Friday, September 13, 2013

Anniversary musings

It's been a year since I arrived in Germany!

(That's a lie, September 10 actually marked a year. But acknowledging the fact isn't nearly so pithy.)

I'm not teaching this year, though I will be teaching for the next three before spending a final year finishing my thesis. If all goes well. Instead I'm getting a handle on the aforementioned theory - I even read an understandable essay today, which makes Susan Bordo my new favorite person! And I'm learning my way around an enormous campus. My undergrad institution was south of 1500 people. You could walk across the campus in ten minutes. Now? There's a bus that takes students from the center of campus to their dorms. I wish I was kidding.

I get lost whenever I try to find a new place and realize it's in the opposite direction. Then, because I'm convinced the world is paying attention to the stupid things I do, I pretend to get a phone call and tell someone I'm "really close, be right there!" before changing directions.

Kidding. I only did that once.

Yesterday I had a meeting at a totally new building in the north section of campus. Everything else I do is in the south section of campus. Uncharted territory up there. Here be monsters.

So I looked at a map several times throughout the day and repeated the instructions to myself like a mantra. Those instructions? Leave the building where I had class, turn left, turn left, turn left, and walk a while. Impossible to get lost.

I left-left-lefted and walked across the river, so I knew I was headed the right way. All I needed to to was hit a main road and my destination would be right there. But then suddenly the street I was following turned sharply right. There was a sidewalk that continued going straight and some buildings over there, but I didn't see any busy road. And the street was turning on me! The map hadn't indicated that. Probably. This was not the first time I wished the university would put up maps of campus at strategic locations, like you find in downtown London. Highly useful.

My brave choice was to keep going straight, following the sidewalk instead of the street. Big mistake. After wandering between several buildings which were not the buildings I was looking for, I returned to the street, followed its curve, and a block later found myself standing right outside the correct place. The streets know what's what.

Also? I saw a rainbow! It was raining as I got lost and then the rain stopped and right in front of me was this huge arc of color. It was beautiful. I found my way around a city in Europe, right? When I first arrived I thought I'd be lost forever and only ever get around with a map. I'd be a perpetual tourist, the horror! I can totally manage a campus, even if the campus feels like it's just as big and with 1/3 the population. Which, when you're comparing cities to universities? 1/3 the population is still a disproportionately high number of people.

I can only hope that rainbows will keep appearing to cheer me up whenever I get lost. Because leprechauns are following me or something. I wouldn't argue.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


The further along one goes in studying literature (and other subjects too, I'd imagine), the more it all becomes about theory. Not the kind of theory that is an intelligent guess or the best-we've-got, but the kind that takes something completely not-literature and applies that thing to literature to see what happens.


Sometimes what happens is really cool. Take feminism and Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and put them together. What do you have? Well, on one level you have a man (Petruchio) who eventually teaches a strong-willed woman (Katherina) to submit, as the patriarchy prefers. That one isn't so hard - very few people living now watch the play and find themselves in agreement with Petruchio's methods, including withholding food and sleep. But there are other levels too: at the end of the play, Katherina delivers a speech about how wives should submit to their husbands. Put your feminist glasses on and you might wonder if she's being sarcastic. Maybe that she's acknowledging that the world is set against women, but using such hyperbole in her "submission" that it's obvious she's not about to be always sweet and obedient. Maybe she's just telling her husband what he wants to hear and does what she wants most of the rest of the time (recalling that husbands and wives wouldn't necessarily have spent all day together in Shakespeare's day).

And so, with an infusion of feminist theory, there are ways to leave the theater less uncomfortable after watching Taming of the Shrew. The same thing can be done with Marxism (class struggles), post-colonialism (effects of racism and imperialism), and so on.

The tough part here is reading all of the theory. Most of the original essays that began and continued these theories are long and complicated and mostly involve the author informing you that this word means something else for the purposes of the essay. I've read engaging articles and essays before, and theory writing is not the least bit engaging, at least not to me. But theory is also a really big deal in literary studies and when actually applied to a novel, it can show you a whole new angle. Often we read novels with something like theory in the backs of our heads because we've heard about feminism, class struggles, racism, and so forth. So we recognize aspects of the story that the author probably never intended and maybe never even considered.

At its best, theory elevates the reader and gives us a fresh view. And I really like that. But reading it? Quite the chore. That's today's project. Wish me luck.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Parking v. Me

After living without a car for a year, I am both grateful and very frustrated to be driving again. Grateful because it's all but impossible to get around in the States without a car. Frustrated because that means I have to buy gas. Grateful because I can get somewhere whenever I want to with little physical exertion. Frustrated because driving is stressful and other drivers are mean to me. Grateful because if I'm two minutes late, I'm really just two minutes late instead of an hour. Frustrated because it's much easier to be a little bit late for things when you don't have to plan on being there thirty minutes early.

And then there's parking.

Thankfully my apartment has ample parking and so getting home is never a stressful thing. On campus, however, the story is entirely different. To begin, it's an enormous campus. There's a bus line that just serves the extended campus area. Walking from one class to the other can take a half-hour or more. As you might have guessed, a number of students have cars. And a number of students live off-campus and therefore have cars. And all the professors live off-campus, and therefore have cars. Is there enough parking for all of these entities? But of course not!

Now happily, as the recipient of some university funding, I get to be classed as an employee. That means that for a (rather high) fee, I can park in the employee lots, which are numerous and protected by a gate. I think there's more employee parking than student parking.

Before I could park in these magical lots, however, I had to buy my pass. I dutifully trekked over to the parking office (a twenty-minute walk from the visitor parking area) and stood in line for another forty minutes only to be told that the letter identifying me as an employee is illegitimate because it's a year out of date. Never mind that it specifies my program will take five years - the date at the top is 2012 and it's not good enough. So I go back to my department and ask for a new letter. First they try calling the parking office to verbally confirm my status. Not good enough. I need a letter. So they ask for a new letter. No can do - the dean of the graduate school issues those letters and is very busy right now. But one of the heads of the department offers to write a letter certifying my letter as valid. In record time it's written and signed and the next day I go back to the parking office.

I have ID, registration, letters, and a checkbook. I'm so ready for this parking pass. The man behind the desk inspects my letters, sighs, and tells me it's not quite right. He doesn't want to have to look through the letters to find the relevant information. He'll accept it this one time, but in the future, I need a letter dated from this year that simply says I have some university funding. Something that doesn't require him to look through anything.

The upshot is that I have my parking pass and have gleefully parked in the employee lots this week. Unfortunately the pass is only good for a semester, so I'll be back in the parking office come December, hopefully with the correct letter this time.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dinosaurs and volcanos

The funny part about this is that I promised myself I wouldn't let moving take over my life. Haha. It did. But now I'm safely ensconced in my new apartment (and dwelling #10 for the last three months, counting the B&Bs in Europe) with a working internet connection and everything.

So, as a catch-up, I present a few more gems from my time in Colorado.

En route to dinosaur tracks

People actually lived here, and left an oven or sink or something.

Still trekking onwards...

Graves from a Spanish mission.


5 miles later, look! A dinosaur track...maybe.

We waded across this river. It was an adventure.

My foot is so small.

Now that's a dinosaur track. A meat-eating dinosaur track.

In New Mexico, on top of an extinct volcano.


Benches thoughtfully provided.

And mule deer.
I also floated down the Arkansas river, but for obvious reasons involving electronics and water, I don't have any pictures. It's very unfortunate, especially since half the pictures would be of me beached on a sandbar. There were many sandbars. And some of them would be of me covered in mud from our launching point under a bridge, which was very very muddy. Plus there would be the fact that we were using pool floaties rather than real inner tubes and so they didn't float quite so well. I was perpetually wet. It was hilarious. And then we walked a mile back to the car through some farmer's field. Actually next to the field - no need to trample the foodstuffs.

So now I'm starting - actually have already started - graduate school. And while that world is not nearly as exotic as Germany or Colorado, I already have a number of entertaining stories to tell. Next time: my battle with the parking people. And quite the battle it was.