Friday, December 07, 2007

looking for somewhere to stand and stay

when life doesn't have any more room, it's usually the blog that goes first (as i think it should). writing online is not something for which i have even a slight addiction. it makes sense. i also like to take as much of a break from email and the internet as possible during the summer. during the school year, i'm usually attached to it as a security blanket for my students, answering questions, staying up to date on things (so i can be a good resource, that sort of thing).

but i'd like to cut back on (a) email, (b) facebook, (c) random surfing, (d) following johan santana trade rumors, (e) wasting time online. i'd much rather "waste time" offline, in (f) conversation, (g) reading, (h) letters, (i) doing those sorts of things. but like so many people i know--friends, colleagues, statistics--i work too much. this fall i've been working on wetland/climate change research (summer through october), studying for and taking preliminary exams (summer through wednesday--i passed, and am now a phd candidate), and teaching two courses at saint olaf college.

for more on climate change and wetlands research, check out our site.

for more on my preliminary exams, let me know if you'd like me to send you the answers i wrote for the six written exams (three 24hr and three 2hr exams, totaling close to 30,000 words, or about 100 double-spaced pages--i realize only afterwards that i wasn't doing anyone a favor, myself or my examiners by writing so much). or just read what i pasted below. the written exams were followed up by ~2hrs of four professors asking me questions to clarify my thoughts and demonstrate my competence on a number of subjects. i'm glad to be past that, and i'm looking forward to writing my dissertation over the coming months. the current abstract for my dissertation runs something like the following:

Contemporary environmental literature serves as pragmatic equipment for living, helping readers to think through, to make decisions, and to act regarding complex social-environmental issues. Through the development of a “pragmatic ecocriticism,” this dissertation examines how particular texts—by Kathleen Dean Moore, Bill McKibben, Sandra Steingraber, and Scott Russell Sanders—provide readers with a more useful and situated equipment for living in contemporary times than the equipments developed by earlier texts and authors (e.g., Thoreau, Muir, Carson, and Abbey). These equipments from contemporary environmental writing are then extended to complex social-environmental situations of the near future: climate change, peak oil, and technological innovation (such as nanotechnology and human augmentation) in order to evaluate their continued utility in changing times.

let me say a little bit about teaching also. i have two courses this fall, and i'm preparing to teach a course in january. this fall i have 28 and 18 students, for a total of 46, which is more than enough, but not bad for two courses overall. last spring in one course i had 37 students, and it just felt like too many.

the first course is a introductory writing course. my chosen topic is "the future" so students have spent the semester thinking, reading, discussing, and writing papers about what the future might be like. i divided the course into three main future scenarios, or pressures, or directions: climate change, human augmentation and biotechnology, and peak oil. in each of those sections we read a book and watched a video in class in order to understand what the future might look like.

climate change
book: field notes from a catastrophe by elizabeth kolbert
video: an inconvenient truth

human augmentation and biotechnology
book: radical evolution by joel garreau
video: gattaca

peak oil
book: the long emergency by james howard kunstler
video: the end of suburbia

we spent the last couple weeks of classes discussing how these various views of the future might relate to each other, or have effects on each other, because all too often, people buy into one of these futures and forget to consider the others. the world, and the future, is much more likely to be messier than that. and that means really messy.

the second course is called "saving wild places," and it is taught through the environmental studies department as course that fulfills general education requirements in historical perspectives and oral communication. i really have enjoyed teaching a speaking course that is also content-centered. we read a couple of the normal essays and texts on the topic of wilderness and wild places (historically) and the criticisms or developments of these ideas, then expanded the view to wild places in cities (even watching a film called urban explorers: into the darkness) and other countries, and ended the course with research projects on topics of students choosing, with more of a contemporary, political, and in some cases international approach. we read some less traditional texts on the topic like nature noir by jordan fisher smith on being a park ranger, and everyone really appreciated jenny price's essay "thirteen ways of seeing nature in l.a."

in the end, it has been the same old story, only more pronounced for me this semester. i love my students, i love my courses, and i love the conversations, discussions, research projects, and excitement these courses brought. i love reading papers and trying to give feedback to make students better at all these things. but i still hate grading, and i'm convinced this will never change. i was a grade-oriented student at different points, and i appreciated and devoted myself to the grades that i received as a student.

but i was always, and still am, more learning oriented, more feedback oriented, and more process oriented. it becomes ever more so when i have to assign grades because i feel like all too often, it distracts from the feedback and commentary, from the enjoyment of research, that sort of thing. grading is a very important incentive and motivation to stick with things, to get work done, to remain committed to school and learning--this is why so many people have a hard time remaining motivated to learn once they leave school--other things distract, and they have less incentive to keep it together. but i don't think i'll ever like the small acts of putting grades on papers or feedback forms.

this coming january i'll be teaching a first year history seminar on environmental discourse. i was going to teach this course second semester also, but among a number of factors (me being a virtual unknown with no web presence for myself or my course, first years not knowing what environmental discourse is or caring, new registration systems, that sort of thing), neither of my offerings had very good registration. we've canceled the course for spring, and the january term doesn't have that great of enrollment either. this is one of the frustrations of being a young and new teacher. this is the way i'm reading the response because otherwise i'd have to say people don't like me or my teaching (on that, i think the jury is still out).

but i am enjoying the task of planning my course, what the readings, lectures, activities, assignments, and challenges will be. i'm also excited for the january and spring independent study projects i'll be advising. in january, these include "animal photojournalism" and "green blogging" (and an internship abroad on ecotourism in costa rica). second semester the topic of my independent study will be humane environmentalism (william cronon's phrase for a better contemporary environmentalism that exists in recognition of complexity and historically dynamic social-environmental relationships).

another exciting thing for this january here on campus is the focus the nation festivities, which we will be doing january 15-16 rather than the 31st (because we aren't in session then). for that, i will be speaking on the topic of "how we talk about climate change, and why it matters." as i said, i'm excited to see how big of a deal this can be this january and spring.

because my course has been canceled for spring, i'll be spending most of my time writing my dissertation, visiting my favorite places (the white-missouri rivers' confluence, the black hills, etc.), and my family/friends. i'll possibly be looking to travel even further afield than the normal sodiak places, so let me know if you'd enjoy my presence for a bit.

to change the focus of this note, living in northfield has been an interesting change of pace this fall. i really love the saint olaf community, and i've stayed busy that i don't really need lots of things to do or places to eat (like in the twin cities), but it has been quite a change from my last four years.

i used to work harder to get a hold of new music, to stay up to date on these sorts of things, to go to concerts (in college, most of my disposable income was spent on concert tickets, books, and musical instruments; now i spend money on food, rent, and books). i ordered the radiohead box set and have listened to the tracks for that some. i've listened to some random songs on cds given to me by my brother (lollipop by mika, drivin me wild by common, chinese translation by m. ward, etc.), especially to the national. this song wasn't the first song that stuck out on a mixed cd, but it's probably the one i've settled into the most over the last few months.

slow show by the national

standing at the punch table swallowing punch
can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone
a little more stupid, a little more scared
every minute more unprepared

i made a mistake in my life today
everything I love gets lost in drawers
i want to start over, i want to be winning
way out of sync from the beginning

i wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up
so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain
god i’m very, very frightening
i’ll overdo it

looking for somewhere to stand and stay
i leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away
can i get a minute of not being nervous
and not thinking of my dick
my leg is sparkles, my leg is pins
i better get my shit together, better gather my shit in
you could drive a car through my head in five minutes
from one side of it to the other

i wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up
so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain
god i’m very, very frightening
i’ll overdo it

you know i dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before i saw you
you know i dreamed about you
i missed you for twenty-nine years

my daemon

i read the golden compass books a while ago, and haven't returned to them, but liked them very much. i may go back and read them again before seeing the movie. the question for now is: does this daemon fit me? in a couple days, i'll weigh in and write what i think my daemon would be.