tangents & minutiae

musings of one who is easily distracted

Month: August, 2011


Two weeks before the beginning of the fall semester is the day that the faculty “reports” to campus. It’s not really mandatory that we show up, but it does herald the time when we should begin our preparations for the new semester. Between then and the start of classes, preparations are interrupted by departmental “retreats”* and, at my campus, the University Conference.**

Despite the administrative interruptions, I was looking forward to being totally prepared with syllabi, reading lists, and paper guidelines all posted on Sakai and ready for my students. I’ve taught all these classes before, so prep would be just about updating and adapting materials. Or so I thought.

The trouble began when I got my daily email for the Chronicle of Higher Education that included a blog post about updating your syllabi. This linked to other posts and as I read I came to the realization that my syllabi were boring and as a result, my students weren’t actually reading them. For example: Art 375 Syllabus. I had been really excited about the changes I made to this one last year because I saw another professor’s syllabus that included literature, so I thought I’d try it myself. It made class discussions much more lively (though I found out later in my evaluations that many didn’t read the books) but the syllabus is dull.

This a simple update became a full re-design. I changed the layout, the fonts, I added pictures and I separated the writing assignments into separate documents. I spent hours selecting fonts, shifting things around, and paring down the information on the syllabus to one two-sided page. For all three classes, this took days. Just choosing the pictures to go one the front took forever. How do you select one image from the entire scope of American art that isn’t Wood’s American Gothic? Or Modern art that isn’t the Demoiselles de Avignon? The History of Photography was the same problem. I tried to make things visually exciting, and for my paper guidelines I think I went a tad overboard RESEARCH PAPER GUIDELINES. But I’m happy with the end results of the syllabi Art 245 Syllabus 2011.

This is just one of myriad examples of how I can turn a simple task into a major endeavor. The students didn’t seem at all impressed.




*this is a lovely name for what is a torturous experience: a half or full day long faculty meeting. They are usually held in a different conference room, often off campus, with generic catered sandwiched for lunch and urn coffee with sugar or sweet-and-low.

**which is not really a conference. It is a minimum of two hours in a folding chair in the basketball court listening to the university president give a “State of the University” speech that is a minimum 60 minutes long, and the Provost give at least a 30 minute speech made up entirely of vagaries. This is followed by new faculty and staff introductions and award presentations. After it all there is a small receptions with a buffet (and a line about 150 people long) and a small gift. This year we got a usb hub in the shape of a little man with a smiley-face.


Stick Time

I have a BFF. Her name is Lisa, and she’s not one of those bullshit “frenemies,” but someone who has known me throughout my adolescent and adult life. Someone with whom nothing changes. No matter how far apart we live, no matter how long it’s been since we last spoke/IMed/texted/facebooked – whatever, it’s like no time has passed at all. Despite weddings, babies, graduate degrees, moving to new jobs, once we’ve caught up on each other’s news, it feels just as comfortable to be with her as it always has. She can take any serious moment and make me laugh like a spastic Pekinese.  She has had a profound impact on my life – more than she knows.

Here are some ways that Lisa still affects my every day life, despite the thousand miles between us:

  • I still lift my feet whenever I drive or ride across railroad tracks
  • Lisa introduced me to sniglets. To this day I still use the terms “spagmump” (packing styrofoam bits,) “blithwap” (hammering in a nail with anything but a hammer,) and “pupsqueak” (the sound your dog makes when he yawns too wide) in regular discourse.
  • I call on Rudy, the great god of parking, whenever I am looking for a space.
  • Every time the clock reads 1:11, or 11:11 I think of her.

This last one is what we call “stick time.” It was just a random thing that Lisa pointed out once and ever since then I think of her whenever I notice it, which is surprisingly often. Maybe I just happen to see it or I subconsciously look for it, but when I see it I imagine her barking like the dog who once chased our car on a dark road (long story) or making the same hand gesture that her ex-boyfriend used to do (one of us would mimic him behind his back whenever he started pontificating on his own greatness.)

So every time I look at the clock, I look for Lisa.

Thoughts as classes begin….

Sick at the end of the Summer…