Online or not?

We don’t know, of course, what we’ll be doing about classes in the fall. If we’re all online, then yes, I’m spending the summer on training to teach online and converting my classes accordingly. In the meantime, we’ve been asked to consider putting one or more of our classes online, on the theory that at least some students will prefer to take classes online, due to health, care-taking, or whatever else they have going on.

I’m trying to decide. Do it now, when I’d get brownie points for stepping up and some understanding for early-adopter glitches? Or wait and see? I already have 21 students enrolled in my 2-day-per-week undergrad course, which would be a nice number for the hybrid course I’m sort of hoping for, meeting half of them one day, the other half on the other, and having the at-home half doing online stuff or “attending” via webcam. I miss being in the classroom, and even if I have to be prepared to go online if/when there’s another outbreak, or to teach a hybrid class, I really want to spend some actual physical time with my students.

I guess that’s my answer, now that I write it out. Who among my readers is thinking out similar questions, and what are you thinking?

Six-ish on a rainy Saturday

A garden update (Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator):

1. Daffodils still blooming, with iris coming on behind them:

2. Hyacinth and narcissus:

3. Apple buds are almost there:

4. The climbing hydrangea is looking very green:

5. Although tulips by the garage are in bloom, the one I showed you in the front is still determinedly holding off:

6. Assorted clematis: the big clump, a volunteer, and the one that is supposed to climb an artistic support but prefers the lilac bush:

Suburban life

For much of my life, I have longed to live in a high-rise building in a big city.

The only time I came close was when I lived in a 19th-century Haussmannian garret in Paris, from which I could see a sliver of the Tour Eiffel if I leaned out the window and craned my neck.

Mostly I’ve lived in university towns, often suburbs of larger cities. I am well-acquainted with assorted subways and rapid transit systems, I love going into the city and feel energized by its hustle and bustle, the concrete canyons, the noise, the crowds, all the things people move to the suburbs to get a break from. I also recognize that I have far too many books (all by myself; we’ll leave Sir John out of this) to live in a small city apartment such as one of my good friends inhabits. I fondly believe that someday I will de-accession some most of these, and live in a proper city.


I have never been so glad of suburban life as I am now. My friends and blog-friends who live in tiny city apartments have been confined to them for weeks, going on months. Their reasons for living in the city—museums, concerts, coffee shops, restaurants, film societies, window-shopping—are all closed. At any time of day or night, I can walk out my front door and walk for miles, keeping my distance from anyone else out on foot. Since exercise is one of my main coping strategies, I do this a lot. One day recently I walked 6 miles, and I usually put in 3-4. (I’ve ordered new shoes.) In a high-rise, I might spend hours climbing stairs, but I’m sure I’d have to negotiate a schedule with the other exercise addicts on the premises. Seeing people’s gardens leafing out and blooming is also therapeutic, as is hearing birdsong and feeling the wind in my face. Living by the beach would be even more awesome, but for the time being, I’m very happy to be where I am.

It’s funny how life works out. Do we adapt to our place, or do we unconsciously choose our places because they really are what we value most? I thought I just couldn’t hack a commute any longer than what I have now, but maybe the calculus worked a little differently than I thought. Maybe I just didn’t realize, till now, how much I value walking out the front door into nature instead of into vibrant city life.

Two weeks??

This week’s snow strengthened the sense of unreality I’ve been struggling with for the last month or so. Surely it was still February and I would at any moment wake up to find that teaching in the time of the novel coronavirus was a nightmare akin to the one about teaching a math class that I had forgotten all about after the first week and had no idea what to do about come final exam time.

But no. It really is mid-April, verging on late April, and I have two more weeks of classes. I am not sure what to do about papers and exams. I’ve been stuck in immediate-prep mode, putting up assignments for individual weeks, and grading them, and just not getting around to thinking about the paper/project that (back in January) I meant to help students develop in individual conferences.

If they’re anything like me, they also have their heads down getting through what’s in front of them. Or maybe they’re working on essays for profs who did manage to stick to Plan A, or work out Plan B during spring break. Is it enough just to do the weekly work, or should there be some summative essay?

I’m leaning towards a write-your-own-adventure assignment that will be somewhat scripted: I’ll sketch out a basic scenario, with options for how the adventure might develop, and ask students to fill in details about setting, actions, character development. The class is a sort of hybrid of medieval civilization plus literature, and we’ve been focusing on how learning about details of medieval life affects our interpretation of literature, so this isn’t a wild departure from the kind of work we’ve been doing.

I want to give the class something fun that will also let them showcase what they’ve learned, while being interesting for me to grade.

Thoughts? I need to get whatever I do posted to Blackboard very soon, so probably I should just plunge in.

Six on Sunday

Very late to the party, this week. But you can see that a couple of warm days had a very encouraging effect:

The daffodils are in full bloom now.

The apple buds are coming on.

The climbing hydrangea is invigorated.

The violets are blooming merrily.

The clematis is leafing out (I’m showing you this in place of the honeysuckle).

This will be a red tulip, very soon (in place of the crocus).

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator. I feel a bit like the guest who turned up very late, already drunk, then passed out in the summerhouse and was discovered next afternoon . . .

Appearing organized

If you want to acquire a reputation for being organized, here are my two top tips:

1. Answer e-mail promptly.*

2. Do not perform stress.**

That’s it! Go forth and appear in control.



* Answers can be “Yes, thank you for thinking of me,” “Maybe, please tell me more,” “No, I can’t do that now, but I can get to it at X time,” “No, I can’t do that, but here’s someone you could ask.” The key is to be prompt, even if you’re saying no, rather than to hide out hoping people think you’re doing something more important than checking your e-mail.

**You can be a total stress monkey in your head as long as your outward demeanor is “Everything’s fine.” I started acting like everything was fine a long time ago, when I realized that I got very stressed being around people whose outward narrative is “OMG there’s so much to do I have deadlines no time to exercise or eat properly the world is going to hell in a handbasket and I am so important only I can do this stuff OMG.” Things get done, eventually. Only once have I reached the end of the semester without all the grading being accomplished, and even then, it was okay.*** Nobody else really needs to know the number of times I have done things at the last minute, or dropped a ball or several, or faked my way through a meeting or a class (I read fast, and there’s always think-pair-share exercises plus “That’s an interesting observation, do tell us more”). I’m more effective when I exercise, eat good food, try to get a reasonable amount of rest, and don’t try to run on caffeine and sugar.

***That was the semester when I had to spend two weeks with my parents when my father had emergency surgery and my mother was suffering from Parkinson’s-related dementia. I kept everybody informed, filled out manual change-of-grade forms, and the world kept turning. Sir John and some trusted friends got an earful, but nobody at work needed to know the details of how completely awful those weeks were.

Vanity is underrated

It’s a social good. Really.

Last week, on a Zoom call with Lady Maud, I thought I looked pale and shiny. Further, the scarf I had selected was too busy a print to show up well on screen. These observations did not detract from my enjoyment of our conversation, particularly since she was ensconced on her deck under a very artistic wisteria vine, but I did take them to heart.

So when I had a committee meeting scheduled yesterday, I wore powder, blusher, lipstick, and eye makeup, and chose a plain bright shirt, no scarf, no fuss around the neckline. If people are going to have to look at me for some extended period, the view should be pleasant, especially when they are not my close friends and thus love me no matter what I look like. I also made sure my camera was around eye level.

When the call was over and Sir John came up to ask me something, he did a double-take. “Are you wearing makeup?” I said yes, and explained.

Then I said, “A lot of people on the call had their video turned off, so who knows what they were doing. But of those I could see, there was a clear divide between people who were wearing scruffy clothes and were looking down into their laptops so you could see up their noses, and those who had dressed the way they usually would for work and had their cameras at an angle that didn’t make me feel like an ENT doc. Care to guess who was in these groups?”

“The scruffy ones were the guys,” Sir John said, without pausing to think.

Reader, I married him.

Six on Saturday: time-elapse photos

I took a few photos earlier this week, and then went out this morning for a second round, to show how spring is progressing.

Buds on the apple tree:

Buds on the climbing hydrangea:Crocuses:

Daffodils (mine seem to be late-blooming, as all over the neighborhood there are daffodils in full glorious color):Honeysuckle starting to leaf out:Violets:Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator.

Go away/come here

I could happily spend most of the day e-mailing with my RL friends, or reading updates from my blog-friends, just the little details of people’s lives, families, pets, gardens, reading, watching, cooking, exercise routines, favorite cocktails. Or even answering queries from my students!

But I think I need to unsubscribe from e-mail lists of various Fancy Libraries. I used to enjoy getting a once-a-month newsletter from them, which showed pictures of places and exhibits I haven’t seen in years, updated me about who their new fellows are, reminded me of grants I might apply for, that sort of thing. Now I’m getting way too many e-mails about Digital Collections and Online This And That, and I don’t care. I am not going to do anything with their online whatevers.

Even worse are the e-mails from LRU’s Online Teaching Technology people, or whatever they’re calling themselves. You can do this! Sign up for a workshop! You can consult with someone who has been teaching online for years, either by phone, text chat, or video chat! Here’s a reminder of the web page that we’re constantly updating! Blah, blah, blah!!!!Elebenty-blah!!! I’m not sure that I can unsubscribe from these, but maybe I can filter them straight to junk mail.

You know what I’m doing? Reading actual real books. So are my students. We’re reading, thinking, and writing. It’s going just fine.* I do not need or want support from LRU for fancy bells and whistles, nor do I want to hear from the fancy libraries about digitized documents that would be completely illegible to my undergrads.

But I’d happily hear from my friends every day.

*I teach English. YMMV: in other fields, you may need a lot more tech than I do.