A Brief Meditation on Good Fortune Wednesday, Jan 25 2012 

Something easy to forget:

This morning, my job was to sit in my office, in a comfortable chair, drinking coffee, reading a short story by ZZ Packer.

At the core, this is what professors do*, and I don’t think any amount of administrative bureaucracy, collegial disagreement, or professional frustration* overshadows the simple truth, blind luck, and tremendous privilege of this job.

We do what we want, based on our own serious interests, and get to have high-minded conversations with eager students about it. In the equation of our professional lives versus the rest of the world, I don’t think there’s any room for cynicism.

Now, back to the chair, to read some Annie Dillard.


* Substitute “titrate a solution,” “examine a global economic system,” “practice double-stop bowing” for “reading a short story by ZZ Packer,” depending on academic specialty.

* To be clear, I experience none of these, because I’m $%#^$% lucky to work where I do.


Enter the Laser Show Saturday, Jan 21 2012 

Classes reconvened in the middle of this past week. Since mine happen to all fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays this term, I only had one meeting with my students. The first day. Should I call it the dreaded first day?

Those classes got me thinking about day one actions, particularly because of the difference between how exciting these classes will be (they’re fun! popular! with wait lists!) and how exciting day one was not (eyes glazed as I go.over.the.syllabus).

In fairness to myself, the latter parts of each class weren’t bad. A definitional freewrite in one course set the stage for the work we have to do, and also revealed to me that students are generally enthusiastic about the subject matter but also have more or less no experience with it. A collaborative writing exercise in the other class worked well, got the class going a little, and also helped me gauge their skills going into the term. But the first half hour of the class drives me nuts: the syllabus.

I feel like I have to do it. Students want/need/ought to know what they’re facing, right? Get a feel for the nature of the class. Hear the overwhelming accumulation of the term’s assignments. Understand what their class-prep responsibilities are.

This day also sets the stage for the term, and I don’t like that I’ve made it into a perfunctory, blah, policy-dominated class. I want to be exciting. I want to have them leaving class saying, whoa this is going to be the most awesome class I’ve ever taken and I’ll put all my energy into it and man I feel sorry for the poor saps not in this course.

Sure, I could go the typical route: smoke machine, Pink Floyd lasers, thumping soundtrack. But I’d like to think up something fresher.


Experiment in Time Off Wednesday, Jan 11 2012 

There’s still another whole week before the Spring semester begins, and yesterday I polished off my syllabi. I’d been working and, worse, thinking about these syllabi since the beginning of the recess in late December. So now the plate is empty, and in an odd sort of academic hubris, I intend to take the next week off. Just off. Maybe not even check my college email. Certainly not go into the office. Definitely only read things I want to read. Absolutely not work on anything related to the coming semester.

Why does this feel like playing hooky?