Monthly Archives: May 2010

Gemini Sun

Today the Sun moved into Gemini and it became summer here on the Tropic of Cancer. I have mysteriously recovered from this semester and we are walking to Oriental rhythms along the quais, as the oil washes in.

I am about to recede into my stela at Copán, now in the country called Honduras, to meditate for a whole lunar month. In that time no sacrifices of any kind will be made, and no penitence will be undertaken.

Before leaving, since this is the space in which I psychoanalzye myself due to the incompetence of others to psychoanalyze skulls sculpted on latter-day stelae, I will make some remarks on a comment made elsewhere that allude to one of my still secret wounds.

To wit: my most difficult issue about teaching is that when mine was first seriously evaluated, the only characteristics that counted were traditional femininity and excessive douceur. Sisterliness and interest were not nearly enough. I had never heard that before and it was shocking. I say professora sim, tia não.

That the actual quality of one’s actual work did not matter was devastating. I have been terrified of teaching since. Summoning the courage to do it daily exhausts my reserves. That is why I estimated long ago that this wound was a liability. Normally I do not speak of this lest I lose control of the fear. But I have spoken of it, so I am less terrified now.

As I say, I shall depart soon for my stela, which predates Columbus. Our ancient writings, and those of the people who came here, and those composed after that, are all very great and still relatively unknown writings; they hold a certain charm.

Axé.

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Dominique Homberger

Google the title of this post if you do not know what I am talking about. It is an interesting story, but I have another.

One day long ago I was sitting at a large table in the LSU Student Union, because my office was too small for this work and the then new hangout, Highland Coffees, would be too distracting. I had stacks of papers in a humanities discipline, written in three different languages, around me, but in front of me was a swath of butcher paper upon which I was doing math.

Someone was walking over to me. I was young then and new, so I was used to being approached by  men and did not look up right away.  When I did, I was amazed to recognize my calculus T.A. from my undergraduate institution. In school I would go to his office and ask questions about calculus problems, and he would ask me questions about the French class he was trying to pass. We had both done well, and his reappearance now was a positive sign.

“You may be surprised to meet me here,” said he, “but I am not surprised to meet you, because I have been in this business long enough now to know that one does meet people again. Neither am I  surprised to see you are teaching in your discipline. However, I do not understand why you are still doing so much math.”

“I am trying to learn how to curve grades,” I said. “I have never done it before. I am making projections based on different formulae to see how I can come up with a distribution I can stand by and the University will also respect. I have too many low grades here. I realize that the fulls give out an absolutely staggering quantity of Cs, Ds, and especially Fs, but I also understand I am in no position to do so myself. Hence my quandary.”

“I know,” said the T.A. “Earlier, I saw you reading the papers and muttering ‘Oh, God’ at the amazing errors they contained. I recognized myself as new faculty, and knew I had better come over here once I finished lunch.”

“So how did you solve the problem?” I inquired.

“Ah,” the T.A. said, “I realized that here, as at home, the grade of A+ is not normally given as it is awarded no extra grade points. So I invented it.”

“And how did that change things?”

“For myself, I place all the students to whom I would have assigned A and A- in the past in the category A+. That frees up A and A- for the students I would assign B+ and B, and then I take it all down from there. At the end I look at the spread and make a few minor adjustments, and I am finished. For reality checking, I have my ‘real’ grades, but these are then mapped onto a spread that is more reasonable here.”

I saw the logic of this strategy right away. I tried it out and it was good, and I have been doing it ever since. I still have grade complaints most semesters, but not enough to suffer the fate of Dominique Homberger.

Old calculus T.A., old artificer, stand me now in good stead.

Axé.

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And Now: The Actually Important Memo

It was about my late article, and it has been sent. I am very happy about that and much relieved. It went through four drafts in this space. Self flagellation was progressively removed from it.

My problem is that the politics at work have had me emotionally exhausted for so long. I keep hoping I see light at the end of the tunnel, but I have been wrong so often that in fact hope mourns. I am interested in my work but I have many hours in which it seems that the only true way out of the morass would be to shed my skin, absolve myself of every pending obligation, find a way to forgive myself everything, and go to live by the sea.

I dream of watching the clouds go by and feeling the air move. Waves would lap and roar. I imagine working on some very objective, very interesting, and very useful practical project as a face-to-face team member in a large organization, and hearing the universe click along after hours.

I have this fantasy because I want to escape intellectual isolation and also harassment, and the place where that has so often happened. Yet more precisely, I want to escape my own shame over it, and the blame I appear to place upon myself for having felt its effects.

Axé.

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I Want to Speak

Perhaps my versions of a memo yesterday were unsatisfactory because they were too restrained, and thus sounded too formal (and as I said, either too worried, or too challenging, or both). I wrote a more informal, less careful version that Sue liked better and Human liked less. I am erasing all rejected versions so I will not be tempted to return to them, or to use them — in other words, so as to rub out their grooves.

Axé.

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To Speak or Not to Speak

My vote after considering this matter is not to speak, even though I was irritated then and have some concerns now.

Reasons to speak are that it is important to stand for truth, claim dignity and hold ground.

Reasons not to speak are to avoid raising spectres and to show strength by rising above.

A male full professor, for instance, would have sniffed at the memo in question, made some conciliatory noises, and moved on to the next thing. I angsted.

And forsooth it is hard to decide, but having rehearsed possible texts and tones I see that it is difficult not to appear either too worried, too challenging, or both.

Also, in the rehearsal of texts and tones I recalled the responses sent and conversations had at the time, and I judge them sufficient even if not entirely satisfactory.

I am not sure how others might see this matter or what they might suggest I do, but this is the conclusion I have reached for now.

In academia generally, I find that the strongest position is usually not to speak.

That is to say that the strong do not speak, they reserve their strength, and it is the strong I wish to emulate.

What is your experience?

Axé.

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Music Video: Texas Oil Well Blowout

This was in 1996 in Green Ranch, Texas, at the Monterey Well #1. “A river of oil is seen running from this well. The oil is spewing out despite the ‘blowout preventers’ being closed. One location over a new well is to be drilled today, in today’s new world of high oil prices. http://www.EnergyInvestmentGroup.com is participating. There is a real danger of the rig being melted to the ground. See the tanker trucks racing to get there, the concrete pumpers by BJ pumping, the rig hands running, the drilling rig sitting silently above it all. Thanks for watching. Dallas Dave.”

There is a new links category in my sidebar, on petroleum, and it will grow. I plan to create one on the prison industrial complex as well. It is really important to look into these worlds. I would like degrees in Physics and Engineering so I could truly understand drilling. I realize this is a naive question but from a common sense viewpoint it does not seem wise to perforate the Earth so as to extract contents that are under that much pressure.

Axé.

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Professor Zero, Redefined

–Should faculty be included as stakeholders in decisions about content for their courses?– I was asked. In the past, we would have had the collective power to laugh at such things.

Axé.

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