaving the poop outside your neighbor’s door as a prank, but eat it instead because it’s actually not poop but delicious honey cake.

Step 11: Put cake in bag and wrestle with the Cling Wrap (the official baking tool of SATAN) to attempt to cover the hot cake in it to stay hot, but ultimately only pull off a few tiny pieces.

Step 12: Realize that you’re going to be late for class unless you leave RIGHT NOW so wrap that burning hot cake in a bag, tuck it under your arm, and run down State Street like it’s the Superbowl.

Step 13: Arrive in class at exactly 4:00 (phew). Plop cake down in bag, on the table but not yet visible. Proceed to torture yourself and your classmates with the delicious smell of honey, and realize that you are now sweaty, have brown stains on your khakis, and smell like a combination of delicious cake and the garlic sauce you made to go on your salmon last night. Hope no one else notices the garlic emanating from you. Practice saying “honigkuchen” in your head several times.

Step 14: At class’s conclusion, reveal the lovingly-baked honigkuchen to a chorus of delight and confusion. Pretend that you just dashed it off casually while reading Chinese and Japanese performance theory texts as if you are Little Suzy Grad Student. Cut off in hunks and serve on napkins. Serves six hungry and curious East Asian studies graduate students and two confused but relieved East Asian studies professors.

Your results, as always, may vary.

Shana tova, y’all.