Monday, December 31, 2007

Onechan Plays with Time (Imoto: "Me, Too!")

Sometime over the past two weeks, onechan and her 3-to-4-year-old friends have begun playing with time--or perhaps they have been for awhile, and I've only just noticed it. What I mean is, they'll put time in their role-playing games in fast forward, so they can extend their game over many play "days," with many nap times, sleep times, and going to school times in a single play session. So let's say we're playing PowerPuff Girls, and I'm the Professor, Imoto's Buttercup, Onechan's Bubbles, and one of their friends is Blossom, and it's night time, so we all have to go to sleep on the toy box, the little table, and the piano stool, but then her friend announces it's morning--time to go to school--and soon later, onechan chimes in that it's nap time, and pretty soon it's time to go to sleep again. The idea that they don't have to play in real time is an exciting one to them.

Imoto plays right along. When it's time to lie down, she lies down; when it's time to get up, she gets up. She seems to be entering a new phase in her relation with onechan, where she's much more aware of what her sister is doing and wants to do it herself. This extends, as well, to what onechan has. So if onechan gets seconds at dinner, imoto wants more food, too, even if she hasn't finished what's on her plate. And of course she wants whatever onechan is drinking. She's very observant: just the other day, onechan was having a big stuffed animal hang onto the handle of her toy stroller so that it was "helping" her push it, so within 10 minutes (after onechan had gone on to another toy/activity), there was imoto, doing the same thing with a smaller stuffed animal.

The changes should be coming fast and furious in 2008; it's been fun documenting some of them here and at Mostly Harmless over the past year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part I: Webquest

It's no secret that I work at a public regional university in New York state, so I've seen up close and personal what the chronic underfunding of SUNY means to students, faculty, and western NY. Over the course of 2008, I plan to do an ongoing series on funding public higher education, a particularly relevant topic now that Governor Eliot Spitzer's NY State Commission on Higher Education has released its preliminary report. This post sets the scene for my series, webquest style.

For representative arguments that public higher education should be free, check out Marc Bousquet (How the University Works) and Adolph Reed and Preston Smith (Labor Party). For a representative faculty union campaign, check out the American Federation of Teachers' Faculty and College Excellence campaign. For an attempt to get a discussion of endowment disparities started, see Bill Benzon (The Valve). For my spring 2006 debate with a privatization advocate, go to Objectivist v. Constructivist v. Theist. For further background and resources, check out Workplace, the Workplace blog, and The Rouge Forum.

For initial reactions to the NYSCHE's preliminary report, check out the statement by the Professional Staff Caucus (CUNY), the press release from United University Professions (SUNY), Craig Smith and Barbara McKenna at FACE Talk, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, and Stanley Fish in The New York Times.

More coming!

[Update 1/10/08: Here's the relevant summary of Gov. Spitzer's State of the State address.]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Toddler Performance Art

I'm in the home stress stretch of my first fall back from Japan--less than 24 hours to turn in my grades! And I do mean home--I've done the vast majority of my grading from home this week, mostly by choice but also thanks to bad weather, illness, and a low-level migraine that hit the Full Metal Archivist yesterday. So in between papers I've gotten the chance to witness a wide range of performance art from onechan (who just turned 4) and imoto (who's 20 months old today). Here are some highlights:

Onechan: Branching out into drama, particularly stage direction and set design. At her girls' birthday party this past Sunday (7 girls under 5, 2 dads, and 1 mom for almost 3 hours!) and at the impromptu Christmas get-together at a friend's place, she enjoyed assigning roles to her friends, from the fantastic ("I'll be the princess, you be the prince, you be the good witch, and you be the bad witch!") to the everyday ("I'll be the mom, you be the dad, and you be the baby!"), and then setting up various kinds of improvs (from fighting a dragon to having a baby to being sick and having to stay home from work or school or see a doctor). At home with imoto, she's enjoyed rearranging the desks, chairs, and toy boxes in the play room to form little rooms, houses, or tents in one or another area of it. She's also enjoyed naming the various baby dolls strewn about the house after the various characters in our fictional pantheon and play-acting her favorite scenarios.

Imoto: Pushing the boundaries of bodily fluid expulsion. Moved from snot to diarrhea to vomit this week. Specializes in coughing so violently in the middle of the night she almost spits up the breast milk she's just extorted from the Full Metal Archivist. For the first time in her long and changing illness(es), she's running a fever, so adding sweat to her repertoire.

Onechan: Continues to explore musical performance. She treated us to a concert after dinner yesterday, complete with stage (one of her little chairs on top of her wood toy box), a playlist (her new Dora checkers board), original songs (one in her version of Spanish, even!) and old classics (the alphabet song, among them, which features "ello mello pee" and "double you, ess, why, and zee"!), and of course instrumentals. We're not just talking the mean air guitar she already plays, but violin (consisting of a little coat hanger from one of the presents her grandmother got her and a plastic golf club) and flute (consisting of the same plastic golf club with the head unscrewed), as well.

Imoto: Also into music. Likes to cradle one of her musical dolls and sway to the beat (kind of) or jump around to Buzz Buzz or The PowerPuff Girls CD with her big sister. Often tries to sing along with onechan, say on the Japanese version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," but due to her limited vocabulary mostly just substitutes her sister's name in the opening "Kila, kila, hikaru" line.

Onechan: Beginning to tell stories, some from real life (a little anecdote from her hoikuen that something that's just happened reminds her of), some from her drawings (telling me what's happening), and some from our pantheon of imaginary characters. I'm having fun at bed time asking her what happens next in the stories I'm making up for her, or having her edit them when I go off track ("no, no, daddy, tell it this way!"), but I can't yet get her to tell me a bedtime story.

Imoto: Into cosplay, particularly when it comes to footwear and, less often, hats. Still mostly other people's shoes and slippers but lately has enjoyed slipping her feet into the fuzzy boots her grandma just got her and stomping around the house on the hardwood floors. That, and slamming upstairs doors. And running away, giggling, when it's time to change her diaper or throw her in the tub. And rolling around on the big bed after her bath to avoid getting her pajamas on. And kicking me with both feet when I've finally pinned her. And laughing uproariously when I pretend the kicks have knocked me backwards or off the bed--just like her sister did when I played that game with her a few years ago!

Yup, we've been lucky that the girls have mostly kept their energy and good spirits, despite being sick most of the past month. Now it's time to make that final grading push!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who Wants to Be a Tenure-Track Professor? Part II: The MLA Interview

'Tis the academic career advice season, it seems, as the most-read post in the brief history of CitizenSE has been the first installment in this series. So, going against The Little Professor's advice, I'm going to offer some more today, this time on the MLA interview. (Hey, she did it first!) Having been on the interviewed side more than a dozen times and on the interviewing side around a half dozen, I certainly have some experience, if not yet wisdom, to share. But since Tenured Radical has handled the "to do" part so well (along with Eric Rauchway and Eric Hayot), what I'm mostly going to do here is offer my own little "to don't" list. Not as funny as Robert Farley's, but hopefully mildly useful and/or entertaining to someone on the eve of MLA! If anyone wants to follow up on anything I've written or hinted at here (in the process of revising this, I've systematically removed all the juicy bits), drop me an email and I'll give you a call.

Don't forget that you're going to be interviewed in that tiny uncomfortable little hotel room or weird picnic table among dozens like it because that institution's personnel committee (some of whom you may even in that room with you at MLA) thinks very highly of you and your work and wants to find out more about both. The overall job search engenders such self-doubt, anxiety, and paranoia that this point can be difficult to remember. If you're in the top 8-12 of a particular search, you should keep in mind that a good number of people in the department are already interested in your work, already think you will be a good fit at their institution, and already believe you could become a wonderful colleague. So pat yourself on the back for putting together fantastic application materials and go into the interview with some well-deserved confidence.

Don't be intimidated by the realization that the other 7-11 people being interviewed for that position are likely to be about as well-qualified and -prepared for the job as you are, but only 2-4 of you will be invited for a campus visit.. You could be the personnel committee's consensus #1 heading into the interviews. But the actual interviewers might have their own ideas before you even set foot in the interview room. But even if you're the consensus #12, you can only move up, right? The point is, you can't know where you stand heading in and, anyway, no matter how anyone looks on paper, what matters now is what happens during the interview itself. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough to get into the top 3 or 4 in your pool.

Don't forget that interviewing teams will express their interest in you/your work and approach the task of making the MLA cuts in varying and fairly unpredictable ways. The key is to suss out the situation as early as possible in the interview itself and react accordingly. Maybe you're interviewing with an R1 place that believes in "trial by fire." They see their job as zeroing in on the shortcomings of your research and limitations of your theoretical approaches in order to see how well you handle the kind of intellectual streetfighting at which they excel. They want to convey to the candidates that the job is stressful and the department ethos is competitive. Best 2-4 candidates at parrying the attacks and keeping their heads make it to the next round.... Or maybe you're interviewing for a position at a teaching institution and the chief goal of their interviewing team is to figure out how ready you are to do the job (in terms of teaching and service, particularly) and how their students are likely to react to you. They want to know how seriously you've imagined what living and working there would be like and how intensely you're interested in the position. Or maybe.... Well, the situations vary. If an R1 place has a pool of candidates who similarly distinguished themselves (or failed to) during the research portion of the interview, then the teaching part rises in importance. By the same token, a teaching institution may want to convey that they would be good colleagues to you and so go out of their way to engage you on your research. And really good interviewing teams will have an original opening question that sets the tone and terms of the interview to come--something inherently difficult to prepare for. The only rules of thumb I can propose given this variability are:

1) prepare for a variety of kinds of interviews, from worst-case (where the interviewing team is clearly looking for reasons not to invite you to campus) to best case (where they're clearly recruiting you during the interview);
2) do your homework on the institution, department, and interviewing team and try to anticipate what kind of interview it's most likely to be;
3) remember that you're interviewing them, too--you're picking up all kinds of information about the position, place, and people from something as simple as the kinds and order of questions you're asked, not to mention the body language, facial expressions, and interactions among the interviewers--so use it to help you decide what questions you want to ask them (unless they're the kind of interviewing team who's decided that opening rather than closing with, "What questions do you have for us?" is the best way to go).

Don't assume that everyone on the interviewing team was equally involved in the evaluation of initial applications or is equally familiar with the materials you sent them. One of the reasons the "tell us why your dissertation matters"-type question is so popular as an opening gambit in MLA interviews is that some people on an interviewing team may have seen only your letter and c.v., and then maybe only the night before--or the ten minutes before--your interview. So you should think of the interview as an opportunity to introduce yourself to potential future colleagues--another chance to frame your work and shape their image of you--particularly those whose engagement in the process is beginning at MLA. What do you think are the most distinctive features of your teaching and writing? What do you think you can contribute to their department that few others can? What doubts or qualms might an interviewing team have about your fit for their position/institution and how can you productively respond to them? You may be going over familiar ground for some of the people on the interviewing team, but they'll be looking for new twists on what you've already written or perspectives on what they already thought they knew about you--and everyone else will appreciate your starting from scratch for them.

Don't try to fit yourself into your image of their ideal candidate. "Be yourself" is the stupidest piece of advice anyone can give, except that it's probably the best. It's no coincidence that my grand total of 3 on-campus visits came out of the MLA interviews where I was most myself, or perhaps myself at my best. So think for a bit about what kind of professor you want to be, how you want your students and colleagues to see you, what you want them to say about you, and so on. If you're doing every day what it takes to reach that ideal, then doing your best approximation in your interviews is all you can ask of yourself. That way, you can take from even the most traumatic interviews lessons you can apply to the next.

Don't talk the interviewing team out of their interest in you, unless it's a job you decide during the interview you don't want. The first part sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, I've done it! It's amazing what comes out of your mouth when you're under pressure. (Not an exact quote: "It's hard for me to imagine how I can contribute something new to your department, given how my work overlaps with Professors X, Y, and Z's. But, uh... wait a second, I had a 'But' ready.... Uh, bear with me....") And the second part sounds impossible, right? But it's happened to me, too. And not because I had a plethora of prospects, either.

Don't bring your last interview--or your history of interviews--with you into the next one. Yup, stay in the present, don't fight the last battle, take it one shot at a time, etc. Easier to say than do--I still get flashbacks from my worst MLA interviews. (Really. They were that bad.) But even if you've just had the best interview of your life, that's irrelevant for the next one. If you have only a short time between interviews, focus on calming yourself down and getting your mind focused on the next one. If you have a lot of time, venting with close friends, analysis, reflection, and note-taking (to prepare for the [knock wood] on-campus visit) is in order, but let it go well before the next interview. Draw on any kind of academic and non-academic experience that helps you do this, even if it's something as apparently irrelevant as online poker or golf.

Good luck to everyone at MLA this year! And be on the lookout for further installments in this CitizenSE series, including a companion to Bardiac's advice on the campus visit and a response to Marc Bousquet on attrition, contingent academic work, and the academic job system.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just Checking: Is Everyone Sick?

The cough that doesn't go away for a month. The snot faucet. We've been passing that one along between ourselves here in the Constructivist household since before Thanksgiving break. Now imoto has the diarrhea thing. And both she and onechan have coughed so hard in the past week they made themselves throw up--imoto just a few minutes ago. Which reminds me that just about 11 months ago, we were worried about the norovirus hitting Fukuoka. Now we're wondering if it's hitting Dunkirk....

'Tis the season, I guess. Forget dust in the wind--we're all just vectors for microorganisms....

So how y'all doing in Blogoramaville? Everyone sick?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Off Trail, with Nashi and Kurari

Given how illness and overwork have decimated Citizen of Somewhere Else for the past month, it's time once again to consign another programming schedule to the recycle folder of history. I have a bunch of posts in various stages of ye olde writing process that are worth putting out there whenever I get them done, not on a day of the week that no longer even corresponds to my teaching schedule. My grades are due on the 27th, so don't expect too much going on here before then.

In honor of this being the last Family Friday post for awhile, however, let me note that onechan is like Tiger Woods in having a birthday come during the holiday season. Hers, though, is ten days before his, and, unlike his folks, we don't get her one shoe for Christmas (not least b/c we don't celebrate it) and one for her birthday, although we are almost as cheap. But when you have an imagination as rich as hers and a little sister as cool as hers, you don't need much stuff.

Case in point: onechan has been adding to our pantheon of imaginary characters. Unlike the mythical Saja and Suweet, however, her imaginary friends Nashi and Kurari are pretty much normal little girls. They're both Spanish, and they may be 6-year-old twins, although I have to check on that, because sometimes it seems like Kurari is Nashi's friend and sometimes her little sister. And sometimes it sounds like Kurari's parents are dead. My uncertainty stems from the fact that onechan rarely gives me updates on their lives, preferring instead to tell stories to herself about them and play with them. It was a really funny moment to me last night in my parents' hotel room (they made it for her actual birthday and will stay through her girls' party on Sunday, weather permitting--yeah!) when, in the midst of playing with her gift from them (a wood block stamp/colored pencils kit), she started telling them about her new friends. I don't know how much they caught, because she was kind of distracted and sounded like she was talking to herself, and they were very distracted for other reasons that I shall not be getting into here, but it was striking to me how casually she was speaking of characters she invented (and knows full well are "pretend"). It's amazing to watch onechan become a story-teller and to see how play and storytelling are so intertwined in her head and in her actions....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Welcome Valveteers; or, One Thing You Might Not Have Known About Bill Benzon

Bill Benzon just passed along my little plug for Marc Bousquet's How the University Works, so I'll let all you Valveteers (as in Rocketeers, Musketeers...) in on a little open secret: quiet as it's kept, Bill writes fantastic (in all senses of the word) children's literature.

For what it's worth, this post is rated PG (for procrastinatory gratitude).

Monday, December 10, 2007

How the University Works

Do yourself a favor and get Marc Bousquet's How the University Works--and of course visit his book's blog regularly. The journal he founded and I edited for awhile is doing just fine without us--check out the latest issue and back issues over at Workplace.

This academic labor moment has been brought to you by the letter W.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whoops, Missed CitizenSE's Blogiversary

Don't be fooled by the date on the first CitizenSE post. This blog began on December 1st in Fukuoka, Japan, out of my dissatisfaction with having only 40 minutes to survey the various transformations of my Hawthorne project and reflect upon what they reveal about changes in my fields in an address to the Kyushu American Literature Society I would be giving the following day. So while I missed the blogiversary, I at least got a post in on the anniversary of the talk that inspired it. Which is better than I expect to do the rest of the month here. We'll see!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Racialization Matters: Notes toward a Global History of Race

Later today I'll be part of a panel discussion on race on my campus--one of those "sum up the history of the race concept in 10 minutes" deals. Given how much I overprepared for my Big Read talk--and totally stepped on my co-panelist's time (sorry, Dustin!)--and given how many student conferences I have over the next week, starting in a few hours (it's final project time!), I'm pretty much only going to try to do two things in this talk:

1. Summarize the consensus view on the history of race in North America (Fredrickson, Gossett, Horsman, Jacobson, Morgan, Omi and Winant, Smedley), the Atlantic world (Allen, Berlin, Forbes, Gilroy, Hall, Linebaugh and Rediker) and the West (Balibar, Fredrickson, Hannaford, Malik, Snowden, Stepan, Zizek);
2. Introduce a few new angles on this consensus that a global perspective (Bender, Dikotter, Dower, Mamdani, Marger, Prashad) can offer.

Too bad it's too late to check out recent studies by Ramán Grosfoguel and Denise Ferreira da Silva, as well as Racialization and Racism: A Global Reader, but that would just lead to the overpreparing problem again, right?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Do Not Taunt Super Wacky Fun Ball Mostly Harmless Jinx

OK, so I've had a lot of fun with the notion of a Mostly Harmless Jinx this past year, but things are getting out of hand. I mean, wouldn't it be ironic if the penultimate post here was on death and we happened not to make it to Syracuse for Thanksgiving Dinner later today thanks to the season's first real winter storm? For you all, that is. Or maybe not. Who know what irony means these days?





A laugh a minute that is, is what I say.

What with imoto learning how to walk down stairs by herself and repeat whatever everyone around her is saying, letting a little winter storm stop us would be a real let-down. So in honor of our upcoming drive, a little dialogue from a trip to Buffalo the other weekend.

Onechan [interrupting the tsuma and I]: Daddy, talk to me now!
Imoto: Dada!
Onechan: No, imoto!! It's my turn to talk to daddy!!
Imoto: Dada!
Onechan: No, imoto!!! It's my turn to talk to daddy!!!
Imoto: Dada!
[repeat, adding exclamation points as you go]

Hasta la vista, baby! Happy Thanksgiving, from the Constructivist and the Full Metal Archivist....

Friday, November 16, 2007

"I Don't Wanna Be Die"

That's what onechan told me a little over a week ago. She's been figuring out what death is and what it means over the past couple of months. It's hard to recall how it started. She knows that she is named after the tsuma's grandmother and has gone with us to visit her grave site every time we visit Baba and Gigi in Chiba. She likes to listen to the wind-up music on the photograph we have of her great-grandmother, especially on the anniversary of her death. But lately she's been putting two and two together and asking all sorts of questions. She knows both sets of my grandparents are dead and she knows you visit the graves of those you love, so now she wants to visit my dad's parents in Syracuse this Thanksgiving. She's aware that animals die, too. She was fascinated by the dead skunk that nobody would remove for weeks from the edge of the factory parking lot we drive by almost every day on the way to her hoikuen. When I was reading her a story about Thanksgiving last night, she got very upset that the Wampanoags and Pilgrims hunted wild turkey; when she saw the bows and arrows and processed my explanation of them, she exclaimed, "But the turkeys may get hurt!"

She's still trying to get her head around the notion that everybody dies and you never know when it might happen. For a while, she insisted that she didn't want to turn 10, because she thought she would die soon after. It's not that she doesn't know bigger numbers--we've gone up to 100 in English and over 10,000 in Japanese (thanks to our efforts to teach her about takai [expensive] and a dollar still being worth over a hundred yen)--but it took me a long time to convince her that 100 is old, not 10.

Here's what she knows about death as of right now (she's next to me and I'm translating her answers into complete sentences: if you hurt yourself bad, you can die; after you've been dead awhile, you lose your skin; when you die, you rest in cemetery (which she keeps calling a temple or a church). Gotta go--she wants to type ("on a big big page, ok?")....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Dunkirk/Fredonia Big Read: Fahrenheit 451

My university is participating in the Chautauqua/Cattaraugus counties' version of The Big Read, with their focus on Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. As the last person in the department to teach our Science Fiction course, I'll be contributing to a panel discussion on "Fahrenheit 451 as Novel" with my colleague Dustin Parsons early this afternoon. The goal is to get the audience thinking and talking, so I'm aiming for short and sweet.

Here's my talk's outline (with page numbers keyed to the 50th Anniversary Edition):

I. Where It Comes From

  • A. History: Fascism, McCarthyism, The Great Depression (132, 150-154), the Bomb (158-162)
  • B. Literature: Dystopias, American Pastoralism (140-145, 157), World Literature (150-153), The Martian Chronicles (Grand Master Edition 31, 108, 180)

II. How It Is Relevant Today

  • A. Postmodernism and New Media: Entertainment (81-82, 84, 87), Information (61), Knowledge (105-108), Wisdom (75, 82-86, 163-165)
  • B. Democracy and Capitalism: Mass Culture (54-55, 89, 108), Diversity (57-60), War (73-74, 87, 158-162)

Here are some suggestions for further reading. First, a few novels:

  • Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection (1967)
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (1991)
  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

Then, a few links:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Language Explosions

Imoto has been making incredible strides in communication over the past few weeks in particular. She gets mad now if you don't immediately understand her combination of looks, gestures, and made-up words (like "acamba") or otherwise show any hesitation in figuring out and doing what she wants. She can kind of say "mine," a key word for a year-and-a-half-year-old surrounded by older girls in day care and by onechan everywhere else (yes, onechan's just that fast). She tries to sing the "atsui, samui" song I made up (to the tune of Frere Jacques), loves to chime in on choruses like "ee aye ee aye oh" and "ai ai," can repeat about a quarter of the Japanese alphabet, and points out Dora wherever she can find her (and believe me that's just about everywhere) with a triumphant "Do-ah" (door in Japanese). I'm thinking by her second birthday in late April she'll be having some real conversations with onechan.

Speaking of whom, onechan is going through a language explosion of her own. If you put her on the spot, she'll claim she can't do it, but she's been making up stories a lot lately (often telling them to her toys)--and answering questions about them. When I told a friend about Suweet and Saja, it occurred to me to ask her how they make the earth spin. "They jump up and down," she said. "And they tickle it. And dance." My friend asked her if they blow on it, too. She thought for a while and politely said yes, but when I asked her about that in the car a few days later, she nixed it. And she's been quick to pick up on how they're relevant to her usual time travel scenarios. This time she went from saying she wanted to be little again to saying she wanted to skip right ahead to her 6th birthday to complaining that she didn't want night to come. "You can't stop time," I told her. "To keep it from getting dark, you'd need to make the earth stop spinning." When her eyes lit up I knew I was in for a long story about the Super Prius and her visit to Suweet and Saja at the North Pole.

Come to think of it, I never finished that story. Maybe something for the car ride to Buffalo later today!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Onechan: Poet, Scientist, Myth-Maker

The day before Halloween, onechan was running down the stairs in tights and socks and slipped when she transitioned from the carpeting on them to the hardwood floor and tried to change direction too quickly. "I slid like an ice cube!" she exclaimed with a smile. It sounded to me like her first really poetic simile.

This came in the midst of a period that's started even before our return to the States in which she's been trying to get her head around the difference between U.S. time and Japan time. In the morning, she'll seek out confirmation that "It's getting dark in Japan" or "It's bedtime in Japan." At night, before she goes to sleep, she'll tell/ask me, "People are eating breakfast in Japan now?" This has lead to questions about why day and night alternate, which she's been asking often enough that we've moved from "the sun goes up and the sun goes down"-type answers to trying to get across the notion that the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun (though the latter is more relevant to discussions of her birthday, which is coming in less than two months, and why she has to wait for it to come and can't just turn four tomorrow). We've explained it and showed her shadows on various balls using lights and flashlights. But now she wants to know why the Earth spins. Partly b/c I can't really explain it (b/c I don't really know), partly b/c I'm swamped and stressed, and partly to see how she reacts, I haven't gone online with her to look it up or asked the storytime librarian at the local library for a good book on the subject for an almost-four-year-old, but I have encouraged her to come up with an explanation herself and played devil's advocate on all her attempts. She's really into it b/c she's moving from the definite "that's why" to "probably..." (her new favorite word) as her favorite way of attributing a cause to something. So she likes searching out alternate hypotheses, so to speak.

She started with the wind. "Probably the wind makes the earth spin, daddy," she told me in the car on the way back from her Fredonia hoikuen a couple of weeks ago (she seems to like to have these kinds of conversations then and there). When I tried to explain that the wind was probably an effect of the Earth spinning and get across the idea of a vacuum in space (hah!), she grew tired of that hypothesis or my questions and comments or all of the above. So she hadn't said anything about it for awhile. But last evening in the car ride home she informed me she had figured the whole thing out. "There's this big giant, a nice one. She makes the Earth spin. She's pretend." So of course I had to ask her a few questions. Name? "Suweet." What does she do? "She does homework and takes care of her little sister. She goes to school." Wait, what's imoto's name? "Saja. She's three and a half." Oh, how old is Suweet? "Three and a half, too." So they're twins? "Yeah. Saja was born in April. And Suweet was born on the same day."

Not a bad start for onechan's first myth. Suweet and Saja have joined the Powerpuff Girls, Pretty Cure, Sparkychan and Gojochan, Iki and Ika, Jayla, Kake, Trak, and Zavis, the Super-Prius, and various friends and animals in our storytelling pantheon. Which, I freely admit, doesn't inspire as much hysterical laughter as my dad's stories about adults who can't do things right (eat, stand up, walk, etc.) and alternate worlds (say, where things fall up) did from onechan and her oldest cousin, the only other girl among all 7 of them, last weekend in Hershey, PA. Or my mom's playing the TV Teacher for them. But onechan's stuck with me and the tsuma (whose stories are more about everyday life in Japan, from what I can gather, and who tends to gravitate more toward Socratic dialogues with onechan to get her to think through a moral or interpersonal issue than straight storytelling). So tell me, what questions should I ask her about Suweet and Saja?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mentoring Rules

We have three new tenure-track faculty in the department this year and it's my responsibility as associate chair to mentor them. This involves classroom observations (at least two over the course of the first semester), orienting them to department culture, answering any questions they may have, and especially adding department-specific information to the university-wide orientation that's spread out over the entire first semester (and maybe year). Oh, and presenting their reappointment files to the rest of the tenured faculty at the end of the first semester. (Yes, we have a crazy schedule. Doesn't everyone?)

Because I was away last year, I had nothing to do with the searches on which these new colleagues were hired and knew nothing about them when I arrived back in the States. So mentoring them has been a great way to get to know them, and, through their questions, reacquaint myself with everything I managed to forget about the department and university during my Fulbright year. I'm pleased to report that from my conversations with them about their teaching and research, our institution, and the profession, as well as my first observations of their classes, I've come to the conclusion that once again my colleagues made wise choices during the hiring process. Each of the new hires brings a very different set of interests and approaches to the department while contributing to our existing strengths. I'm not going to go into specifics here or now, but the best thing about the mentoring relationships we've already established from my perspective--someone whose first semester here is still quite fresh in my mind and who is in the middle of transitioning back to a familiar place after being on quite unfamiliar grounds for the past year--is the chance to see our institution through a variety of fresh sets of eyes. I'm at a place in my career where I can actually look back and note patterns in it, and so be relatively dispassionate about the costs and benefits of some of the choices I've made. So I can provide some context and perspective on choices my new colleagues are currently facing--and see where their situations and issues differ from the ones facing me when I first arrived here.

Sure, it's a lot of time and a lot of responsibility, but I can't recommend it highly enough, particularly to other newly tenured professors at teaching institutions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why We Should Sit in on Each Other's Classes More Often

Not content with sitting in on 6 of my new colleagues' classes this semester as their mentor, I also subbed for my chair the first day her class discussed Amitava Kumar's Passport Photos a couple of weeks ago and decided to sit in on the last day today. Talk about productive, for all of us. From the students' descriptions of it that first day, Kumar's book reminded me of a few passages from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, which I mentioned to the chair, who then passed them along to her students today. In the course of the discussion, a student pointed us to Kumar's response to Arundhati Roy's "banner of writerly protest": "If protesting against having a nuclear bomb implanted in my brain is anti-Hindu and anti-national, then I secede. I hereby declare myself an independent, mobile republic" (170-171).

A writer can do this. Declare that she is a nation unto herself! Even invite others. We're now open to immigration! The reason these bold declarations don't diminish my sense of alienation, and, in fact, only enhance it, is the quick realization that I'm not utterly mobile in history. There are miles of barbed wire. Of all sorts. And this becomes clear most of all when Roy rightly says: "However many garlands we heap on our scientists, however many medals we pin to their chests, the truth is that it's far easier to make a bomb than to educate four hundred million people." If I secede, if Roy secedes, we secede also from that difficulty. To put it differently, to secede is as easy as to make a bomb.

The real task, even for those who as diasporics think of seceding, is to contemplate that difficulty. Of how in our minds we allow ourselves to believe that it was ever possible to find a space of withdrawal. It is, also, inevitably, the problem of a collectivity, far beyond individual issues or even nations. Neither writers nor scientists can save the world by themselves. Or escape it entirely. That is the plain truth of the nuclear bomb. When it explodes, it finishes us wherever we reside in our mobile republic. (171)

Pretty useful stuff for starting to teach "The Custom-House" today. (And, for that matter, for plugging the WAAGNFNP.) Not to mention that the "Nationality" chapter from which this passage comes opens with a mini-reading of "Douloti the Bountiful," which I just taught last week in Postcolonial Hawthorne. Or that the "Date of Birth" chapter is particularly relevant for Hawthorne, who was, after all, born on the 4th of July. Or that the "Identifying Marks" chapter may prove crucial to my research on the picturesque, colonialism, and race. Or that the "Profession" chapter is perfect for the graduate course on professional development I'll be teaching next spring. All this from a guy who hasn't read Moby-Dick. Not bad.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Amazing Colleagues, Part I

Since I've been neglecting the Research Weekends part of the CitizenSE programming schedule for so long, I figure I'd better start bragging about my colleagues' work until I actually have time and energy to blog about my own. And since Aimee Nezhukumatathil has a new book of poetry out from Tupelo Press, I thought I'd start with her. You can read and/or hear Garrison Keillor read one of her poems from it, "After Challenging Jennifer Lee to a Fight," at The Writer's Almanac, if you didn't happen to catch it on NPR on my birthday last Thursday. If you want to read more of her poetry online, a google search on her name turns up quite a few, but a recent Verse Daily entry collects many of them. Right now, At the Drive-In Volcano is stalled in the low 200,000s on's bestseller list, but I'm confident that CitizenSE's 5 regular readers and 25 daily visitors will do such a good job spreading the word about it that we'll see it in the top 10,000 by 2008.

You know, it's actually much more difficult to write about your colleagues than yourself or your family. You never quite know what's TMI with a friend, do you? So I'm going to close by simply noting that Aimee blogs over at Gila Monster, but never lets on that she's a fantastic teacher, active with students in our Writers' Ring and Sigma Tau Delta English honors society, one of the driving forces behind our Visiting Writers Series, and a new mom. So let it be said that her son is super-cute, that her husband is a pretty damn good basketball player (among other things), and that it would be cool if he would find the time to start playing with us again (it's just two lunchtimes a week!)....

Friday, October 19, 2007


So the other day on the ride back from school/day care, with both girls in car seats in the back, out of the blue onechan tries to teach imoto about the best way to cover your mouth when you sneeze, a fitting topic as both have been dealing wth the sniffles for about two weeks now. She carefully explained how it's better to sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands, as you can pass along germs to other people much more easily the latter way. I reminded her about it this morning accidentally when I was telling the tsuma this story, and she proceeded to repeat the lesson, complete with the big idea, the rationale, a demonstration, and an attempt to move imoto's arm in the prescribed manner (this last part didn't go over so well). It's good to see she's learning something useful (about teaching as well as avoiding pandemics) at her hoikuen. As the elder child, I've followed in my dad's footsteps profession-wise. Now I'm wondering if onechan is predisposed to be a professor, too. I don't now whether to be proud or worried.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Blogging and Teaching

Teaching Tuesdays have been few and far between, not to mention short and anything but sweet. It's not for lack of topics but for lack of time. Well, not just that. It's more like one of my friends was saying about the announcers in the final minutes of the Bills' heartbreaking loss to Dallas: "Just shut up! Stop saying it's over! Don't jinx us!" It's not like I've been pitching no-hitters in all my classes, but somehow it feels like to blog about any aspect of them or to begin to reflect on the effects of the Fulbright experience on my teaching in the States or on similarities and differences between my Fukuoka and my Fredonia students would be to jeopardize a streak of some sort. But I think it would be all right to suggest that my blogging here at CitizenSE while I was in Japan was a way for me to process all the reading and research I was doing to prepare for my all-new preps there, whereas this semester I've basically been teaching modified versions of familiar courses that incorporate a lot of the ideas I processed in Japan. So I don't need to blog as much here on teaching-related matters because I did so much of that during the past winter, spring, and summer.

But I do have an onechan-related teaching story for y'all. With the tsuma taking courses twice a week and working at UB three times a week this semester, I'm now dropping the girls off at and picking them up from day care, as well as getting dinner started. When the girls get tired of entertaining each other and begin to bug me while I'm trying to get organized to begin doing something resembling "cooking," I give them a snack or a drink. But only certain kinds of things--nothing sweet, for instance. The tsuma and I have been trying to drill into onechan's head that you can only have dessert after you've eaten enough real food--stuff with protein so you grow big and strong, or things with vitamins so your hair grows long long long. (Yes, those things motivate her, even if she can't pronounce vitamins exactly right yet.) But onechan has a real sweet tooth (thanks to me, I guess), so despite our efforts she's always asking if she can have some forbidden item before dinner, and we're always saying no. For some reason, this evening when I was in the middle of getting ready to cook, she asked if she could have a Peco-chan candy right then, and I told her, "sure, but if you have it now you can't have one for dessert." I guess I was curious to see what kind of choice she'd make. Well, she got the funniest look on her face--kind of shocked and horrified and suspicious and tempted all at once--paused for awhile, and finally replied in a kind of scandalized tone of voice, "Daddy, I'm going to wait. You should eat real food first." Then she went off on this long soliloquy about how ashita (tomorrow) she was going to have Peco-chan candy for dessert, too. I think she couldn't believe I had forgotten the house rule and wanted to make sure I would give her credit for correcting me. Anyway, it was one of those moments when you feel completely ratified as a teacher--"she gets it! she actually gets it!" Nice.

I should note that in fact she motored through three servings of dinner--macaroni and cheese, yellow rice, and steamed fresh green beans (hey, I never said I was agood cook!)--just so she could get to dessert, but when the time finally came she decided to have a lollipop instead of the Peco-chan candy. Then she topped it off with some apple sauce, because "it's good for you, daddy." Probably she's right, as this was home-made stuff she and imoto made at imoto's day care out of the fresh apples they were too sick to pick on Columbus Day.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kid-Free Family Friday (Almost)

My dad has landed a pretty cool gig. The tsuma knows Michel Foucault's social security number. Moral of the story: interesting things come your way when you follow what you love. For him, it's sports and philosophy (not always in that order); for her, it's libraries and archives.

P.S.--OK, one kid thing: imoto is now following onechan's exercise program...on one of her bedposts, about 3 feet in the air. Now we can't leave the two girls alone in onechan's bedroom. I wonder when imoto will get a sense of danger.

P.P.S.--Well, one more: onechan is starting to tell some pretty surreal stories. Like the time in the car this past week when, fed up with missing all the animal carcasses on and to the sides of the local roads we've been driving on lately, she started telling us a story about a kaba (hippo), no, wait, a mama and a baby, who jumped over the car on their way to a really big puddle--but you missed them, daddy. Well, yeah.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who Wants to Be a Tenure-Track Professor? Part I: The Letter

Not everyone does, first of all. But as that's a personal preference--and likely a temporary one, at that, as long as life off the tenure track in the U.S. is less like a Fulbright Lecturing Grant in Japan and more like what non-Japanese adjuncts go through there--I'll focus today (and in this CitizenSE series) on the search for a tenure-track job in my field, English. Since every discipline is different, this'll only be of interest to people outside English for comparative purposes, and even for people in English it'll be most useful for those contemplating applying for a job at an institution like mine, a public regional university. Bardiac has a series going already on this exact topic, while Tenured Radical provides an instructive contrast from the liberal arts college side. (I'm looking forward to The Little Professor, Dr. Crazy [now that her book manuscript is done], and Dr. Virago [now that she's decided not to go on the market herself] also picking up on it). But for what it's worth, here's advice on the application letter from a recently-tenured professor who's been closely involved a good number of searches in his first decade on the job.

Should you write it in the first place? You don't have to apply for every job in your field. In fact, fresh out of grad school you shouldn't even apply for a job with a heavy teaching load--4/3 or higher is pretty much the norm in the public "satellites"--unless you love teaching, can speak and write cogently about your experience and approaches, and can realistically finish the dissertation before you start the job. Or unless there's something about the school and/or the location that make that job too attractive not to take a shot at it before it's snapped up. Keep in mind you'll be going up against people struggling to escape the adjunct track or another tenure-track job/place. Unless you can seriously imagine yourself living and working there, save yourself the time, money, and anxiety and focus on the jobs you care the most about.

Do your research. It took me three searches before I landed a tenure-track job. For all of them, even the last one, I was mostly focused on Research I universities and liberal arts colleges, at which I was getting to the MLA interview stage at a decent rate but no further. My three on-campus visits (the first during the second search) were all at public satellites, so by the last one, I kind of figured out how to handle myself in them, and lo and behold, that's the one that resulted in an offer. The irony is that even though the school that hired me was in my home state, I had never heard of it before I saw their job ad. So I actually had done a fairly serious amount of research on the place to help me decide whether to apply in the first place. Which brings me around to the point of this paragraph. Since the "academic job market" has gotten even more competitive while information about universities and departments has become so much easier to get over the past decade, it's imperative to figure out something about your audience before you customize your standard letter. And if you aren't motivated to customize your letter, maybe you shouldn't be applying to a school you've never heard of in the first place.... I can't tell you how many letters by people from top-notch grad programs ended up in the reject bin over the past ten years b/c they were obviously composed with a much different kind of institution than ours in mind--but it's a big number. And an hour or two of research could have made the difference for a lot of these people.

OK, so given how unknowable your actual audience is, how do you customize your letter? It's true, at most a few people from the personnel committee will be reading your letter the first time around, although if it's good everyone will eventually have read it, as will those interviewing you at MLA (several of whom are likely not to be on the personnel committee). The literature searches I've been closely involved in all involved hundreds of applicants, too many for any one person to read. So we would try to ensure that each letter had two sets of eyes on it, and three if there was a serious disagreement between the original pair. In practice, however, unless the letter and c.v. screamed "top candidate," it was unlikely to survive the first cut--narrowing the several hundred down to the 25-50 top candidates for the 8-12 MLA interview slots. In some searches, we asked for a full dossier--evidence of teaching effectiveness, a writing sample, letters of recommendation, and sometimes more--from this pool. Other times, we asked for less. More on that stage later--the key issue now is how to increase the likelihood that your letter makes the first cut. Well, this is where your research on the school/department comes in.

  • Clearly you're applying to a teaching institution, so make the case from the start that you're ready to step right in and step up as a teacher. If you must discuss your research early, do so in a way that sets up your teaching paragraph well. A bit on your overall approach (to course design as well as pedagogy) is fine, but well-chosen specifics (like teaching awards, experience with designing your own courses, patterns in your teaching evaluations, the kinds of courses you're looking forward to designing at the school) can help show the personnel committee that you've thought seriously about what you can contribute to the department.
  • From looking at the list of faculty and their teaching and research interests, you can make a quick approximation as to what kind of search this is: augmenting a department strength, filling a "coverage" gap or otherwise balancing or diversifying the department, moving the department in a new direction entirely.... You can also get a rough sense of how much hiring they've been able to do in the previous decade. The key thing to look for is how many colleagues in your fields and sub-fields you can expect to have, not least as a quick estimate of the likelihood that the personnel committee will have anyone in them on it. Reminding yourself that you're writing for non-specialists will do you a world of good--not just in describing your research and suggesting how it matters, but also in framing your teaching and the kinds of courses you could (and most want to) offer. This will also come in handy as you decide what other material to send the school and prepare for the MLA interview (if all goes well).
  • You can also learn a lot by looking at the requirements of the major and whatever course descriptions you can find (online syllabi, catalog, etc.). Does everyone teach comp regularly or occasionally? What kinds of introductory-level courses would you be expected to teach and how are they organized--as introductions to the discipline, surveys of British and American lit, genre-based world literature courses, criticism- or theory-or "teaching the conflicts"-based courses, or what? On a 4/3, you'll get plenty of opportunities to teach in your specialties, but you'll also be pitching in on the required courses. If the catalog tells you how often the department's courses are supposed to be offered, it'll also give you a pretty good sense of where faculty and student interests lie at that school.

OK, so I know something about the place, the school, faculty, and there anything else I can do to show my interest in a place besides customizing my teaching and research paragraphs? Yeah, since capital-starved institutions--and you can bet that public regional universities fit this bill--rely so much on adjunct labor, the service responsibilities on tenured and tenure-track faculty are very high. So any experience you have in helping create or sustain or improve an academic institution is worth describing. Also, your last paragraph is a good place to drop any hints you feel need to be dropped. Often faculty at public satellites (especially older ones not familiar with any job market since the 1970s) are wondering (with various levels of anxiety, self-deprecation, paranoia, and cynicism) why you are applying for the position in the first place. If you can close with any honest and specific answers to this question, do it.

When we're reading letters and c.v.s, we're not just judging the quality of the candidates in the abstract, we're also trying to figure out how seriously they're interested in us and what kind of colleagues they'd be. We don't want to waste an MLA interview on someone for whom we're just a "safety school" or a "practice run." We want to be in a position where we'd be excited to work with any of the MLA interviewees. Given how much time and energy goes into the search on our side, we don't want a failed search. And given that we're competing with other teaching institutions and often research institutions for our top candidates, we have to be prepared to move down our list quickly if our first offer gets turned down. While a great letter alone won't get you in our top 10ish, it can either open or close the door. Taking the extra three hours to research us and revise your standard letter accordingly is time well-spent. And if you think otherwise, it's better not to send the letter at all.

[Update (10/21/07): undine has joined in.]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sister Acts

I only have one younger brother and no other siblings, so I'm familiar with a certain kind of brotherly dynamic. The tsuma only has one older sister and no other siblings, so I'm pretty dependent on her experience to figure out what to expect from onechan and imoto as they grow up. What I'm looking for from Blogoramaville are a broader set of perspectives. Feel free to respond any time.

Imoto is almost a year and a half and onechan will be four at the end of the year, so we've already been living in interesting times, so to speak. Not so long ago, Imoto got jealous of our watching a home video from the first month of onechan's life for the first time since she was born. At times, it seems as if onechan is the "m" and imoto the "s" in a sadomasochistic relationship. We've drilled "don't hurt the baby!" so successfully into onechan's head that lately I've been sounding like a self-defense instructor: "Don't just lie there crying! She'll only keep pulling your hair!" Overall, of course, they love each other to death, and there's nothing cuter than listening to onechan chatter away in cutesy Japanese when she's trying to teach imoto something or convince her to do something. We're even beginning to feel comfortable letting them play alone together in another room for a half an hour at a time (or until the screaming reaches a certain pitch, whichever comes first), relatively confident that the metaphor in the previous sentence will remain merely metaphorical.

It's just that as an imoto herself, the tsuma tends to see things from imoto's perspective more easily than from onechan's. As an onichan, I suppose I do the opposite, although of course it's easier to see when someone else is doing it. So if we can just get enough descriptions of sister acts from the netizens of Blogoramaville, we might be able to temper our natural sibling biases enough to...I don't know, be better parents? That seems a little ambitious, doesn't it? Just give us some good stories and we'll be satisfied.

Congratulations, 5000th Visitor

You get the chance to continue writing for the obscurest blog on teh internets!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Notes Toward a Prolegomenon To All Future Golf/Academia Analogies

Scott Eric "The Red" (of eye, in the public eye, or at least that portion of it directed his way by KC Johnson!) Kaufman kicked it off. All the many people who have written glowing encomiums to and analyses of C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary moved the ball down the field. So you only have them to blame for the following series of plays I'm calling here. (The football epic simile is all my own.)

So what do golf/academia analogies have to do with teaching? Thanks for asking!

Way back when in Andrew Ross's Cultural Studies course in grad school my best friend and I did a teaching presentation on Beyond a Boundary. I hope it was more memorable to the class than it has turned out to be to me or my computers or my bookshelves, as I can't find any trace of it anywhere. But once, I'm certain, I did attempt to teach cricket to someone. Ross must have found it hilarious.

Which is the scenic route to my point: if you want a cricket critic, I am not your man. Nor am I trying to do for golf blogging what C.L.R. James did for cricket criticism. (Insert appropriate Zaphod Beeblebrox quotation here.) But I will try to convince you we can learn something from analogizing the academy through golf. So long as you provide the "something," no one will get hurt.

Grad School:Q-School. This one writes itself. Q-School, for those who don't know it, is a 6-round ordeal which only the top x in the field advance through to qualify for the top professional tour in the U.S.--PGA for men, LPGA for women. Of course, to even get into Q-School, you need to qualify. So your entire amateur career is like your primary and secondary schooling, undergrad is like the sectional qualifiers for Q-School, the pre-dissertation phase consists of the first 4 rounds of Q-School itself, the dissertation is the 5th, and the job search is the 6th. So you can end up with exempt status on the big tour (tenure-track job) or become a non-exempt tour member (off the tenure track) or not (try again next year or play on the Nationwide/Futures/Hooters Tour--more TAing or maybe community college adjuncting). The analogy breaks down a bit with that last option, as you figuratively have to start over at the undergrad level if you have a bad 6th round at Q-School. And actually a flaw creeps in before then, because you can get a job before you finish your dissertation, which would be something like the LPGA saying, "Well, you can finish your 5th round later, because the other 5 out of 6 were so good you're practically guaranteed of getting exempt status. Just try to get it in during your rookie year sometime." But otherwise it's a damn fine analogy. If you think playing center field is tough, try the last two rounds of Q-School.

Money List on PGA/LPGA:Renewal Process for Pre-Tenure Faculty. This one almost writes itself. If you don't make the top 90 on the money list in a given year on the LPGA Tour, you lose your exempt status; it's top 125 for the PGA. The higher you get on the money list, the more exempt you get (longer exemptions, more invitations to limited-field tournaments). And if you win a tournament, you get an even longer exemption. So losing your card is like losing your job (but at least you get to skip to the last round of Q-School!), doing well enough to be put up for a two- or three-year renewal by your department rather than staying to an annual schedule and to begin getting invited to give talks at conferences and public fora is like getting into the top 40 or whatever on the money list, and publishing your book is like winning a tournament. Now, there's really no tenure on either tour, so the analogy kind of breaks down there, but most professional careers don't last 7 years, anyway, so let's ignore that problem and move on to the next analogy.

Your Individual Career:A 72-Hole Tournament. What I like about this analogy is that it brings out how academia is unlike most sports, in that you should get better with age, and the stakes get higher the further you go. Break your academic career down into 9-year segments and make each segment equivalent to one round in a tournament consisting of four such beasties. Grad school and any relevant experience before it is the first round; pre-tenure is the second (assuming most people these days start out with some sort of adjuncting or visiting experience before getting on the tenure track); then comes the cut (only the top 70 plus ties in a 120-to-144-player field usually move on for the final two rounds--quite a bit harsher than the overall tenure rate in the U.S. each year, I'll hazard a guess); then the last two rounds are where you're going for the win, coasting to retirement, or something in between (a WD is ok, but make sure you don't do something that'll get you DQed). By this count, I'm already in the weekend of my academic career. They call Saturday "moving day," because it's the time when the lead pack pulls away from the field. So if each academic year is the equivalent of 2 holes (yes, I chose the length of my segments carefully), I'd better start making some birdies.

Course:Institution. Some courses are tougher and/or more prestigious than others. The tournament organizers might want to set the course up even tougher than usual or they might want a birdie-fest. So how high the rough is, how narrow the fairways are cut, how fast the greens are running, how close to trouble the pins are placed, and a million other factors--including the weather--determine how difficult a particular course will be playing, above and beyond the course architecture/layout. So make the tenured faculty, administrators, and trustees of a college or university the tournament organizers, the taxpayers, alumni, and other donors the tournament sponsors and course owners, the students, parents, legislators, and others who affect the conditions of teaching and research the weather, and the tenure-track professors the humble players trying to figure out where the birdie holes are and how to survive the monster holes and howling winds. So while this analogy, when combined with the previous one, assumes you stay at one institution your entire career, it's otherwise pretty good.

Stats:Assessment. Moneyball magpies and fantasy football freaks may think they've got the market cornered on which stats matter the most in determining player quality/value, and they've certainly got a point that on its face it's tougher to do this for a team sport than an individual sport like golf, but, face it, people, golfers and golf fans are the nerdiest stats people of all--been tracking stats, arguing over which matter the most, and using them to develop and tweak player ranking systems for much much longer and better than anyone else. Players themselves try to "close the loop" by looking at outcomes to figure out where to improve their games. I don't quite know what greens in regulation percentage, scrambling percentage, birdies per round, scoring average, majors and other wins, top 3s, top 10s, and annual and career money lists are equivalent to in academia, but if I had more time, I'd flesh out that analogy at both individual and institutional levels.

Some other time. In the meantime, feel free to propose further analogical possibilities in comments.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Onechan Has a Few Questions for Blogoramaville

Last night the topic of technology came up somehow and in the process of offering onechan a working definition ("technology is something people make to get something done") and examples ("a pencil is writing technology," "a crayon is drawing technology"), she not only came up with good examples of her own ("a toilet," "a computer," "a sink"), but also threw me for a loop with some others that I've taken the liberty of turning into questions for Blogoramaville:

1. Is food a technology? At first I was going to answer that the means of growing, raising, and preparing food were technologies, but food itself wasn't. But then I thought of the way corn (right?) was at first inedible in its naturally occurring varieties, and early humans in the Americas (right?) actually bred those varieties together and made it edible (where's Jared Diamond when you need him? oh yeah, in one of those boxes from Japan I never unpacked....). Then I thought of genetically engineered foods. So, Blogoramaville, what say ye? Is corn a technology? What about the genetically-engineered food itself (as opposed to the technologies used to make it)?

2. Are people a technology? I asked onechan how people get made, and she paused for a long time, and finally said, "Byoin." Once I got over my disappointment that she didn't come up with "aliens" and satisfaction that whatever Baptist training she got at her yochien didn't stick enough for her to answer "Kamisama" (God), I started thinking about her actual answer. Now, I might be willing to concede that hospitals are a people-making technology, in the senses they help babies get born and with the caveat that I didn't really want to get into exactly how people are made with her. But the idea that byoin make people threw me for a loop until I started wondering about genetic engineering again--in that sense, could people make people for certain purposes, and would those people then be technology? Now I've been thinking about human institutions like the family and slavery and the corporation.... Blogoramaville, what say ye?

Inquiring toddlers want to know!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Toddlers Gone Wild

So it's somehow fitting that just as I'm reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, which is a funny take on familial embarrassings, imoto decided to show me what it's all about. At this semester's Women's Studies symposium the other day, she got it into her head to head for the podium, try to stare down the speaker (a new colleague who specializes in 19th C American women writers), and then toddle off, yanking off her tank top as she went. As there were only about, oh, 20 people out of the 50 there with an angle to see her doing this, it wasn't so bad, but by the third time she tried it (yeah, I kept bringing her back in the room after wrestling her shirt back on in the hallway--victory of hope over experience, fine line between bravery and stupidity and all that), pretty much everyone had checked out her belly button.

So was this as embarrassing as onechan's love of "exercise," which entails finding the nearest pole-like object (it started as the kitchen table leg in our apartment in Fukuoka, but quickly graduated onto many other tall, thin, cylindrical things) and kind of, well, embracing it, suspending herself above the ground for as long she can? Well, yeah, except for the time at the wedding of one of the tsuma's best friends a few weeks ago when onechan found a pole holding up a tent covering the outdoor dance floor and proceeded to get her exercise in front of, oh, about half the guests at this very big post-wedding dinner.

Clearly imoto was just hot and onechan wants a strong upper body so she can climb to the top of any playground structure whenever she feels like it, but to be on the safe side I'm brainstorming ways to talk them out of exotic dancing as a career path. Just in case.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On Leaving Academia

For those wondering what life after leaving the tenure-track can look like, I'll briefly note that one of my best friends who did this is working on an investigative documentary TV series that just won an Emmy for this episode. Watch them all!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hump Day

We've switched our monthly department meetings to Wednesdays from noon to one, away from the usual Friday from three to whenever slot. Today's our second meeting and I can already report that I'm liking it. Somehow the week seems more than halfway over already.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Speaking of Storytelling...

What kind of mental state do you have to be in to believe that the consequences of doing this won't be worse than just taking the damn test?

Maybe I should be assigning "Fancy's Show Box" in my Postcolonial Hawthorne class to help my students deal with the trauma of getting an afternoon off on a nice sunny day. We've already read "Young Goodman Brown," which seems relevant in a different way.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Onechan's a Storyteller

Already. Just don't be taken in when she says with a straight face that her imoto is solely responsible for the mess in the playroom or just pulled her hair! (She's going to have to learn to stop lying to her mom eventually, right?) After telling her I played great for the first time in a long time in the faculty noon-time basketball games I've been joining fairly regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays since I returned from Fukuoka, onechan regaled me with a long story about how she played basketball, volleyball, and soccer with her sensei and tomodachi at the Fredonia hoikuen yesterday--and even "all by myself." I don't know what Plato or Zora Neale Hurston would say, but I'm certainly enjoying her stories.... And no, the fact that she painted me my birthday present yesterday has nothing to with it. Nothing, I say!

(Yes, I'm a little bit more relaxed about her adjustment into English and western NY now. If only I could say the same about imoto.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Devi and Rowling

Remember when I said it would take about, oh, a month to start some Deathly Hallows blogging? Me neither. Let's just say that never happened, shall we? Why? Well, I'm ready with Harry Potter 7 spoiler #1, of course! Are you sitting down?

Too bad I have no idea how to put things "below the fold," because this one's a doozy. I'll be as coy as possible in case anyone's even further behind the fantasy zeitgeist than I am. (You know, besides the three-quarters of my students in my Postcolonial Hawthorne class today, my dad....) The good news for you is that you don't even have to go back to my now-7-months-old-and-more Devi blogging to get this one. Quite the opposite--it's actually one where Rowling clarifies Devi.

Let's put it this way: remember how The Boy Who Lived lives up to his name towards the end of Deathly Hallows? How he's unexpectedly (if you're anything like me, that is) empowered by his acceptance of his own death and transformed by his courage in acting on it? Assuming you do, you'll appreciate how weirdly similar this is to the acceptance and transformation Devi details for the Nagesias in "Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha." That is all. A cross-cultural structural parallel that may well top my Douglas Adams-Salman Rushdie one. You may go.

[Update: Uh, wait! Before you go, check out the slyly disguised Harry Potter 1 reference in paragraph 3 of this otherwise deathly serious article. My year will be complete if Martindale owns up to it here!]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On Classroom Observations

As associate chair of my department, I'm responsible for mentoring new hires during their first semester on campus, which includes writing an observation letter on their teaching. The way we usually handle this in my department is to give our new professors as much choice in the process as possible: among the classes I am free to attend, they are free to choose which course I will observe and when my two visits will take place (usually toward the beginning and toward the end of the semester). No pre-observation or post-observation meetings are required, but they can of course request them, and since we're meeting as needed to discuss any questions and problems they may have over the course of the semester, it's easy to discuss their classes and students along the way. All I ask for before my first visit is a syllabus. Since they go up for renewal for the second year sometime late in the fall semester, thanks to our nutty renewal and promotions schedule, I'll be writing up the letters over Thanksgiving Break so they can get them right after it and decide whether to include them in their files or not.

The point of these visits is to give useful feedback on their course design, pedagogy, classroom management, and so on. What I usually try to do while observing a class is figure out how the lesson is structured and why, how it relates to the overall course goals, and how the students are responding to it and to the professor. Obviously my being there changes the classroom dynamic to some extent, which is why only about a third of my overall focus is on their responses, especially during that first visit. But that doesn't mean I don't do a lot of student-watching. I like to come to a class early and watch/listen as the students come into the classroom, so I can see how they change as the professor enters the room. If there are any group or team discussions or activities, I like to place myself in a location where I can listen in on several teams (while appearing to be focused on taking notes). The great thing about students at my university is that from their words and body language it's very clear what they're thinking and how engaged they are with a lesson plan.

Still, especially for new faculty, that's not the be-all and end-all of an observation, particularly the first one. I've been here long enough (it's the start of my 10th year, if you count the year away) to have realized that it's how the students change over the four (or more) years they're here that matters most, so you have to think in semester-long arcs as well as shorter ones. If a particular class doesn't go as planned, you still have many more chances (and many many more than in Japan, where they meet only once a week for half the overall contact hours as in U.S. universities) to meet your goals for the semester. Of course, in my second visit, I'm looking to see whether/how the class atmosphere has changed, along with the quality of student engagement and discussion, particularly if the professor wasn't happy with how the first class went. But like I said, how the students respond to a new professor before any word-of-mouth has gotten around the student grapevines, which helps students self-select professors who match their own goals and learning styles, is not the biggest of deals to me.

What is is seeing how the professors are adjusting to the students in their class. Coming to a new institution, it's difficult to anticipate what student expectations and habits are with respect to reading load, in-class participation, individual and team assignments, taking responsibility for their own learning, and so on. In your first semester at a new place, you're basically gathering intel for the future--the next class, the next week, the next unit, the next semester--and looking for patterns in student thought and behavior. What can you expect from English majors? from English Adolescence Education majors? from Early Childhood Education English Concentrators? from students from the arts? humanities? social sciences? sciences? What about the mix of first- through fourth-years in your classes? What are their (often different and conflicting) expectations for this course? And so on. The goal is to figure out what the assumptions about them that you might be making that could be getting in the way of teaching them better, as well as what assumptions they seem to be making that they need to be disabused of or lead away from.

By adjusting to the students, then, I don't mean pandering to them, patronizing them, or catering to their every whim. I mean figuring out what are reasonable challenges to be presenting them with at what time in the semester, figuring out what you need to do to prepare them to do as well as possible on the assignments you've laid out for them, figuring out how to get and keep the group of students in front of you (or around you) motivated to push and challenge themselves. I mean thinking realistically and pragmatically about how to achieve your goals in the course. And maybe rethinking your goals and methods for the next time around.

Not all this shows up in my observation letter, of course. A good part of the letter is simply describing what I saw, in as much detail as I can muster from my notes and memories. Along the way or at the end, I usually include a mix of interpretations and assessments and suggestions. In doing this I tend to be more about options and roads not taken (but might be in the future) than about armchair quarterbacking or backseat driving; I consider alternate ways of achieving the apparent goals for the class meeting or adjusting them in light of the course goals. I try to convey to the professor and to anyone else who might happen to read the letter someday the complexities of and subtleties in teaching well.

Which means these things take a long time to write. But I usually learn a lot about teaching from visiting my colleagues' classes and writing up my observations, so I figure I should only return the favor with a letter they may be able to learn from.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rethinking a Course Blog

And by "course blog," of course I mean student blog. Too busy prepping and wasting time pretending to be the Commissioner of Women's Golf to do more than link to this announcement of a change over at American Identities. Go there and read the whole thing--it's short!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ready with Harry Potter 7 Spoilers in, oh, about a Month

In the apparently eternal struggle to make CitizenSE relevant to someone else in Blogoramaville, I can report that thanks to that honors thesis student on whose behalf I blegged last weekend, I'm currently making my way through that next-to-last one in the Harry Potter series this weekend--Half-Blood Prince, if memory serves. So like it says in the title, I'll finally be able to participate in the HarPot-blogging-fest about half a year late.

On the bright side, a student and fellow Gaiman fan has lent me her copy of Anansi Boys. If the blogging is light (in more ways than 2) here over the next couple of weeks, you'll know who to blame!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Story Time

In Japan, onechan never really needed or wanted bed-time stories. Sure, she'd have her mom read her books from the library as often as she could get her to, she'd ask me to read her the few books in English we brought from home, and when she was really desperate would get me to read to her in Japanese. But now that we're back in the States, she's really wanted to get back into the bed-time rituals we had established before we left. With some changes.

For one thing, she definitely likes certain stories for their nostalgia value now. Big Sister Dora is a big hit with her, probably because it takes her back to the winter and spring before imoto was born when we were frankly trying to indoctrinate train prepare her for her changing role in the family. Some stories take her even further back in time, like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny (bed time edition). In Japanese, she's gotten even more into this series of stories about two little bear friends, Guri to Gura, which we originally received as a gift from the wife of one of my colleagues and which we now have access to thanks to the library at onechan's UB yochien. Since it's going to take her awhile to figure out how to invent that time machine she's been implicitly asking for lately, narrative will have to do for the time being.

For another, she's into me making up stories at bed time for the first time. These characters I invented several trips ago in Japan based on her and her oldest Japanese cousin, whom I'll call Iki and Ika here, are now doing double duty here. In the past, I told mostly action-adventure or silly stories about Iki and Ika's interactions with her favorite cartoon characters like Dora and the various Pretty Cure superheroes. Now, taking a page from Bill Benzon's Sparkychan and Gojochan, I'm having Iki and Ika go through versions of the problems onechan is going through. So one story has had them discussing how to make new friends in a new place. Another has had them figuring out what to do when a kid at hoikuen is being mean to them.

All this has gotten me thinking about imoto. It's clear that onechan is motivated to develop her English through listening to these stories. But in part because imoto is too young to really understand the shift from a Japanese-saturated environment to an English-saturated one and in part because she's been on this physical rather than verbal kick ever since she figured out how to roll over, I'm not at all confident that she's going to get the idea of using (more) words any time soon. So figuring out how to change her bed-time ritual to get some story time into it is going to be a big deal in the next several months. The problem is that she's so used to going to sleep with her mom in one bed and onechan is so used to going to sleep a little later with me in a different bed (after staggered baths most of the time) that it's going to be difficult to change things around so that I'm reading imoto a story in English before she goes to sleep with her mom. I can see adding a post-bath step, where the tsuma reads to onechan in Japanese while I read to imoto in English and then reversing it to end up with the familiar pre-sleep situation. Shouldn't be too big of a change, given that the current pattern fell into place only in the last two weeks, when it became clear to onechan that imoto is such a bed-hog that it's really difficult for all four of us to sleep together comfortably. But it does mean adding another 10-20 minutes to the process of putting the girls (and, usually, ourselves) down for the night (or in our case, a few hours before heading downstairs to talk and work for a while and then back upstairs to sneak a few hours of sleep together with imoto). Still, imoto's getting close to the age when we started building in regular bed-time storytelling to onechan's good night ritual, so it's going to have to happen sooner or later....

[Update (9/16/07): Thanks to Uncle Bill Benzon, I can point you toward this new University of Waterloo psychology study on very young children and stories!]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Abe Out

Back in the day, I did a number of political posts at Mostly Harmless that looked critically at the ties between right wingers in the U.S. and Japan. (Yes, March feels like "back in the day.")

I never came out with a prediction that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would resign, like I did for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (ok, so I was off by a few months there--sue me!), and now I'm wishing I did, because he just did!

Now I'm wondering which party is in more trouble, Japan's LDP or the U.S.'s Republican Party? Given that the Republicans have already lost both legislative houses and neither Cheney nor Bush has offered to step down, I'd have to say it's the LDP. But there's still time for the Republicans to catch up with the LDP. Go for it, y'all!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Early Semester Rush Over?

So far this semester, the chair and I have hired two new TAs after a pair of returning ones got job offers elsewhere the week before classes started, run our first department meeting, gotten the wording on our two upcoming tenure-track searches approved and sent out to MLA, gotten all the department committees set up, gotten the Spring 2008 schedule out for administrative approval, hired a Visiting Assistant Professor for the spring, and begun mentoring our three new tenure-track hires. And that's just the stuff I remember. Next week: getting together a committee to evaluate everyone's cases for a discretionary salary increase (it has to be made up of people not going for this "extra" raise). Bright side: we checked with the dean and reread the department handbook and it appears I'll be eligible to apply this year, despite being away on leave last year. Other good news: next semester I get to teach two courses I've been waiting my entire time here to get a shot at: Black Women Writers and Non-Western Literature. OK, time to finally finish the minutes from that department meeting!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fantasy Bleg

So I'm doing one of my favorite things this year, which is mentoring an honors thesis on a topic I'd be focusing on if I were starting over as an undergrad doing an honors thesis right about now. No, it's not science fiction, comics, or video games, but fantasy. The student is interested in the ranges of the rules and functions of magic in fantasy, figuring that it may not be that dissimilar to the rules and functions of (new) technology in science fiction. The larger project is to make a case for the scholarly study of fantasy.

Not only does this give me a chance to introduce her to some of my favorite writers--Steven Brust, Neil Gaiman, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles de Lint, and Sherri Tepper--as well as others I respect but don't like as much yet should be crucial to her project--Piers Anthony, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and of course J.R.R. Tolkien. But, most important, I get to read some George R.R. Martin and Irene Radford--not to mention finally finish the last three books of the Harry Potter series! What's more, this is work, or should I say guilt-free pleasure?

So, keeping the former part of the last sentence in mind, is anyone out there aware of good scholarly studies of fantasy? Lucie Armitt's Fantasy Fiction: An Introduction is our entry point, but she's a bit too hung up on the fantastic and the possibilities of Lit-ah-rary fantasy, for my taste at least.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Saturday School Then and Now

Just like my little brother and I did, my two daughters go to Saturday school. Just as my parents drove us to New Hartford for Hebrew school, the tsuma and I drive onechan and imoto to Buffalo for yochien. I wonder if the resemblances will end there.

My parents both grew up in heavily Jewish communities in post-W.W.-II era Brooklyn and, later, Long Island. My brother and I grew up as two of the four Jewish kids in Clinton, NY. So we went, rather unwillingly, to Hebrew school, until we had our Bar Mitzvahs--and then stopped. We were only taught enough Hebrew to make it through our Torah readings--and that's about as much as we learned. We identified as upstate New Yorkers, not as Jewish Americans.

Onechan and imoto have dual Japanese and U.S. citizenship. The tsuma and I hope their year in Japan came at just the right time, linguistically speaking, and that Saturday yochien in Buffalo can tide them over until we get back for our next extended stay. From what I've seen of the teachers and the set-up, they have decent odds at keeping connected with Japanese language and culture. Onechan is already loving to learn the hiragana and katakana writing systems that I struggled over last fall. She was "drawing words," as she put it to me later, for an hour straight last week. She seems to really like her sensei, too. But as good as they are, what's really going to keep her Japanese developing is her peer group there--and so far, only she and a 6-year-old girl whose Japanese is far behind her are the only ones in the class. We've heard two more kids might join up this week, so we'll see tomorrow. Her Fukuoka yochien friends and her cousins in Okinawa are mostly too young right now to enjoy talking on the phone with her (that is, over Skype), so she's going to have to rely on her Buffalo yochien friends until imoto gets old enough to start having conversations in Japanese with her.

So both girls are light years ahead of where my brother and I were at their ages. Perhaps if my grandparents had tried to pass down Yiddish, we could have become bilingual at a young age, too. But it's clear that they wanted their children to be monolingual in English. When my dad's mom was in late stages of Alzheimer's, a long time ago now, there was a period when she was mostly living in her memories of the Depression era. She would often correct our English when we visited her and our grandfather in Long Island, particularly irritated by my brother's and my upstate accents and bad pronunciation/enunciation according to her standards of correct English (which were quite correct). Although she spoke Yiddish with her sister and her husband her whole life, she didn't try to teach more than a word here or there to her grandchildren.

That's history for you. Our grandparents came to America just before anti-immigration and anti-immigrant sentiment peaked with the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act--a time when the KKK was reviving, when nativism and 100%-Americanism set the standards of inclusion and exclusion, when immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were of ambiguous and uncertain racial status (not-quite-white, at best). Our parents were born at a time when the U.S. racial order was undergoing a historic shift, one that has proven to be more deeply-rooted and extensive than the unfinished revolution of the later civil rights movement: the opening-up of whiteness to the previously racialized immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th century, first on a kind of conditional "white ethnic" status and later simply white. Perhaps if we had grown up downstate, my brother and I would have taken part in the "ethnic revivals" of the 1970s, but most likely not. Between our grandfather's Holocaust-induced disbelief and our father's profession of philosophy (not to mention our childhoods in the college towns of Clinton, Chapel Hill, and Palo Alto), it's difficult to imagine us being seriously attracted to Judaism or Jewish culture.

So do our stories fulfill the classic melting pot script? With my brother marrying into a big Polish Catholic family and their four kids growing up in the classic suburban mode, perhaps so. Or maybe the ethnic similarities (we're part Polish and part Hungarian) outweigh the religious differences there, so that onechan's and imoto's cousins' childhoods will echo their grandparents' somewhat. In any case, it's pretty clear that onechan's and imoto's childhoods will be something different. In what ways and with what effects remains to be seen.