Thursday, October 17, 2013


Just look at that beautiful German in the title there! And even better, look at what it represents - speaking German with Germans who help me to learn and remember.

I'm studying English literature because I love it, but sometime during the past year German wormed its way into my heart and has taken up residence. Happily, I found a local German group that meets twice a month to have lunch or dinner and just chat. Not everyone who comes is German (several are American, one is Ukrainian), but they all have learned or want to learn the language and enjoy practicing it together. We met at a Mexican restaurant (cosmopolitan!) and I spent ninety minutes exercising my already-flabby German muscles. And it was really fun! Everyone there speaks English fluently, so there's no concern that you'll just get stuck. The non-natives speakers want to improve. The native speakers like hearing their mother tongue in a country where it's rare. Everyone wins.

Sadly I can't go to the second meet-up this month, but I look forward to my regular doses of Deutsch, and I may look into the university German club as well. It just meets at a really inconvenient time. No matter what, though, I'm not giving up on my hard-fought language skills. I'll even fight for more of them. Hopefully that all goes well.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Priorities, people!

My "Intro to Graduate Studies" class just had me read a book about how to survive grad school and find a job. Most of it was fairly useful. I hope that I'll be able to reference it again as I get through the various stages of grad school

But. There's always a but. In discussing time management, the author talks about how hard it is to find time for research, teaching, and family. He suggests that grad students hold off having a family until they've graduated at least, or have a non-working spouse. If one can't manage such a thing, he says, one must be aware that something's gotta give. And that something cannot be your research. Oh no. It's sleep.

Now I don't mean to say that graduate students (or professors) should do poorly at their jobs. And part of that job is research and writing. But it seems like this particular author has taken a leaf out of the business playbook and decreed that unless you give 250% for the rest of your life, you might as well give up now. And I don't think that's healthy. Every job has push and pull. Every job has time management issues. If you are talking to a bunch of graduate students and advising them that they need to be chronically sleep-deprived in order to have a life outside of work? Something's wrong with your view of the world.

Sure, there will be times when this happens. And sure, being both a grad student and a professor is more than a 40-hour-a-week job. But it doesn't have to be 80 hours a week. It could be 50. And there should be regular breaks. I wish the author would have told his readers that students should take a good hard look at whether winning the career game is worth the things they'll give up, instead of assuming that's the path they'll take. Because for me? I'll do my work well. And it won't just be a 40-hour workweek. And sometimes the rest of my life will have to be the thing put on hold until the current project is finished. But time to sleep, exercise, read for pleasure, and recharge are worth not being The Ultimate Grad Student or The Ultimate Professor.

I just finished training to volunteer for the local sexual assault hotline. (Intense. Really intense.) One of the most important things we talked about was self-care - the things you do to help yourself relax and be happy even when the world around you isn't happy. Taking some times - ten minutes, an hour, a day - away from workworkwork is part of self-care. It's part of keeping the thing you love from driving you insane. And it's necessary, no matter how much other people want to shame you for daring to care for yourself sometimes.

I've been keeping a running list of things I do and don't want to do when I'm teaching a class. It includes things like "for lower-level classes, give a bunch of small assignments and grade them fairly instead of inflating. That way, you can also grade the papers more fairly and not feel like you're torpedoing the students' chance of success". After this book, I added "never tell students that their work should be their one and only. Remember that everyone has a life outside of study, outside of work, and that is a very good thing".

Of course these ideas can be hard when you really just want someone to pour heart and soul into your class. It has become my new goal to tell students that yes, they need to work hard, but no, their work isn't the most important thing ever. Sometimes other things are important. If you're working well, if you're not using it as an excuse for mediocrity, never feel guilty about recognizing when something else takes over that importance slot.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fuzzy wuzzy was a...?

When I was living in Germany, I shared my apartment with something small and fuzzy. I never actually saw the creature, but he lived in my ceiling and spent his time dashing about. Occasionally he did acrobatics. He also brought nuts or seeds back to his home, because sometimes I would hear something small and hard rolling around up there.

Based on how he sounded when he ran and the fact that I only ever heard one creature, it was determined that I had a Siebenschläfer living over my head.

This is a Siebenschläfer

So is this.

The name literally means "seven-sleeper" because the creature usually hibernates during the fall and winter. In English, it's a "fat dormouse". You can see that it looks like a cross between a squirrel and a mouse. And in Germany, they're a protected species - you can't set traps to kill them. Live trapping is acceptable.

I never saw the creature I named Siebe, but he never seemed to bring any friends home either. And during the coldest months of winter, he was pretty quiet. Unfortunately he didn't move out to his summer home in some tree come June and I admit that I was happy to sleep somewhere without audible reminders that rodents live among us.

Now I'm in a nice apartment in the United States. And guess who lives in my wall? No fat dormice here, but there's one and possible more than one squirrel in residence behind my shower. They make a lot of noise. And they get around a bit - sometimes they scurry around in my bedroom ceiling, and sometimes I hear them behind the stove. I've checked for holes they could use to get into my cupboards or apartment and haven't found any yet, but it doesn't stop them from being very disruptive. When they're especially loud, it sounds like I have a furry friend in my bathtub or kitchen cupboards. Very unsettling.

To add insult to injury, these little wretches have neither shame nor fear. Behold:

That's right, the squirrel is climbing on my screen door. While I was on the other side taking pictures. He also tries to munch on my basil plant when I put it outside for some sunshine. I shouted abuse at him and rescued it, but now it's drooping for lack of light.

Apparently I'm a Disney princess and the woodland creatures just can't help but get close. They've been quiet recently, though, and I can only hope they're planning to hibernate for the winter. In a tree somewhere. Fingers crossed.