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# caught in the snide

## "I said, and said, and said those words. I said them. But I lied them."

Updated: 2018-03-06T04:11:06.351-06:00

De Breeze's First Theorem of Kalamazoo

2009-05-09T12:56:02.281-05:00

Sometime early Friday morning, I had a vision. As I struggled to open my eyes enough to turn off my alarm clock, the following appeared to me in symbols of flame:

x=(b-p)/d

My head was throbbing, and if I didn't get out of bed soon, I was going to be late to the blogger breakfast meetup, so I didn't think much about these symbols. In the middle of the 10:00 session on Friday, as I began to feel a little better, understanding dawned on me. I immediately realized that this equation was an attempt to predict and quantify the most appropriate way to enjoy oneself at Kalamazoo, represented by x, where:

b = the total number of alcoholic beverages consumed,

p = the total number of papers attended (probably only valid for papers during which you do not fall asleep), and

d = the total number of days spent at the conference.

Ideally, x should fall somewhere between -1 and 1. A number higher than one reveals questionable moral fiber. If, for example, you attend six papers on day one but then consume eight beers that evening, x would be equal to 2.0, outside the acceptable range. A negative number suggests admirable restraint but questionable joie de vivre (it is also interesting that numbers less than -2 are exceedingly rare among medievalists).

When I went to bed Thursday evening, my x was floating (literally) right around 10. I had only been at the conference for half of one day, arriving too late to attend any sessions, but then I had about five drinks before finally getting to sleep sometime around 1:00am (i.e., (5-0)/0.5=10). At present, my x is slightly below zero, since, in an attempt at recovery, I did not really go out last night (though I did hit the wine hour--not sure how the watery stuff they serve there counts). Unfortunately, I have dinner plans tonight with a bunch of grad school colleagues. I fully expect, then, the value of b to soar by the end of the evening. To make matters worse, my flight out of Kalamazoo is at 5:45am on Sunday, so I can't really count Sunday as a day at the conference. All of this means, of course, that I need to get off my ass and go to the afternoon sessions. Hopefully Mary Kate Hurley's paper on time in the Old English Orosius will have an ameliorative effect.

I'll give a full account, complete with the final value of x (assuming I can...umm...recall all of the values accurately) once I'm back home.

See all the monkeys, scritch-scritch-scratchin'

2009-05-04T12:49:01.626-05:00

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It must be getting close to time for Kalamazoo, as I'm spending a large amount of my time composing and replying to emails about dinner plans, get-togethers, and general conviviality of the medievalist type. I should be spending this time writing my paper, but, hey, I still have three days, right?

I'm planning on posting while at the Congress, if only because I've so enjoyed living vicariously through other bloggers' K'zoo posts the last few years. I may be spending much of Thursday and early Friday in my room writing my paper, but if not, I'll try to post a bit about the sessions I attend.

Can't wait. Now what was I doing, again? Oh yeah, the paper...

Unstuffing

2009-04-10T08:32:05.167-05:00

Yesterday's New York Times contains an interesting review of the off-Broadway play Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. While I'm not exactly a devotee of experimental theatre, the play sounds like a lot of fun to me. I have a feeling that a few of my colleagues may not relish a play poking fun at Beowulf scholars, but I'm of the general opinion that any mention of the poem in popular culture is good news for medievalists.

One small complaint, though: the review refers to the scholars who appear to be the butt of the play's joke as "stuffy academics." It's a cliche, of course; for many people the term "academics" is just naturally preceded by "stuffy." But you know what? Most of my academic friends, maybe especially the medievalists among them, are decidedly non-stuffy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines stuffy as "not receptive to new or unusual ideas and behavior; conventional and narrow-minded." That definition seems to me to be more applicable to the students I teach than to my colleagues, some of whom are pompous and self-interested, yes, but not stuffy.

So I'd like to call for an end to this kind of libelous characterization. Maybe we need to hire a publicist or something. Let's redefine the cliche and be known for what we are: "dorky academics," or "poorly dressed academics," even "boring academics," but not "stuffy academics."

Take that, New York Times.

Kalamazoo 2009

2009-02-01T12:58:09.826-06:00

So the program for this year's International Congress on Medieval Studies is now available online. For the first time since 1997 (I think), my name is to be found among the 2500 or so presenters (though you find "DeBreeze" in the listings). It's a weird feeling to going back to Kalamazoo. I've been going to conferences all along, of course. I've attended either the SEMA (Southeastern Medieval Association) or TEMA (Texas Medieval Association) conferences almost every year for the past twelve, so it's not like I've been completely outside the community of medieval scholars. But I know that I've missed something as a result of being absent from Kalamazoo for so long. As a friend of mine put it once, Kalamazoo is the one must-do event for an American medievalist each year. So in at least one way, I feel as if I haven't been a full-fledged medievalist for the past decade. It's kinda like I've been on the Junior Varsity team. And probably not a starter even there.

But now I'm going back, though it's to a very different Kalamazoo that I'll be returning. The last time I went, I was still in graduate school, still pretty starstruck by the big names, still very much figuring out what medieval studies were all about, and still unsure about my own place in that world. I was shepherded by my professors, introduced around by them, maybe even fed by them on occasion. But as I looked through the program this morning, I realized that none of my former professors, most of whom are nearing or past retirement age, will be presenting this year (though they may still be attending, of course). A few of my good friends from grad school will be there, some of them shepherding students of their own now. And while I'll be having a great time, no doubt, I'll also be missing my wife and kids. I imagine that I'll be in bed by the time the Saturday night dance gets underway.

Still, I can't wait. I'll spend the next few months dreaming about the book display and planning meet-ups with my friends old and new.

Oh, and at some point I'll need to reread my proposal, so I can remember what my paper is supposed to be about.

I must have nodded off for a moment...

2009-01-29T10:11:55.583-06:00

Because New Kid is too busy with law school these days to skewer Chronicle articles

2008-10-23T11:58:13.727-05:00

I don't know how many of you have read this piece on the Chronicle website this week. In it, the author highlights problems with the tenure system in American colleges and universities and suggests some sort of fixed-term contract (he argues for 30 years) to make sure that aging professors eventually retire and open up spots for new faculty. I'm not going to respond to his idea (mainly because my school has no tenure system and offers only one-year contracts to faculty), but I will respond to one example he cites. One of the problems with tenure, the author claims, is that departments often get "tenured in"; that is, they reach a point when all members of the department are tenured and likely to stick around for many years. The result is that departments find themselves not flexible enough to cover all of the areas they need to. Then he says:

"Does, for example, an English department with 30 members really need three medievalists?"

[pause for laughter]

I just want to know where these schools are. Where are these English departments that are terribly overstaffed in the area of medieval literature?

I also love the way he pulls "medievalists" out of the air as an appropriate example of obsolescence. Would he ask whether the same department "really needs" three Americanists? Three people covering the twentieth century? Probably not. But three medievalists? The absurdity! The waste of taxpayer dollars!

Sheesh!

Okay, I feel better now. Back to grading papers.

Irony out west

2008-09-23T06:39:50.911-05:00

Scene: a group of academics, including an academic dean, sits down at a local eatery.

Waitress: Can I get your drink orders?

Academic #1: I'll just have water.

Waitress: (turning to the dean) And you?

Dean: (sighing heavily) I don't know. Hemlock?

Waitress: (without missing a beat) I'm sorry, sir, we just have Pepsi.

My only question: was she was one of our students?

And we have a winner!

2008-08-22T16:50:31.756-05:00

Are you ready to play our game?

2008-08-19T23:03:56.161-05:00

No words

2008-07-20T22:00:19.339-05:00

Okay, so I was in the middle of writing a long post about the future of online scholarship a few minutes ago, when Older Monkey came out of her bedroom and told me she was going to the bathroom. A few seconds later, she came back into the living room and told me that she saw a spider in the hallway that scared her. I did the good dad thing and got up from the sofa to help her, though I assumed that the probably tiny spider she had seen was already long gone. Imagine my surprise when I saw not just a spider but a TARANTULA!!! In. My. Fucking. House!

I just don't even know what more to say about it. I mean, Miss Goddess and I got it out of the house, in a low-comedy procedure that involved luring it into Older Monkey's cardboard-box-cum-pinhole-camera from last month's Art Camp. I'd like to say that I behaved throughout with the detached grace and calm befitting a scholar, but that would be a lie. I'm just thankful that I didn't wet myself.

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Tarantula, with Younger Monkey's right Croc for purposes of scale.

Snakes in the water and other discoveries

2008-07-14T16:02:02.435-05:00

Wonderful

2008-06-23T07:33:29.686-05:00

Twenty-two years ago today, I went to a birthday party that changed my life. Actually, I missed the party proper because I was at work, dutifully bagging the groceries of the soccer moms of 1986. And I hadn't planned on going to the party at all, which meant that I didn't have a gift. At the urging of my friends and a little voice inside my head that would not be ignored, I decided I'd head to the party after work. I did my best with a last-minute gift found mainly on the toy aisle of the large supermarket where I worked. I don't remember everything that I put in that little brown sack, but I do remember one item in particular: a thin rubber bracelet that spelled out the word "WONDERFUL." When, after my shift, I drove to what was left of the party and gave that bracelet (with assorted and sundry other items) to the newly 16-year-old girl who was later to become my wife, I couldn't have known how appropriate a gift it was.

Of all the words I could use to describe the woman whose birthdays I've celebrated (and agonized over) for 23 consecutive years now, "wonderful" comes closest to the mark. She is full of wonders even now, even when you'd think I've seen them all, even though she secretly worries that she's become just another harried Mommy at the park. It's not just that she's crazy smart (though she is) or crazy beautiful (though she is). And it's not just that she has that thing that my mother insists on calling "creativity," making it sound like she spends her free time thinking of things she could hot-glue sequins onto. She's incredibly talented, of course, which never ceases to amaze me, since I've got plenty of skill but not much that could be called talent. Her sense of humor is so good it's actually frustrating, since I spend large parts of every day wishing I had said whatever she just said. And she's the coolest person I know, mainly because she doesn't really care whether other people think she's cool. But none of these descriptions are sufficient. What makes her so wonderful is the intangible whatever that is created by the combination of all these things, as processed by her whacked-out head that sees the world in a way that nobody else I've ever met does. Her whole, in other words, is much more than the sum of her parts.

What's great is that I figured all of this out (or intuited it, at any rate) that night in 1986, when I came late to her birthday party and gave her a ridiculous gift made up of items bought on a grocery store toy aisle. She smiled when she opened it, ad it was all over for me. Within two weeks we were officially an item, and I finally understood what being in love meant. Twenty-two years later, I still can't believe my luck.

So Happy Birthday, Miss Goddess. In the words of the Moldy Peaches, I don't see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

Little-known literature: Aelfric's De Temporibus Anni

2008-06-20T14:32:20.979-05:00

2008-06-08T12:07:34.559-05:00

I've found the secret to getting more pleasure reading done: completely avoiding work. Well, that and Miss Goddess taking the kids to a friend's house for several hours on Friday. Turns out I still can lie on the couch for hours at a time reading a book. I finished Foucault's Pendulum this morning, with very much the same feeling I predicted would accompany that feat: a sense of accomplishment, but not a sense of being fundamentally affected by the experience. Don't get me wrong; it's a good book, and I have no doubt that some readers are engulfed by it the way I am by other books. It just didn't do much for me, specifically. Still, 641 pages is worth something, right?

I'm now eagerly awaiting my next novel, the one I've chosen to take with me on a brief vacation we're taking with Miss Goddess's family in a few days. I've chosen The Solitudes, by John Crowley, whom I consider to be one of the great overlooked American writers of the past few decades. I actually read this novel fifteen or so years ago, but didn't really get into it. I'm hoping that the intervening years (and the fact that the main character is a professional academic) will have rendered it more to my tastes. I'll let you know.

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Outside of a dog...

2008-06-03T13:51:22.384-05:00

A clarification

2008-05-26T20:56:47.117-05:00

In my last post, I said that I don't really "get" postmodern approaches to medieval literature. After reading this tired and, at times, insulting (even to me) critique of the "po-mo desert" of this year's Kalamazoo, however, I'm sorry I said anything of the sort.

Let me be as clear as I can: sometimes I find the excesses of postmodernism to be silly. Twenty years ago, I found the excesses of New Criticism to be silly. And, like all normal people who spend any time at all with medieval thought, I find the excesses of scholasticism to be a downright hoot. It's the excess that I object to, in other words, not the postmodernism. I have no doubt that some of the papers that Allen pokes fun at in her article were as ridiculous as she thinks they are; in a conference of more than 1500 papers, some are going to be pretty bad. But I have a feeling that Allen is taking cheap shots here, finding titles that more traditional scholars (and, especially, non-scholars) would laugh at easily. The paragraphs on "waste studies" are good examples. Allen seems to be saying, "Can you believe that these crazy scholars spend their valuable time talking about shit?" But though I'm not particularly interested in the medieval attitude toward waste, I can think of no good reason to--pardon the pun--dispose of it a priori as a topic of study.

And I was borderline offended by some of the insinuations in the article. It's fine to point out that the "superstars" of medieval studies don't come to Kalamazoo (though I question the accuracy of the statement; I've seen many scholars I consider to be superstars at Kalamazoo). But Allen seems also to be saying that what she sees as the poor quality of the papers at Kalamazoo is a reflection of the mediocrity of the scholars who present there, people she refers to at one point as "bottom-feeding assistant professors and at-sea graduate students." Nice. She also argues that the proliferation of papers in the area of medieval literature (as opposed to medieval history, apparently) is a big part of the problem. As a scholar of medieval literature working at a (shudder) community college, I can only imagine what Allen thinks of me. [NOTE: as others have pointed out, Allen, as a Ph.D. student at Catholic Univeristy, is hardly one of the "superstars" she seems to be miss at Kalamazoo].

The most interesting thing about Allen's article, however, is the effect it had on me. Granted, I'm not part of her target audience (which consists, I suppose, largely of casual, non-medievalist intellectuals of a conservative bent), but I found that the article had exactly the opposite effect to the one she intended: it made me wish I was there. Much of Allen's characterization is dead on, of course. The number of papers at the conference is ludicrous. The dorm rooms are torturous. The dance is absurd. But these are the things that make Kalamazoo what it is. It's unlike any other conference in the world. And it's ours.

Priorities

2008-05-18T21:59:11.736-05:00

Into the lion's mouth

2008-05-02T21:08:13.792-05:00

Earlier today, I was elected President of the Faculty Council at HHCC for the 2008-2009 school year. We have no union and no Faculty Senate, so the Council serves as the representative body for the faculty at large. As President of the Council, then, I am now the primary spokesperson for the faculty. I'll be meeting weekly (at least) with the Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs and monthly (at least) with the college President. I'll also be attending all Board of Trustees meetings, as well as meetings of a couple of college committees on which the Council President serves in an ex officio capacity. And the part I'm most looking forward to is the inevitable regular drop-ins to my office by disgruntled faculty members [read "cranks"], of which there is no shortage at HHCC.

So all in all, I'd say it was a good day. Sigh.

Oh, by the way: my guess is that the content of this blog may, from time to time, reflect the, shall we say, concerns of my new office. I'll try to keep the rants to a minimum, but I can't promise anything.

Nine kinds of wrong

2008-04-30T06:35:28.621-05:00

Near the beginning of my career in academia, I used to worry about administrators who seemed out of touch with the classroom. Every fall, the faculty here at HHCC would file into the auditorium to listen the then-President's "State of the College" speech, in which he would outline the exciting changes happening or about to happen on our campus. One of my most common complaints about these speeches was that they rarely mentioned classroom instruction at all. The President would talk about construction plans, retention strategies, and reorganizational schemes, but he never really talked about teaching. What we needed, I would claim, was a President who was directly engaged with what goes on in classes, with the real work of the college.

Oh, to be that young and naive again.

I have since realized the truth that the faculty at the University of Toledo is living through at the moment: administrators with opinions about teaching are a faculty's worst nightmare. I have to say, though, that the claptrap coming out of the head and mouth of UT President Lloyd Jacobs surprised even me.

Look. I'm a fan of student-centered learning. I can buy into the concept of Distance Learning. I even said, at the interview for the position I've held for the past ten years, that failure to embrace instructional technology was "unconscionable"(remember, I was very young then). But when a college President starts throwing around phrases like "extreme student-centeredness" (remember when "extreme" meant going too far?) and "mass customization" (to be honest, I still can't make this phrase make sense), somebody needs to pull the plug.

If you haven't heard yet, you can help pull this particular plug by signing an online petition created by those interested in saving the idea of the Liberal Arts (the initials of which should always be capitalized, like the names of other religions) at the University of Toledo. Signing the petition is a statement that you oppose the Burger King approach to education ("have it your way"), the diminution of the Liberal Arts, the continued fetishization of assessment as panacea for all of academia's ills, and, most importantly, phrases like "mass customization." Still can't get my mind around that one.

I have arrived

2008-04-22T22:59:17.608-05:00

I feel like an honest-to-goodness grown-up blogger today. The reason: this morning I received my first spam comment!!! I feel a bit like Sally Field accepting her Oscar: they like me; they really like me! Or at least they see my tiny corner of the blogosphere as a worthwhile place to try to sell paper shredders. In Portuguese.

The comment, which I haven't deleted (and which I bet a few of you have seen before) reads as follows:

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Fragmentadora de Papel, I hope you enjoy. The address is http://fragmentadora-de-papel.blogspot.com. A hug.

There are many points here worth exploring, it seems to me. There's the obviously fractured English, not surprising given the Portguese origin. There's the unusual ending, in which a complete stranger with an apparent fixation on paper shredders offers me a hug. There's the slightly offensive suggestion that I should be congratulated on being interesting; perhaps I'm immodest, but I like to think that I'm interesting on a fairly regular basis and that being so is hardly reason for congratulations.

But what I really find fascinating is the fact that, for just a second anyway, I thought the comment was genuine. My Portuguese is pretty weak, sure, but I have to admit that I originally guessed that the "Fragmentadora de Papel" was some kind of early Medieval Spanish manuscript fragment. Maybe about...the Pope? I was actually kinda excited to read the blog. Imagine my disappointment.

Be honest, now: this episode marks me irrevocably as a Medieval Geek, doesn't it?

Oh, and I almost forgot.

A hug.

How much medieval is too much?

2008-04-17T06:54:01.102-05:00

Trying to escape the inevitable

2008-04-03T06:45:48.943-05:00

Getting it Wrong

2008-03-28T11:12:34.026-05:00