Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Okey-dokey. This is getting deeply tiresome.

I don't want to pull down this post. I don't like shutting down productive debate and thoughtful disagreements. What is happening, however, is that some exceptionally annoying and rude people seem bent on posting exceptionally unproductive comments on a post that's now more than two years old.

Seriously, folks, it's all right if you disagree with me: I can handle it. But if you're bent on stopping by to call me and other readers names, well, that's just obnoxious.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Helpful Books for the Dissertation-Weary (and Others)

Some things I've been reading lately and thought others might want to hear about or be reminded of:

1) As you could probably guess from that last post, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life

2) Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (again)

3) Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, Get It Done When You're Depressed (I pre-ordered this as soon as I learned it was being published, and I'm glad I did!)

I'm just starting Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, which I found at a thrift store this week.

Suggestions are welcome if you know of something you think anyone reading this might find useful.

The semi-sabbatical/demi-hiatus/what-have-you rather obviously continues here at Ye Olde Blogge. I'm still experiencing growing pains of the kind described by Mary Kate Hurley here, but I can definitively identify them as growing pains now, and that's a welcome relief.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Variations on a theme by Annie Dillard

This is something I think I have learned about myself and want to recall later, either for comfort or for revision:

When you are writing, you know what you need to do. Making sure your pencils are sharpened and lying parallel on your desk, wiping down surfaces because the sight of dust grates on your skin, reading things you think have nothing to do with what you're writing, taking a nap at the wrong time, calling a friend to rant about your dissertation's bad habits and poor hygiene: all of it. I don't mean to honor procrastination, but rather to honor ritual, gathering, and acts of desperation. Procrastination is turning your back on your work, telling it to sit in the waiting room until you are ready to deal with it, and hoping it will get bored or angry enough to just go away. Percolation is confronting the empty plot where your work should be, digging away at it until you realize you need an awl or a pick-axe or a backhoe instead of the shovel you've got in your hand, and going off to beg, borrow, or steal the right tool for the job.

The trouble comes when you stop confronting the work and stop listening to yourself. And you learn this every time you start something new, then forget it again, so that beginning is always a terror.

The only hope is to be stubborn enough not to quit before you learn the lesson again--and to believe that you'll remember more quickly next time, even if you never do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Declaring a blogging sabbatical

So, uhm, yeah. Hi. It's been a while.

Most everybody's probably pretty much given up on me, but for those few who might still be hoping for a dispatch, here's a little something. I'm not sure it'll be all that gratifying, though, because I'm mostly writing this entry to let y'all know that the blogging's going to continue to be light here for the foreseeable future.

As I've noted more than once before, one of my reasons for starting this blog was to make the life of at least one graduate student somewhat more transparent to the world at large: to give more people a better sense of what she might do with her time, the challenges she might face, what it's like to be an academic grunt, and why she'd make such an odd choice in the first place. To some extent, then, it's a response to the bewildered looks and eyebrow-raisings most grad students are used to.

Another reason, of course, was to connect with people outside my usual social orbit. While I've no idea whether I really succeeded in helping people understand graduate students, there's no doubt that Ye Olde Blogge has helped me meet and talk to some marvelous people--occasionally even in meatspace.

Thing is, in both cases, a certain degree of intellectual and emotional honesty is required. In order to make that possible and still have some hope of making a career for myself in academia, I've constructed an anonymous identity that bears at least some resemblance to my own. But that's required me to remain silent on any number of issues, including the details of my own work as I move into the latter stages of my graduate career.

When I started blogging more than five years ago, it was still an odd little hobby. It's hard to deny, now, that it's become something much more like an industry--and that development makes blogs feel somewhat less casual and unofficial than they once did. So the somewhat more public profile of even dinky little blogs like mine, combined with the increasingly personal nature of my work, has started to make it much harder for me to find things I'm comfortable blogging about. Not discussing the very individual process of facing the demons that dissertations summon, the development of my ideas about my project, and the ways in which I'm working to become the person who can complete it without losing her mind or her credit rating has become a bigger problem as those issues have loomed larger in my life.

For the last few months, I've felt increasingly muzzled here, particularly since I'm having to make a number of very personal decisions all at once, but can't find a way to write about them honestly in this forum. I'm also well aware that wearing my heart on my sleeve--much like mixed metaphors--can really come back to bite me in the ass.

Now, I generally don't mind making myself a bit vulnerable. In fact, if anything, I tend to err on the side of making myself overly vulnerable. That's not necessarily a disaster in the making if I'm tough enough to handle it, but I'm not feeling quite that strong just now. As a result, I'm having to take a lot of the stuff I'd normally write about here underground--at least for the time being. I'm also having to reserve more time and energy for other kinds of work. The upshot of all this is that I'm expecting things to stay pretty quiet over here for some months, at least.

I imagine I'll still be lurking around in the blogosphere, making a nuisance of myself, and most of y'all know how to get hold of me if you're interested. If you do want to contact me and aren't quite sure what would be best, just leave a comment to that effect and we'll figure something out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Brief thoughts on MLA

I'm deeply pleased not to be there, myself: my impressions weren't all that favorable the one time I went, and it's nice to be here with the folks, instead. But I wish the best of luck to those of you who're there--especially the interviewees. I hope it all goes well, that everyone is lovely to you, and that the room service is marvelous.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Travel update

By the way, for those who are wondering: I did make it safely to Old Home Sod, at last. In fact, my buddy Cheryl gave me a first-class seat for the first leg of the trip home. Niiiice.

A friendly note to the nation's retailers

Please, for the love of God, STOP offering things at massively reduced prices. I know there's a panic over people not having spent as much as usual for the holidays, but consistently seeing things for something like 90% off is killing me! I'm a grad student: this means that I have little money, which means I have a very hard time passing up bargains.

I beg for your mercy. Seriously, raise the prices back to normal levels so I can maintain my awareness that I actually can't afford to buy your stuff.

With thanks,
A. Wiseass

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time . . .

I was supposed to fly to Old Home Sod two nights ago, but it became very clear on the day of that it wasn't going to happen. Not only am I still recovering from the Month of Ick, and not only was I considerably worse off two days ago, but being mid-renovation on my bedroom meant I could not find a damn thing--including my wallet. I gave up and paid an insane amount of money (about $300) to change the ticket to tonight's flight.

Well, it rained in Big City today, so the hive mind shattered into tiny little pieces. Reporters on the local news were pointing at puddles in disbelief. People were running around with garbage bags on their heads. There were accidents everywhere, because folks here seem to think they can keep driving like cabbies on speed when the roads are wet.

Also, holiday traffic + rain in Big City = Bad News. Poor Boy Roomie may never offer to drive me to the airport again: we sat in traffic for more than an hour.

Once I got to the airport, I stood in a long check-in line, only to be told that my ticket required "special handling" and sent to another long line. That wasn't the right one, either, so they sent me to yet another. By the time I got to the end of that one, my flight had closed. Maybe that's what "special handling" means?

Instead of saying she was sorry or trying to help me find a solution, the woman who gave me the bad news actually started scolding me: "You're supposed to check in at least 45 minutes before your flight leaves!" I gave her the stank eye and said: "Look, I left my house more than 2 hours ago; please just don't start in on me." "I'm very sorry for your trouble, m'am," she said, in a way that made it perfectly clear that she actually didn't give a shit, before turning her back on me and walking off.

Thinking that I was being clever and avoiding further wait times, I went to the pay phone and called in to the reservation center. No dice: they wanted to charge me $500 to fly me out at 11pm tomorrow night. By this time, I confess, I was bawling.

Once I could control my tear ducts again, I approached a rather friendlier-looking woman at the entrance to a line I hadn't tried yet. She told me to go wait in a fifth line to talk to somebody on a direct-dial phone. So then, I stood in line with a bunch of extremely pissed-off people for about an hour, with what seemed like about 150 people smashing into me because they were stampeding blindly through our line on the way to the security gates.

Finally, I noticed that one of the coveted black phones was available. I pounced. A woman named Cheryl answered. "Hi, Cheryl," I said. "I bet you've been talking to a lot of unhappy people tonight." "Yeah, it's not fun," Cheryl said. "What are they doing over there? Are they just telling everybody to call us?" "Yeah," I said, "after sending us to the wrong lines repeatedly, that's pretty much what they're doing. It rained here today, and everybody went insane." "Ah," Cheryl said.

Cheryl then worked her magic, called me "hon" a number of times, and got me a flight out late tomorrow morning. I thanked Cheryl and told her to have a happy holiday.

Then, after wandering through three terminals with all my luggage, looking in vain for a working ATM, I got a ride home with a cranky Russian guy who took me past a bank on the way home. He brightened up a little when I gave him a hefty tip, even though he still didn't help me carry my bags to the gate.

Ah, what the hell: it's the holidays.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

High-Security Hamlet

Ain't it always the way? You announce a hiatus after weeks of writing nothing, and the very next day, you realize that there's something you just have to post.

I just listened to a This American Life episode called "Act V" for about the fifth time since it was first aired in 2002. If you have not listened to this yet, please go here now and do that.

Why? Because you won't have heard Hamlet discussed this way before, and you ought to. Even if you absolutely, positively hate the play and/or the character; have seen it staged 3,491 times; and have read and/or taught it more times than you can remember. Seriously.

The actors in this version of Hamlet, prisoners who have committed violent crimes, talk candidly about how the play's treatment of murder, revenge, duplicity, and treachery dovetails with their own experiences. They are absolutely brilliant interpreters and literary critics who become involved with the text in a way that happens all too rarely in our classrooms.

One theater critic quoted in this piece says that this production "makes a 400-year-old text fresh again." It does. Despite my usually jaded attitude toward Hamlet, this piece never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It's that good.

I absolutely plan to use it the next time I teach Shakespeare.

And now, back to those articles . . . .

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Trails to You . . .

Hiya, folks.

I apologize to those of you who might've been expecting a post at some point during the past month: things are getting interesting in Wiseass World. I mean "interesting" in ways that are both exciting and crappy. Unfortunately, I can't really blog about a great deal of what's going on--at least for now--which is part of the reason for my long silence.

Suffice it to say that there are major changes afoot, great feats of organization and reconstruction to complete, foes and demons alike to be defeated.

I've promised myself that I will avoid another overly depressive holiday season by meeting a daunting, but do-able, set of writing goals before I head to Old Home Sod in less than a month. Unfortunately, "behind schedule" really doesn't begin to describe my progress, so I'm going to declare a blogging hiatus until after New Year's.

I hope you'll all have a good end to the term and that the holidays will be as stress-free and fun-filled as they were meant to be. See ya in '08.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Check in


Sorry I haven't been around much for a while: the past few weeks have been, well, interesting. Just spent the weekend at a conference, which was a good thing: I learned things and saw people I hadn't seen for a while and had loads of good, encouraging conversations and things. I'm pretty worn out, though, and I think I'll be processing things for a while yet.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A rhapsody on gadgets and dissertation-dating

I actually got up at 7:30am, got to campus by 9:00am, and spent two whole hours writing today. And it didn't suck.

This is very, very good.

Given, I was working on an article and not on The Beast. But still, I'm positively buoyant. Having replaced the Computer Formerly Known as Functional and gotten acquainted with my lovely new machine* helped. Having an iPod all loaded up with lovely writing music helped. The big tables, quiet, and buckets of natural light in the law library helped, too. Knowing that I would disappoint someone if I didn't get my ass out of the apartment, show up, and follow through positively worked miracles.

Hurray for having a dissertation-date steady! Even if you're not actually working on your dissertation (she said sheepishly). We're doing another, day-long session tomorrow. I might just polish off both the articles I need to finish. Wouldn't that be glorious? (Feel free to imagine me bursting into song, Rodgers-and-Hammerstein style.)

I'm also kinda infatuated with technology right now. I'm not sure whether I love my new computer, my new iPod, or my first PDA more. Yep, the debt is mounting and no, I'm not looking forward to buying software. But glory and hallelujah, I'm getting something done!


*She needs a proper name, by the way. In fact, maybe all three devices need names. Any suggestions?

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Poetry in Honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day


Oh, the blithery, blathery pirate
(His name, I believe, is Claude),
His manner is sullen and irate,
And his humor is vulgar and broad.

He has often been known to imprison
His friends in the hold dark and dank,
Or lash them up high on the mizzen,
Or force them to stroll down a plank.

He will selfishly ask you to dig up
Some barrels of ill-gotten gold,
And if you so much as just higgup,
He'll leave you to fill up the hole.

He may cast you adrift in a rowboat
(He has no reaction to tears)
Or put you ashore without NO boat
On an island and leave you for years.

He's a rotter, a wretch and a sinner,
He's foul as a fellow can be,
But if you invite him to dinner,
Oh, please sit him next to me!

--Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Linky McLinksalot

Just back in town after a bit of family time (and yes, the Glorious Nephew is still glorious). I am tremendously, immensely behind on things blog, but racing to catch up. Here are a few of the things I'm catching up on:

  • This statement (full article here) warms the cockles of my heart:
John Eastman, a conservative constitutional scholar and dean of Chapman University Law School in Orange, who frequently debates Chemerinsky, called UCI's move "a serious misstep."
  • The New York Times finally came to its senses and retracted that "Times Select," access-by-subscription crap. Read at will!
  • This isn't quite what H.P. Lovecraft had in mind when he wrote about the Ancient Ones returning to annihilate humanity, but woolly mammoth dung might be helping us destroy the environment.
  • There's a rather weird fashion slideshow available on "The Literary Type" here. I may be missing something of the context here, but I think it's interesting that only men are featured in this spread. Why no Virginia Woolfs or Lady Montagus or what-have-you? Also, check out slide #2: there's no way Oscar Wilde would ever wear such ill-fitting pants. I think he'd be appalled. (Hat tip to Lisa Carnell.)
"There were girls lying everywhere—draped over furniture, sprawled spread-eagled in the corner, and huddled close like animals," FBI Special Agent Curtis Froman, who oversaw the raid, said at a press conference. "Many of them had been given nothing more than a pair of tube socks or men's briefs to wear . . . ."
  • Just heard about this kids' show today, and it sounds marvelous! (Man, I love good kids' shows! I lucked into an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood the other day and sang along: it was one of the best half-hours I'd spent all month.)

Enjoy! I'm off to catch up on some other things (like cleaning out my inbox, updating my planner, cleaning my apartment, writing articles. . . . you know, fun stuff like that).

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


From time to time, one of my former students gets in touch with me. More often than not, the emails or phone calls come from alumni of the Nameless Summer Program I worked for during the five summers before this one. The program's intensity and focus on community-building help to form teacher-student bonds that are a bit stronger than average for Big City U.

Today, a woman I taught three summers ago--a first-generation, community-college transfer student who's also a single mother--called the scholarship center where I work to iron out some financial logistics. She asked me for some advice about her post-graduation plans.

During her time at Big City U, this woman has helped other community-college students make the transition here, has been able to study abroad, and had the world opened up for her. She has a job as an educational counselor lined up, plans to work toward a Master's degree in Education, and wants to teach at a community college to help people who need better access to the educational system--in her words, "just like the summer program; just like you."

Folks, that just feels so damn good.

That's what I'm here for. That's what this whole durn shootin' match is about. The research and the writing make it possible, and they're as necessary, for me, as breathing. But that--helping someone change her world for the better from the inside out, then watching her go on to do the same thing for somebody else--well, that's just the Real Stuff.

And you know what? All the doubt and debt and exploitation are worth it. Grad school should've been easier; it should've been better; it did not need to grind me down the way it has. But today, I feel like I'm made out of Teflon: today, none of it sticks.

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State of the Blog Address

Yep, it's that time again. Time for the obligatory post about how I'm re-thinking and revamping my blog. It must've been a few months since the last update, since that appears to be my pattern.

Anywhoo . . .

1) You'll notice the nifty new widget there in the left-hand margin that displays all recent comments. Kudos to Haloscan for making it available, because I've been noticing that folks are showing up to comment on older posts and I'm not catching it until some time later. So this'll help me do a better job of responding to those of you who respond to me and keeping the conversations going. It should also help y'all to see whether and when I've gotten on the ball enough to reply without so much clicking and scrolling.

2) I fell off the wagon a long time ago about my Friday Cat / Poetry / Shoe Blogging: it got to be an obligation rather than a source of excitement, and I think that started to show in the posts. But I'm noticing from StatCounter that there are a fair number of people stopping by to read the poetry, in particular. Since folks seem to like seeing the poetry, I don't read nearly enough poetry myself, and I admire the ideals of enterprises like The National Poetry Foundation and the British Arts Council's Poems on the Underground project, I think it'd be good to bring the poetry back. To be more concise, I'd like to mix more poems into my own reading diet, learn more about what Brian Phillips calls "the culture of poetry," and help poetry infiltrate the Internet.

And yet, I don't want posting about poetry to become a chore again--that would pretty much miss the point altogether. So I'm thinking that I might just intermittently post some poems or some links to poems every now and then. If any of you have suggestions for poets or poems I should know and post about, please feel free to send them my way.

3) I owe many people who've sent an email to my blog-linked address during the past year or so an apology, because I've been very, very bad about checking in with that account and responding regularly. I'm going to work on fixing that.

4) My blogroll's not as horrifically outdated as it was there for a while, but if you'd like to see your blog appear there and it doesn't, or if I need to make a change to your listing, please let me know.

5) I need to go through the archives to do some pruning and add in keywords, and I suspect that project will take a good while. But eventually, folks visiting my site should be able to find more of what they're interested in more quickly.

If you've got any thoughts or suggestions, please let me know about them! Although I don't really have the time (**cough** dissertation **cough**) or the chops to turn this into a more formal, regularized, thoroughly moderated Big Issues blog, one of the primary goals of this little outpost is to make connections and develop a sense of community, so feel free to speak up!

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