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Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

CommonShore posted:

I just finished a 5 year stretch teaching in that kind of garbage too. The scary part is that the administration would claim that it is like that everywhere and that actually they were giving us more freedom than most places as they locked things down in more rules and pointless red tape.

Took a pay cut to get out. Very happy with my decision so far.

I'll bet.

Just so we're clear: there's nothing wrong with design criteria, and the ones that don longjohns mentioned aren't especially unreasonable. The "eight hours of homework" is roughly in line with Federal Credit Hour Guidelines for a four-credit class that has three hours of seat time, and 6000 words (~20 pages) of formal, revised writing is about the standard for first-year composition sequences.

There is something wrong with not reaching out to -- and supporting -- your junior instructors, or with design guidelines that leave your instructors feeling constrained instead of inspired. Learning goals and design criteria are supposed to generate good ideas, not shut them down.

If I were teaching a comp course online right now, I'd be all about the Forward Looking Assessments -- that is, creating real-world contexts for course-related issues, problems, or questions, and building writing assignment around that.

Suppose we had a First-Year comp course on Texas. If you say that every FY course has to write 6000 words, you'll get a lot of assignments that are just different versions of "compare and contrast the economies of Singapore and Vietnam."

But if you embed that same thinking process in a real work issue, you can get something like this:

quote:

In a last, desperate shot at profitability, WeWork has decided to open a facility in the state of Texas. They believe that the social distancing and other requirements imposed by government responses to COVID-19 provide them with a unique opportunity to design and build a shared working space that could safely accommodate workers who have been squeezed out of nearby office buildings thanks to pandemic restrictions, or workers who have been furloughed, laid off, or fired and have decided to go into business for themselves.

WeWork has hired your company to recommend where to open this facility. Based on factors including -- but not limited to -- local regulatory environments, the number of workers seeking office space, and perceived market interest, write them a short (3000-word) recommendation.

I'd want to salt this with details (like how many clients WeWork would need to make their facility profitable), and add something that would help break the whitepaper assignment down into individual pieces for each group member, and of course you need a rubric, but you get the idea. Embed an open-ended question in a real-world context and you get an assignment that's friendly to collaboration, resistant to academic dishonesty, and that moves everything into "analyze/synthesize/evaluate" territory. Should be a win all around.

At the college administration level: show your junior instructors how to do this, and they'll come up with assignment ideas for hours. I used to do three days of instructor training every Summer, and about 1 1/2 days of it was working time where instructors could develop those ideas in the company of our Teaching and Learning Consultants. I'd follow that up by checking in with each comp instructor every couple weeks, doing lunches for the new people, and so on.

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Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

tildes posted:

This is so insightful! I hadn’t thought about the interplay between character and setting situation in these terms before at all. Clearly I need to get around to reading your textbook!

Don't sweat too hard over it. I had to cut the chapter on situation from the final version -- which is a shame because It's a Wonderful Life is such a neat example of it.

Once I'm through this round of edits I'll get another ebook version posted for, you know, review and feedback purposes.

don longjohns
Mar 2, 2012



Brainworm posted:

I'll bet.

Just so we're clear: there's nothing wrong with design criteria, and the ones that don longjohns mentioned aren't especially unreasonable. The "eight hours of homework" is roughly in line with Federal Credit Hour Guidelines for a four-credit class that has three hours of seat time, and 6000 words (~20 pages) of formal, revised writing is about the standard for first-year composition sequences.

There is something wrong with not reaching out to -- and supporting -- your junior instructors, or with design guidelines that leave your instructors feeling constrained instead of inspired. Learning goals and design criteria are supposed to generate good ideas, not shut them down.

If I were teaching a comp course online right now, I'd be all about the Forward Looking Assessments -- that is, creating real-world contexts for course-related issues, problems, or questions, and building writing assignment around that.

Suppose we had a First-Year comp course on Texas. If you say that every FY course has to write 6000 words, you'll get a lot of assignments that are just different versions of "compare and contrast the economies of Singapore and Vietnam."

But if you embed that same thinking process in a real work issue, you can get something like this:


I'd want to salt this with details (like how many clients WeWork would need to make their facility profitable), and add something that would help break the whitepaper assignment down into individual pieces for each group member, and of course you need a rubric, but you get the idea. Embed an open-ended question in a real-world context and you get an assignment that's friendly to collaboration, resistant to academic dishonesty, and that moves everything into "analyze/synthesize/evaluate" territory. Should be a win all around.

At the college administration level: show your junior instructors how to do this, and they'll come up with assignment ideas for hours. I used to do three days of instructor training every Summer, and about 1 1/2 days of it was working time where instructors could develop those ideas in the company of our Teaching and Learning Consultants. I'd follow that up by checking in with each comp instructor every couple weeks, doing lunches for the new people, and so on.

We used to have communities of practice before corona. I miss those.

I've gotten the sentiment from other instructors that, because our students didn't choose to learn online, it's better to not confuse them with new, interesting assignments and just go with "what works". Like, they even gave me a skeleton course for Canvas that was in a "weekly discussion + weekly response" format. A majority of the teaching support has been on the tech side, because a lot of instructors are not familiar with the technology. As well, the whole school had to go full ADA compliant, which we were teetering on the edge of, so all videos have to be captioned etc. and since I am required to lecture... making and captioning videos takes up the bulk of my "preparation" time, now. I work the same number of hours as a full-time faculty member, and they keep giving me classes that full-time faculty are supposed to teach, but paying me less because I don't have a PhD.

I think I, like other teachers, am just at my absolute limit. I used to assign creative projects. My students used to research current events and make reports for their classmates to educate each other. We used to do fun poo poo. Now it's, "Read this depressing article about how college costs a lot and write a response" and while I do think people learn from that model, it's kind of a drag.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

don longjohns posted:

We used to have communities of practice before corona. I miss those.

I can dig it. I ended my term as Director of our Teaching and Learning Center last year (meaning at the end of May 2020), and ran our Communities of Practice sessions as Zoom meetings. Sometimes they were boozy lunches. Sometimes we played Administrative Email Bingo.

Also, I got more deliberate about assigning our Junior Faculty to smaller (three or four person) mentorship groups. The idea was that smaller groups could check in with each other on the reg. Those aren't substitutes for CoPs, but they really do help.

quote:

I've gotten the sentiment from other instructors that, because our students didn't choose to learn online, it's better to not confuse them with new, interesting assignments and just go with "what works". Like, they even gave me a skeleton course for Canvas that was in a "weekly discussion + weekly response" format.

I can understand the sentiment. The question is always, "works how?" Like most types of design, assignment design lets you optimize for one or two things. You need to decide what those things are.

I suspect that when your co-workers say "what works," they mean "what minimizes preparation time," which is totally sensible if everybody's scrambling to learn their way around a CMS, captioning videos, and so on. But if that's what people want to do, it's better to say so explicitly and then optimize cleverly.

For instance: Potluck course design (where you co-design a course with a few other people, and each one writes assignments/criteria for one unit), assignment banks, and so on can all reduce the number of assignments you need to design from scratch.

On the back end, well-written rubrics and 3/2/1 marking can really speed up grading. (3/2/1 marking means reducing the number of possible scores by using a low-point rubric and a multiplier, so that on e.g. a 100-point paper, the only possible scores are, like, 100, 85, 70, 55, or 0. That keeps your feedback from needing to justify the difference between a 95 and a 98).

Anyway. In your course design committee or department chair level, what happens in the classroom -- what works -- ought to consider student retention, too. In order to do that, your program needs to consider the experiences of the students who you ought to retain, but actually lose. (Bear with me: This actually has something to do with course and assignment design).

Once upon a time, our retention rate for adult students was lousy. These were mostly GI Bill students going back to school in their early twenties, living on campus and so on. And the question they always had about themselves is the same question a lot of students from underrepresented groups have: "do people like me belong in college? Do we belong at this college?"

Turns out, FY writing courses are an important part of how students get their answer. Most of our GI Bill students didn't like their High School classes, and so when they got into their FY writing course and got handed a starter pack of five-paragraph essay assignments, they mostly came to the same conclusion: More bullshit. No thanks.

Roughly the same thing can be true for students whose HS education didn't include much writing. Imagine what happens when they're told to write, say, a compare and contrast essay. Everybody in the room -- except for them -- knows exactly what that essay is and what rules it ought to follow. If you're asking yourself whether people like you belong in college, that's as clear a no as you're going to get.

We're a small college -- about 1200 students -- and even here a one-point improvement in first-semester running retention matures into about a half-million dollars of annual revenue.* We can't afford to leave that kind of money on the table.

That one-point improvement means retaining one additional student per seven seminar sections (i.e. an average of 1/7th of a student per section). It also means that one bad instructor (or one regularly underperforming section) can cost you a lot of money.

quote:

A majority of the teaching support has been on the tech side, because a lot of instructors are not familiar with the technology. As well, the whole school had to go full ADA compliant, which we were teetering on the edge of, so all videos have to be captioned etc. and since I am required to lecture... making and captioning videos takes up the bulk of my "preparation" time, now.

If it helps: The advice I gave, which our office says is ADA compliant, is to write your lectures in advance and post what you write on the CMS (i.e. create handouts and then lecture by reading directly from them). Nobody wants to write their lectures in advance, but it is much faster even than correcting automatically-generated CCs. I did this in the Spring partly because I had some students who couldn't reliably stream video.

quote:

I work the same number of hours as a full-time faculty member, and they keep giving me classes that full-time faculty are supposed to teach, but paying me less because I don't have a PhD.

If there's an "emergency" need for you to teach a course, absolutely ask for more money. Especially now, and especially if you're talking to someone in an interim position (like an interim dean, chair, or program director). The more overwhelmed an administrator feels, the more willing they are to throw money at a problem in order to make it go away.

So create conditions under which they can say yes quickly. This usually means making a big ask using a small dollar amount. E.g. "I need to raise my compensation by $500 per course" is better than "I need to raise my annual contract by $4000."

quote:

I think I, like other teachers, am just at my absolute limit. I used to assign creative projects. My students used to research current events and make reports for their classmates to educate each other. We used to do fun poo poo. Now it's, "Read this depressing article about how college costs a lot and write a response" and while I do think people learn from that model, it's kind of a drag.

It is definitely a drag, and it shouldn't be.

When things get complicated, I like to remind myself why I do this. When things are really tough -- as they have been this Fall -- that can take a while. This year, it took weeks.

But it's been worth it. It's easy to lose track of what's most important -- what you ought to be optimizing for -- in your teaching, writing, and service. Reminding myself helps me decide what not to do when (like now) it seems like everybody's asking for everything. It also helps me stay hopeful.


*That's three students per year, maturing at a running total of 12 students, at $40K per year.

don longjohns
Mar 2, 2012



Thank you for taking the time to write me back.

The one time I tried to do that assignment potluck you mentioned (did that in my graduate teaching apprenticeship and it was so much fun!!!!), the full-timers I asked handed me their syllabi. It was kind of heart-breaking. I loving love collaborative teaching. I have so much trouble coming up with ideas alone in my tiny, cramped apartment. I NEED to talk to someone else about what I'm doing and get feedback. You know. Like a person! I've tried to get some collab going, but so far everyone has kind of been like, "That sounds fun! I don't have time but I put some videos up on our shared collaborative teacher site!" But that is... not the same! I think the worst myth my job has fallen into is the idea that online teaching is just teaching in person, but online. It's not.

I'm just going to keep trying my best.

quote:

I can understand the sentiment. The question is always, "works how?" Like most types of design, assignment design lets you optimize for one or two things. You need to decide what those things are.

I suspect that when your co-workers say "what works," they mean "what minimizes preparation time," which is totally sensible if everybody's scrambling to learn their way around a CMS, captioning videos, and so on. But if that's what people want to do, it's better to say so explicitly and then optimize cleverly.

For instance: Potluck course design (where you co-design a course with a few other people, and each one writes assignments/criteria for one unit), assignment banks, and so on can all reduce the number of assignments you need to design from scratch.

On the back end, well-written rubrics and 3/2/1 marking can really speed up grading. (3/2/1 marking means reducing the number of possible scores by using a low-point rubric and a multiplier, so that on e.g. a 100-point paper, the only possible scores are, like, 100, 85, 70, 55, or 0. That keeps your feedback from needing to justify the difference between a 95 and a 98).

I do this, yes! I grade on a contract, too, so students are required to turn in X number of assignments and all the essays in order to get an A, B, C etc. Most students earn a B with the contract, because I "grade" them on how much work they are willing to put in. I accept late work until the end of a 4-week period, at full credit, and lo and behold, most students would rather submit on-time so they aren't doing a whole bunch of work at the last-minute! And the ones that do wait, inevitably do not meet the assignment requirements and have to do their assignments over. What a concept! I also give oral feedback instead of line comments, and what's AWESOME is students RESPOND BACK TO ME. It's amazing. I love my students so much, even the insane conspiracy theory guy.

quote:

Anyway. In your course design committee or department chair level, what happens in the classroom -- what works -- ought to consider student retention, too. In order to do that, your program needs to consider the experiences of the students who you ought to retain, but actually lose. (Bear with me: This actually has something to do with course and assignment design).

Once upon a time, our retention rate for adult students was lousy. These were mostly GI Bill students going back to school in their early twenties, living on campus and so on. And the question they always had about themselves is the same question a lot of students from underrepresented groups have: "do people like me belong in college? Do we belong at this college?"

Turns out, FY writing courses are an important part of how students get their answer. Most of our GI Bill students didn't like their High School classes, and so when they got into their FY writing course and got handed a starter pack of five-paragraph essay assignments, they mostly came to the same conclusion: More bullshit. No thanks.

Roughly the same thing can be true for students whose HS education didn't include much writing. Imagine what happens when they're told to write, say, a compare and contrast essay. Everybody in the room -- except for them -- knows exactly what that essay is and what rules it ought to follow. If you're asking yourself whether people like you belong in college, that's as clear a no as you're going to get.

We're a small college -- about 1200 students -- and even here a one-point improvement in first-semester running retention matures into about a half-million dollars of annual revenue.* We can't afford to leave that kind of money on the table.

That one-point improvement means retaining one additional student per seven seminar sections (i.e. an average of 1/7th of a student per section). It also means that one bad instructor (or one regularly underperforming section) can cost you a lot of money.

Congratulations We recently got our numbers up after AB705 (TL;DR: no more "remedial" courses) and the students that would have been funneled in to remedials are in our "mainstream" classes and we didn't take a numbers dip beyond what was already expected. Proportionately, our retention in some areas either stayed the same or increased.

Oddly, however, we haven't talked much about course design in our dept. meetings. Our full-time faculty are on the curriculum development committee, and while part-time faculty are "welcome", we do not get paid for that time. Plus, a lot of people just kind of go along with whatever one particular faculty member says, so there's very little debate.

Most of our challenge students are students with severe anxiety disorders, and some atypical learners and people with TBIs. We've got people who just came out of the local prison, and folk who were abandoned by their families for one reason or another and just got housing. And a lot of homeless students. We serve a really underprivileged population. Hell, I work two jobs and my husband works full-time, and we still can't afford to move out of our 600 sq ft 1 bedroom apartment that's full of ants and mold, so I'm including myself in that, as well.

quote:

If it helps: The advice I gave, which our office says is ADA compliant, is to write your lectures in advance and post what you write on the CMS (i.e. create handouts and then lecture by reading directly from them). Nobody wants to write their lectures in advance, but it is much faster even than correcting automatically-generated CCs. I did this in the Spring partly because I had some students who couldn't reliably stream video.

Believe it or not, the auto generated CCs are actually pretty good. I've been learning to speak a little slower and enunciate more, and not use so many reduced forms and phrasal verbs. I take notes before I make a video, for sure, but writing the lecture out would add another block of time on top. The videos bug me because it runs counter to my teaching style. I usually lecture when I see a need for students to have a gap filled. Like, if more than five students have a lot of comma splices, we should probably talk about that. If more than one student misinterpreted the reading, we should talk about that. Etc. I do not plan, at the start of the semester, to lecture on any one particular topic aside from the Research Arc, because most students are not going to be good researchers at the start of a FY college English class. At least not by the college's standards.

Making PDFs compliant is a nest of snakes I'm not even going to get in to. I spent the majority of my prep time on that, now. We have a department who could technically do it, but they can't afford to pay them and they know teachers will do it lol so we have been.

quote:

If there's an "emergency" need for you to teach a course, absolutely ask for more money. Especially now, and especially if you're talking to someone in an interim position (like an interim dean, chair, or program director). The more overwhelmed an administrator feels, the more willing they are to throw money at a problem in order to make it go away.

So create conditions under which they can say yes quickly. This usually means making a big ask using a small dollar amount. E.g. "I need to raise my compensation by $500 per course" is better than "I need to raise my annual contract by $4000."

I'm an anxious, non-confrontational person outside of my classroom (BLESS YOU, STAGE HEALTH), but when it comes to admin I will stick up for myself because they will just take and take without giving a dime back. I mentioned that I should be being paid for the class, on par with a full-timer.

"There's no money. Do you need some time-management classes?"

WOW, OKAY. I have never been so insulted as a professional. Time management classes? To take more of my time? No thanks! Um, hey, which one of you use to spend 6 hours a semester grading over 100 papers? Oh? None of you? Then gently caress off. This was from a FACULTY member, and then my admin confirmed: no money, sorry, bye bye. The only two faculty who were sympathetic were the two who spent that 6 hours with me. I know it sounds pompous, but I'm worth more than what they pay me. I work my rear end off. I answer emails late at night, and I can workshop ANY problem with a student. I have, so far, only had 10 total students since 2018 fail my classes. 10. I will drag their rear end kicking and screaming across the finish line if I have to.

My colleagues can be really awesome, but the full-timers are happy with their pay (the average between them is 80,000/year, about 4x what I will make this year) and they don't want to rock the boat on our behalf. That's my perception anyway. And, so far, only staff and associate faculty have taken a pay cut since the pandemic. No full-timers or admin, beyond going on temporary leave or reduced course loads. They've laid off custodial and reduced office, which makes sense since no one's at our campus, but not a single Dean, Associate Dean, not the President--none of them have had their pay reduced. Because they know: once it's reduced and they still work for that amount, it will never go up again. And I know that's what's going to happen to associates. They'll keep our pay at this level when we go back.

"I'm not bitter! I'm not bitter!" I scream, as I shrink and transform into a crab!

quote:

It is definitely a drag, and it shouldn't be.

When things get complicated, I like to remind myself why I do this. When things are really tough -- as they have been this Fall -- that can take a while. This year, it took weeks.

But it's been worth it. It's easy to lose track of what's most important -- what you ought to be optimizing for -- in your teaching, writing, and service. Reminding myself helps me decide what not to do when (like now) it seems like everybody's asking for everything. It also helps me stay hopeful.

Yeah. When things got rough, I just focused harder on meeting the needs of students. I started ignoring meetings and other faculty, and spent that time reading through Forum posts and asking follow-up questions; responding to student questions on feedback; adding cutesy, fun videos to each week; sending out motivational announcements; and also coming here and yakking everyone's eyes off about how sad I am.

I loving love my job. I love it. I really do. Like every other teacher, though, it's just... this is the harder I've ever worked for the least amount of pay I've ever received for any job, ever.

I really shouldn't have spent the time to write this post, but I'm a student forever and if a teacher responds to your question, you should write a pages-long essay replying.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

don longjohns posted:


[...] I'm an anxious, non-confrontational person outside of my classroom (BLESS YOU, STAGE HEALTH), but when it comes to admin I will stick up for myself because they will just take and take without giving a dime back. I mentioned that I should be being paid for the class, on par with a full-timer.

"There's no money. Do you need some time-management classes?" [...]

Well, then.

I'ma make a couple observations that are probably obvious to you, but that ought to be made regardless.

1) Your executives are a basket of snakes. There are better and worse ways to do pay cuts, but the minimum standard for decency is flat-rate cuts across the board. For instance: We just suspended employer retirement contributions for the year, which hit everybody at 8%.

We also took the next step on the path to decency and lowered the reduction for lower-income employees so that e.g. people making less that $50K saw a 4% reduction and people making less than $40K didn't take a reduction at all.

That's not good. A good administration doesn't need to do pay cuts, because they do the more important job of keeping the College in the black. But if they're going to be fuckups, they can at least be compassionate.

2) Your priorities aren't aligned with your administration's. The whole point of managers (academic or otherwise) is to identify and reward good performance.

The way they see it, good performance from you means teaching huge range of classes on short notice. They want you to be dependable and versatile. They don't care whether your class is good -- just that it's good enough. They're basically using you as insurance.

You probably think about your own performance in terms of, you know, how well you teach the actual classes, and whether students like you classes, and learn in them, and stay in college as a result.

There are a few ways to deal with that kind of mismatch. If you're willing to play your administration's game -- be good by being versatile and dependable -- great. Your path to promotion and fabulous wealth is being able to pick up any course that someone else in the department drops.

If you're not gonna play along, your best choice is probably to teach someplace else. There's such a thing as irreconcilable differences.

don longjohns
Mar 2, 2012



I think you are right, but I have wanted this job for a long time. I am so sad it's turned out this way. I hope I feel differently whenever we are able to go back in person, but I don't know how to trust my admin anymore.

I checked the Faculty Association of Community Colleges last week and man... I made less than 27K last year, and I worked over 40 hours a week, on average. Plus driving. Plus met with students on weekends. Plus went to meetings I wasn't obligated to go to, but the only way to get full time status is to understand how the school works so you can jump through all the hoops, which I will never even see because the chances of a full time position opening up in my lifetime are pretty much zilch.

My school's president? Over 230K. He makes 10x what I do. I know he works more. I know his job is to oversee and make huge decisions. I don't think I could do his job. I don't think my job is harder. But I also feel like if he and the admin below him make that much and were unwilling to take a pay cut, then why are they feeding us bullshit about making sacrifices? I'm venting. It's unconstructive, but being alone with very little contact with coworkers is making my wheels spin.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

don longjohns posted:

I think you are right, but I have wanted this job for a long time. I am so sad it's turned out this way. I hope I feel differently whenever we are able to go back in person, but I don't know how to trust my admin anymore.

I checked the Faculty Association of Community Colleges last week and man... I made less than 27K last year, and I worked over 40 hours a week, on average. Plus driving. Plus met with students on weekends. Plus went to meetings I wasn't obligated to go to, but the only way to get full time status is to understand how the school works so you can jump through all the hoops, which I will never even see because the chances of a full time position opening up in my lifetime are pretty much zilch.

This is pretty bad. Actually, it's really bad. There's a lot that goes into whether to stay at a job -- it depends on what your partner does, and how much you're attached to the region, and on all kinds of things that don't have anything to do with your actual working conditions.

But don't let the fact that you wanted this job blind you to the problems that it very clearly has.

quote:

My school's president? Over 230K. He makes 10x what I do. I know he works more. I know his job is to oversee and make huge decisions. I don't think I could do his job. I don't think my job is harder. But I also feel like if he and the admin below him make that much and were unwilling to take a pay cut, then why are they feeding us bullshit about making sacrifices? I'm venting. It's unconstructive, but being alone with very little contact with coworkers is making my wheels spin.

Part of this is, you know, the way of the world. You're not going to find a college where the President doesn't make ten times as much as a part time instructor. But you can find a college where your administration and your president are trustworthy, where they share out pay cuts from top to bottom, and where they don't let departments use empty, implicit promises of a better future to abuse adjuncts and part-timers in the present.

I get that you're venting, and that higher ed. is a mess. You do have some options. One generally-underexplored option is teaching at a private school -- I don't mean that local Catholic, where the pay is garbage. I mean a real private -- the kids that boards students and has a full on, multiple-building campus. My sister's an artist, and that's her day job. It pays better than most Colleges. When she was at Lake Forest Academy, she was making about $75K plus free on-campus room and board (in a faculty house). That's at least as much as I'm making now.

Private HS jobs take some footwork, and there aren't many good ones outside the orbits of big cities (there's nothing in e.g. Toledo). They have headhunters -- the most well-known is Southern Teachers -- but like most headhunters (or agents) they aren't going to do a lot of footwork on your behalf.

don longjohns
Mar 2, 2012



Talking this over in the forum gave me the courage to come to other faculty with this issue. I have tried to bring it up in other meetings, and was pushed aside for other issues and promised it would be "discussed at another time". It never was. Today, finally, halfway through the semester, the associate faculty were able to meet, just us, and discuss pay cuts, etc.

Turns out, technically, no one has taken a pay cut. While they cut our Office Hour program, which was about $1200 a semester and nothing to sneeze at, they increased our pay to 74% parity with full time faculty. I knew this already. What I did NOT know, and what was never communicated to me, was that this, according to an associate faculty member on the committee, was not a result of the pandemic. I knew that the office hour program was on the chopping block before the pandemic, but they cut it LITERALLY right after it started. According to this faculty member, who I believe and trust, this was just a really, really unhappy coincidence. It had already been put through, got lost in the panic, and no one was informed until mid-summer. Essentially, that resulted in a reduction of about 5 - 7% of my pay a semester, which is a lot of money for me because I make less than $10K a semester right now due to a reduced course load (and getting late-start classes which you get paid less for, which is BALONEY).

So basically we took, functionally, a pay cut, not as a result of the pandemic, but nothing else was cut AFTER the pay cut. We, and no one above or below us in pay, has taken a cut. We might have to.

But the one thing they assured me of, which I would have NEVER known to ask about if it weren't for this forum, was that in the past, when cuts were necessary for the college to stay open and serving the community, pay cuts started at the top, and went down, just like you said. I have never been more relieved to hear about pay cuts!!! I almost started crying, I was so relieved. Furthermore, whenever pay was returned to normal, everyone received back pay for the time their pay was cut. Again, ENORMOUS relief. What's more, everyone was really kind that I had no idea, because this all happened about 5 years before I ever worked there, and it is a REALLY emotionally painful time that no one wants to talk about, so they weren't surprised I didn't know.

I would never, ever have asked these questions if I hadn't come here and bitched about them first. Do I feel ignorant and silly that I didn't know any of this? Yes, but that's because I have pretty severe social anxiety. They were understanding and kind about that, too.

I still have a lot of problems, don't get me wrong. My school is not perfect. They definitely take advantage of associate faculty, just like pretty much every part-time worker is taken advantage of. In my mind, we should only exist as a voluntary position, not as the default. I should be a full-time instructor, with benefits. The only differences between me and a full-time instructor are 1) no PhD and 2) I'm only allowed to teach 30 units over two semesters and 3) I am not obligated to serve on two committees (but I do this anyway because, like all teachers, I have "flex" (free labor, basically) I have to complete every semester for prof. development, and also, like I'm NOT gonna serve on my union? Give me a loving break). So yes, still problems. But at least I and other faculty are fighting to make those changes, and I'm glad to know my fellow faculty don't put up with this bullshit, and are fighting with me, even if we're all distanced and everything's terrible and exhausting right now.

Again, thank you so much for responding to me. I know how tiring your job must be. I've worked a full course load of 5 4-unit classes before, and it's loving BACK BREAKING work, so the fact that you took the time to respond to me when I hadn't even gotten answers from my admin yet is really touching. The comradeship from fellow teachers is my favorite part of this job, aside from one-on-one time with students and their writing

I feel relief. Still gonna look for other work. Still gonna pursue my stupid-rear end dream of publishing a book with a big-5 publisher, but I feel SO MUCH better today.

Eason the Fifth
Apr 9, 2020


Is there a difference of meaning between (for example) "The contract will be ending soon" and "The contract will end soon" and "The contract ends soon"? If I was editing the first example I'd make it into the third example over the second just on the idea of removing needless words, but I'm not sure if doing so would change any subtlety of meaning.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Eason the Fifth posted:

Is there a difference of meaning between (for example) "The contract will be ending soon" and "The contract will end soon" and "The contract ends soon"? If I was editing the first example I'd make it into the third example over the second just on the idea of removing needless words, but I'm not sure if doing so would change any subtlety of meaning.

Well, it depends on what you mean by "difference." There's always a difference. Whether the difference matters depends on who you're writing or talking to (or to whom you're writing or talking, if you're writing or talking to a dusty-crotched grammar snood).

Grammatically, the differences between these three phrases is down to verb tense:

The contract will be ending soon is future continuous.
The contract will end soon is the simple future tense.
The contract ends soon is the simple present tense.

It might seem weird to use the present tense to talk about future events, but we do it all the time. My next dentist appointment is next Wednesday. He is to be married in September. When we do that -- that is, talk about future events using the present tense -- what we're really doing is talking about our current understanding of, or preexisting agreements about, what is to happen. When you say "The contract ends soon," you're implying that this is by prior arrangement.

That could matter as soon as you get to an expression complex enough to require a but or a however, in which case you might use a change in verb tense to emphasize the difference between the current situation or agreement and the things that will actually happen in the future. For instance,

a) The contract ends today, but we will abide by its terms until the end of the year.
b) The contract ends today, but we will be invoicing against it for at least five years.
c) The contract ends today but, because of a recent court decision, we will be extending it until December 25th.

I wouldn't write "the contract ends today, but we abide by its terms until the end of the year" unless the contract itself specified that this should be so.

Anyway. I'm on soft ground when I talk grammar, but that's the difference as I see it.

Wallet
Jun 19, 2006



Brainworm posted:

When you say "The contract ends soon," you're implying that this is by prior arrangement.

[...]

Anyway. I'm on soft ground when I talk grammar, but that's the difference as I see it.

I agree with all of this I think (with all of the non-existent value my agreement offers). To me the future continuous has additional implications because the contract being in a state of ending is not the same as the contract having ended. The contract might be ending for an entire month while things are adjusted to account for its actual end date in the same sense that "he will be dying soon" means something different from "he will be dead soon".

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Wallet posted:

[...] To me the future continuous has additional implications because the contract being in a state of ending is not the same as the contract having ended. The contract might be ending for an entire month while things are adjusted to account for its actual end date [...]

That is a really good point.

Eason the Fifth
Apr 9, 2020


Thanks for fielding that one, I appreciate it.

Mushroom Zingdom
Jan 28, 2007


Nap Ghost

Brainworm, here's (what should be) a nice easy one for you. I have always wanted to learn more about the formal structure of grammar. Probably like most native English speakers, I have a very strong intuition for what 'sounds right' that's served me well over the years, but I could probably not diagram a sentence to save my life. I suspect that it would make be a slightly better technical writer by letting me analyze sentences with more lucidity and precision-- it probably wouldn't hurt with learning a second language, too. Stuff like the way you were able to dissect the subtle connotative meanings between the different tenses a few posts up. Any recommendations for a good resource aimed at native English speakers who want to just finally sit down and learn all of this stuff? Or should I just hit up resources intended for an ESL audience (given that I'm starting from 0% with formal knowledge and 100% with practical knowledge), and use the fact I know the language as a bedrock tool to verify new rules against intuition?

dirby
Sep 21, 2004


Mushroom Zingdom posted:

I have always wanted to learn more about the formal structure of grammar.

Is your primary goal to "analyze sentences [and maybe help with] learning a second language" or to "be a slightly better technical writer"?

For the former, I'd say study basic linguistics (maybe get an old version of the Language Files textbook? Or ask The Linguistics Megathread for recommendations?). For the latter, other people (like Brainworm?) probably have some recommendations.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

dirby posted:

Is your primary goal to "analyze sentences [and maybe help with] learning a second language" or to "be a slightly better technical writer"?

[...] For the latter, other people (like Brainworm?) probably have some recommendations.

What I know (or know enough to look up) has been cobbled together from leisure reading Fowler's Modern English Usage and so on. I wouldn't recommend that. It's like reading the dictionary.

dirby's books make sense to me. Also, a colleague pointed me to Swan's Practical English Usage. It seems like the kind of book you're looking for.

The only other thing I can add is that linguistics, as a discipline, isn't really about cultivating the discernment of expression you'd look for in a technical writer. If I understand correctly, you want a book that's going to explain the differences between e.g. "less" and "fewer" or "to begin" and "to start."

12Apr1961
Dec 7, 2013


Brainworm posted:

But there's a non-obvious reason that these books might get worse: a well-told story relies on highly-technical but natural-feeling relationships between characters and what most people call "setting." It's hard to overstate how important, and how deliberate, those relationships are. You can't just take a set of characters, set them up with a new adventure, and expect to write a story worth reading.

...

So -- TL;DR -- what might be happening in your series, and in series like them, is that characters who are well-defined in one story world (situation) might lose definition in others. If that happens, characters are gonna start feeling redundant, or discontinuous, or their choices are going to feel non-sensical, or the events of their stories will end without their having well-structured revelations.

Hi, Brainworm!

I've been thinking on and re-reading your earlier post quoted above, and it resonated with what I felt about some sequels I've read. Specifically, The Lies of Locke Lamora, a beautiful novel, was followed by rather disappointing sequels. Though they inherited the same main character, they did not inherit any of the setting, which was a major part of the first novel's charm, and made the main character tick - he was defined by his relationship to the setting, and taken out, became a generic con man rather than a living being.

But what about stories which are intended to be serialised?

I suppose in modern day, such storytelling happens in episodic TV shows, e.g. "House MD" has to be formulaic, because in hospital, the main character is a brilliant curmudgeon doctor ultimately saving lives, but in any other situation he's just a generic rear end in a top hat.

Historically, some novels were also written in a serialised manner. I'm thinking perhaps Three Musketeers, or Dickens' Pickwick Papers, or Rabelais' Gargantua / Pantagruel cycle, perhaps?

How do authors create characters and situations for such storytelling? Are these characters doomed to be static or have to live out a Groundhog Day scenario, where each story's circumstances are the same as the last?

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

12Apr1961 posted:

Hi, Brainworm!

I've been thinking on and re-reading your earlier post quoted above, and it resonated with what I felt about some sequels I've read. Specifically, The Lies of Locke Lamora, a beautiful novel, was followed by rather disappointing sequels. Though they inherited the same main character, they did not inherit any of the setting, which was a major part of the first novel's charm, and made the main character tick - he was defined by his relationship to the setting, and taken out, became a generic con man rather than a living being.

But what about stories which are intended to be serialised?

I suppose in modern day, such storytelling happens in episodic TV shows, e.g. "House MD" has to be formulaic, because in hospital, the main character is a brilliant curmudgeon doctor ultimately saving lives, but in any other situation he's just a generic rear end in a top hat.

Historically, some novels were also written in a serialised manner. I'm thinking perhaps Three Musketeers, or Dickens' Pickwick Papers, or Rabelais' Gargantua / Pantagruel cycle, perhaps?

How do authors create characters and situations for such storytelling? Are these characters doomed to be static or have to live out a Groundhog Day scenario, where each story's circumstances are the same as the last?

OK. Here's an answer in two parts.

Serials
I think I want to point out that we're talking about at least two different forms of stories.

The first form involves essentially Shakespearean stories written in installments. The Green Mile, True Grit, Song of Ice and Fire so on. These are stories that have a beginning, middle, and end in the Shakespearean sense: we learn how a character hurts themselves and other people, and stay tuned to see whether they change.

I don't like to generalize about writers' processes, but I'm willing to bet that most of these serializations begin with some kind of outline or plan that covers at least the major beats of the story.

Obviously, Stephen King would swear up and down that Green Mile was not a plotted novel, and that he -- per usual -- followed the truth of his story wherever it might lead. I'm not calling him a liar, exactly, but once you define a story's characters, how they relate to one another, how their situation highlights and defines their various qualities, etc., your story's gotta follow one of very few paths. That's not plotting, but it kind of is.

Anyway. The other form of "serialized" stories involves shows like House, M.D., the Sherlock Holmes stories, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia or Curb Your Enthusiasm. That's storytelling in the Ben Jonson/comedy-of-humors vein. In it, characters have well-defined flaws -- that is, they hurt themselves and other people -- but they never change and we don't expect them to.

That's not, you know, a complete division. You could end a series like House M.D. with an arc in which Greg House has some revelation about his own behavior. But once he has that revelation, and stops hurting himself and other people, his story ends. You can't put him in another story -- a reunion movie, or something like that -- without undoing that revelation. Otherwise, he's an unrecognizable character.

Situation
In both kinds of storytelling, setting -- or what I like to call situation -- highlights and defines characters' qualities. For instance, one situational rule in Sherlock Holmes is that there is a logical explanation for everything. This is what makes Holmes's intellectual torque, encyclopedic knowledge, and attention to detail significant elements of his character. If that rule doesn't hold, Holmes's talents don't matter and the reader feels cheated.

The same kind of thing is true in House, M.D., in which House is just an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes character. No American insurance company would ever authorize consults by a highly-skilled specialist like Dr. House. In a realistic world, most of House's would-be patients die while they're tied up in appeals and litigation. But in the world of House M.D., barriers to health care access are removed so that House's specific talents have the dramatic benefit of saving patients' lives.

One reason I like to use the word situation (instead of setting) is that a writer can change a story's setting just fine. Mac, Dennis, Dee, Frank, and Charlie can go on a road trip, or to the Jersey Shore. Sherlock Holmes can travel to the Baskerville estate. Sethe (in Beloved) can move from Sweet Home to Cincinnati.

That will work fine as long as the situation continues to highlight and define the salient qualities of their characters. Sherlock Holmes can't travel to a floating city where psychics, shamans, or mystics quickly and correctly solve every theft and murder, i.e. where the rule of logic is not in force. Or, rather, he can, but the resulting story isn't a Sherlock Holmes story. But a Sherlock Holmes story could take Holmes to Tokyo, or Brussels, or the moon as long as those places obey the rule of logic.

TL;DR
So I think what I'm saying goes like this:

1) Situation always tells us about characters. It's different from setting. You can change a story's setting without changing its situation -- as long as you know what you're doing. Sequels often fall apart because writers can't either (a) revive a character who has already had a revelation or (b) keep situation mated to character.

2) In some kinds of stories (Shakespearean ones) characters learn how to stop hurting themselves and other people (or they don't learn, and we find out exactly why). In other stories (Jonsonian ones), they play Groundhog Day. They don't change their behavior, and we don't expect them to. Those aren't bad stories. They're just not Shakespearean.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

So the book is done. I took it through one more rewrite and sent the corrected proofs to my publisher (Palgrave) last week.

This is a thank-you note, not self-promotion. The theory* this book uses to make connections between e.g. Hamlet and Star Wars (or Lear and Fences) wouldn't be a thing if it weren't for ten years of posting in this thread.

If you want to buy (pre-order) the book you can do it here. It's also available through Amazon, B&N, or any independent bookstore. If money is an issue, PM me and I'll mail you one (the book, not a bookstore).


* Theory as is "labeled way of thinking," not "jargon-rich critical apparatus."

CommonShore
Jun 6, 2014

A true renaissance man




Congratulations Brainworm

Pascallion
Sep 15, 2003
Man, what the fuck, man?

Congrats! Never posted in the thread before, but I spent Christmas break a few years ago reading the thread from start to finish and it was a strange realization that I was experiencing the chronicle of someone’s life over multiple years filtered through the vein of learning about literary criticism.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Pascallion posted:

Congrats! Never posted in the thread before, but I spent Christmas break a few years ago reading the thread from start to finish and it was a strange realization that I was experiencing the chronicle of someone’s life over multiple years filtered through the vein of learning about literary criticism.

Yeah. Re-reading it is like looking at old photos. I cringe. A lot. Like "Looking at old prom photos" levels.

Brainworm fucked around with this message at 17:41 on Jan 25, 2021

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

EDIT: Nevermind. Don't behold. Dropbox doesn't make it as easy to share images as it used to.

Goon pre-orders made the book Amazon's #1 New Release in Movie Theory.* Amazon is apparently the easiest place to pre-order. My publisher's page is less great.

EDIT #2: And the #1 New Release in Shakespeare Literary Criticism. Suck it, Hamnet.

For those of you who PM'd me for copies: I should have them out to you in April.



*#3 is Paul Noel's Chess Openings for Beginners.

Brainworm fucked around with this message at 00:31 on Jan 26, 2021

Eason the Fifth
Apr 9, 2020


Your advice in this thread a) helped me navigate the neuroses sanitorium that is grad school, and b) got me the best job of my life, which c) allowed me to do cool things like buy a car, get married, and move to the place I wanted to live.

You bet I'm gonna buy that book of yours.

Eason the Fifth fucked around with this message at 20:38 on Jan 25, 2021

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Eason the Fifth posted:

Your advice in this thread a) helped me navigate the neuroses sanitorium that is grad school, and b) got me the best job of my life, which c) allowed me to do cool things like buy a car, get married, and move to the place I wanted to live.

I'm glad this thread helped. Really. It helped me to write it, too.

quote:

You bet I'm gonna buy that book of yours.

Thanks. It's the first thing I've published that I would also want to read. Go forums.

Brainworm fucked around with this message at 22:03 on Jan 27, 2021

NikkolasKing
Apr 3, 2010





Do you have any experience with which "classics" are most hated and any theory on why this might be?

I can only give my experience of talking to nerds online but it was always, always The Scarlet Letter and The Catcher in the Rye that got poo poo on.

I haven't read "Catcher" but TSL, being such symbolism heavy book, seems to fall prey to that old dumb meme about "curtains are blue because sadness when in fact the curtains are jus blue." Maybe kids just don't like symbolism and want the text to be plain?

Flappy Bert
Dec 11, 2011

I have seen the light, and it is a string

How did 'foreshadowing' become such a well-known and (imo) overrated tool? Is there anything too it other than that it's pedagogically simple both for teachers' lesson plans and for the least common denominator of students?

Eason the Fifth
Apr 9, 2020


Got your book in the mail today. It's extremely cool to see some of the ideas you posted here get a developed pass in the text, and the footnote style from the thread works impossibly well. I wish I would've had this as a textbook when I taught creative writing. If you ever get up Boston way for an AWP or something I'd love to buy you a beer.

Eason the Fifth fucked around with this message at 02:03 on Feb 7, 2021

Baron Porkface
Jan 22, 2007




Flappy Bert posted:

How did 'foreshadowing' become such a well-known and (imo) overrated tool? Is there anything too it other than that it's pedagogically simple both for teachers' lesson plans and for the least common denominator of students?

Human cognition is based on pattern recognition.

Silver2195
Apr 4, 2012


NikkolasKing posted:

Do you have any experience with which "classics" are most hated and any theory on why this might be?

I can only give my experience of talking to nerds online but it was always, always The Scarlet Letter and The Catcher in the Rye that got poo poo on.

I haven't read "Catcher" but TSL, being such symbolism heavy book, seems to fall prey to that old dumb meme about "curtains are blue because sadness when in fact the curtains are jus blue." Maybe kids just don't like symbolism and want the text to be plain?

I think a lot of the hate for Catcher in the Rye is directed at the fanbase, so to speak, rather than the book itself.

Silver2195
Apr 4, 2012


im permabanned poster phoneystomper58. i first started reading catcher in the rye when i was about 12. by 14 i got really obsessed with the concept of “authenticity” and tried to channel it constantly, until my thought process got really bizarre and i would repeat things like “society is phoney” and “adults are liars” in my head for hours, and i would get really paranoid, start seeing things in the corners of my eyes etc, basically prodromal schizophrenia. im now on antipsychotics. i always wondered what the kind of “authentic” style of living was all about; i think it’s the unconscious leaking in to the conscious, what jungian theory considered to be the cause of schizophrenic and schizotypal syptoms. i would advise all people who “get” catcher in the rye to be careful because that likely means you have a predisposition to a mental illness. peace.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

NikkolasKing posted:

Do you have any experience with which "classics" are most hated and any theory on why this might be?

I have a little bit of experience and a theory.

I think Silver2195 is on to something with Catcher in the Rye lovers. The kids I know who like that book are a little too much like the dudes I used to know who like Mad Men. They mistake characters' flaws for virtues, and use that as one more license to act insufferable.

Maybe the mother of all hated classics, though, is Moby Dick. Like most hated classics, I think the hate comes less from anything in the book than from the way it's taught. My high school and college experience with Moby was an totally undirected hunt for symbols and "meaning."

The underlying assumption seemed to be that novels were a kind of riddle. Like, add up all the symbols and Biblical references and other namings of parts, and you'll uncover some abstract philosophical statement about the Meaning of the Universe -- which is what any book like Moby Dick is supposedly about. The process is so goddamn stupid that only the most spineless kind of scholarship boy (e.g. me) could have anything but contempt for it.

And that's a shame. Moby Dick -- like Catcher, Scarlet Letter, Handmaid's Tale, Beloved, and other forced marches through the canon -- is genuinely perceptive and funny, right? A typical Melville line is:

quote:

Whether that mattress was stuffed with corn-cobs or broken crockery, there is no telling...

Which is both a nice piece of phrasing and of characterization. Ishmael is a precious little dork who ends up on a whaling vessel. And not just any. The Pequod is a rough-handed island of misfit toys captained by an inept madman. That Ishmael is so blazingly out of place,* and that the crew of the Pequod is so goddamn weird, are close to 100% of the jokes that're supposed to carry a reader through 800 pages of Moby Dick.

You can call Moby the Great American Novel because the Pequod is an absurdist snow globe version of these United States. An updated version might involve a soft-handed English professor working on an oil derrick with a crew of roughnecks straight out of rehab and QAnon. If that doesn't work, think of any Working Boy episode from Confederacy of Dunces.**

But I was never taught it that way. Even in college, it was all a game of "spot the symbol" where nobody -- including the professor -- had any idea about what a symbol was supposed to do. The whole experience flew against e.g. Stephen King's rule that symbols exist to adorn and enrich, not to lend stories a sense of artificial profundity.

My wife's in the lab all weekend (which is our typical situation w/r/t covid) and I'm ripping this out during one of the kids' rare convergent naptimes, so that's the upshot. The only other thing I have to add is that teaching literature really suffers when you don't know, or can't reasonably value, what students are supposed to learn.



* I was going to say "fish out of water comedy" somewhere, which is technically correct but totally insufferable.
** The difference is moral vision: Ishmael and Queequeg and the rest connect with each other on a meaningful, human level. I guess Iggy does this with Myrna, maybe.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Flappy Bert posted:

How did 'foreshadowing' become such a well-known and (imo) overrated tool? Is there anything too it other than that it's pedagogically simple both for teachers' lesson plans and for the least common denominator of students?

God only knows. It's useless.

The thing that people are supposed to be talking about when they use the word "foreshadowing" is the forward, which is a tool that writers use to focus an audience's attention on a specific possibility later in the story.

David Ball has a great discussion of this in Backwards and Forwards. I don't have a lot of time to rehash it here. Ball uses Act I of Hamlet as an example, where everybody who hears about the Ghost is like:

"Did it say anything?"
"Do you think Hamlet can make it speak?"

And so on. And so our expectations are set: the Ghost will say something to Hamlet. We know what's gonna happen, but not how it will come about.

It's the same deal that Stephen King uses about 3/4 of the way through The Stand -- when Stu, Larry, and co. are walking to Vegas a.k.a. Mordor at Mother Abigail's direction. He drops "they never saw Stu Redman again," and we know we're in for a tale. We know what's going to happen, but not how.

The point: Forwards generate that peculiar, focused form of audience attention people call suspense. You've got two badasses at the beginning of a kung-fu movie, that's a forward. We're waiting to see them fight. You've got Ripley piloting the loader at the beginning of Aliens, and that's a forward. We're waiting to see her use it. The Rude Mechanicals rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe in early Midsummer, and that's a forward. We're waiting for their performance. We know it's gonna be hilariously inept, but we don't yet know exactly how. What's cooking smells delicious and so we can't wait to eat.

Well-crafted pieces of storytelling are lousy with forwards, right? So studying them can tell you something about how a piece of storytelling is put together and about how writers manage their audience's attention. Well-crafted forwards mean we never ask why it takes more people to drive a glorified forklift than it does to pilot an interstellar spacecraft, or why Voldemort didn't just stab baby Harry in the face on day zero.

Foreshadowing has gently caress all to do with that. I don't want to spoil every book, movie, or comic book in existence, but they are never about things going well. So yeah, you'll get chapter titles like "The Gathering Storm," but that doesn't tell you anything you don't already know. Of course the storm is gonna gather. What am I reading if it's not?

And so "that's foreshadowing. Something is gonna go sideways," is right up there with "the prose, man, it's so vivid it's like you are there," or "this book's observations about human nature are just, like, so profound." They're perfectly-evolved for classrooms where everybody wants to say something that can't possibly be wrong.

Brainworm
Mar 23, 2007

...one of these--
As he hath spices of them all, not all,
For I dare so far free him--made him fear'd...


Nap Ghost

Eason the Fifth posted:

Got your book in the mail today. It's extremely cool to see some of the ideas you posted here get a developed pass in the text, and the footnote style from the thread works impossibly well. I wish I would've had this as a textbook when I taught creative writing. If you ever get up Boston way for an AWP or something I'd love to buy you a beer.

Thanks! I'm still waiting on my author copies. (No idea why I added that. I'm pretty sure about what's in the book.)

If you know anybody who might want to use it in the classroom, they can get an exam copy here.

Meantime, I'll PM you if I get to Boston. I've got a former student who's at MIT right now (lecturing in a kinda precarious job that's, like, six rungs below the one that he deserves) so there's a growing list of reasons to find a conference up that way.

Wallet
Jun 19, 2006



Brainworm posted:

The only other thing I have to add is that teaching literature really suffers when you don't know, or can't reasonably value, what students are supposed to learn.

One of the things that really blew my mind taking literature courses in college was that the same preoccupations that high school English teachers have with cataloguing the features of literature instead of actually analysing how they work and what they accomplish persists into higher education.

There were a few delightful exceptions, but even at a university with a solid English department I feel confident that three quarters of the professors would feed you some nonsense about "the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man in literature" if you asked them why it's worth studying.

Wallet fucked around with this message at 12:59 on Feb 8, 2021

Toph Bei Fong
Feb 29, 2008

You can't see me at all...



Wallet posted:

One of the things that really blew my mind taking literature courses in college was that the same preoccupations that high school English teachers have with cataloguing the features of literature instead of actually analysing what how they work and what they accomplish persists into higher education.

There were a few delightful exceptions, but even at a university with a solid English department I feel confident that three quarters of the professors would feed you some nonsense about "the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man in literature" if you asked them why it's worth studying.

I think some of this is that a lot of them are just gatekeeping nerds begging to be taken seriously. You can see the same sort of behavior in comic book fans.

For example, Ulysses is a lot of dick jokes, written by a guy who loved loving the farts out of his wife. It's a funny book about a cuckold getting himself out of the house so his wife can continue her affair. And a lot of this is framed in the most deadly serious way, but at the core, it's a series of funny set pieces: a silly teacher gets bullied because he's such a dramatic loser compared to his Chad med school roommate, a guy jacks off to a pretty girl while watching fireworks, the teacher and his buddies have an argument over whether Shakespeare is the greatest author who ever wrote, or the greatest great author who ever lived... The dissonance between the subject matter and the tone is the point. Gravity's Rainbow is a paranoid fantasy about a Harvard doofus who gets caught up in shenanigans because the map of girls he's hosed happens to sync up with a map of rocket bombs dropped on London, which They are convinced means something, even though their math specialist keeps telling them that no, it's just a stupid coincidence. It features, among other things, one of the villains hiding out in a pig costume to escape capture, only to be captured and castrated because They are so incompetent that they're mistaken him for the hero...

Such books can be genuinely fun to read because of the jokes, gags, and other silliness. And sometimes they do have something serious to say (Pynchon is very concerned about the combination and overreach of government and corporate power, for example). But when you need them to mean something so that folks can't make fun of you, well, then you have to talk about how cool Batman is and how dark and serious and unlike the Adam West version his stories are. It's a way of obscuring the piece in such a way that it cannot be criticized, and therefore your liking it is secure from ridicule. It's easier to defend "It's an ineffable testament to the human spirit" compared to "There's a lot of funny dick jokes." This isn't to say that good literature can't be serious or deal with serious topics, but trying to make a work into something it isn't just because you want it to have some greater meaning is a pretty common problem among critics.

Richard Rorty, a famed American philosopher, spoke about this in an essay called Trotsky and the Wild Orchids. Growing up in a Marxist household, he was constantly wracked with guilt over his enjoyment of studying and looking at wild flowers.

quote:

I was not quite sure why those orchids were so important, but I was convinced that they were. I was sure that our noble, pure, chaste, North American wild orchids were morally superior to the showy, hybridized, tropical orchids displayed in florists' shops. I was also convinced that there was a deep significance in the fact that the orchids are the latest and most complex plants to have been developed in the course of evolution. Looking back, I suspect that there was a lot of sublimated sexuality involved (orchids being a notoriously sexy sort of flower), and that my desire to learn all there was to know about orchids was linked to my desire to understand all the hard words in Krafit-Ebing.

I was uneasily aware, however, that there was something a bit dubious about this esotericism – this interest in socially useless flowers. I had read (in the vast amount of spare time given to a clever, snotty, nerdy only child) bits of Marius the Epicurean and also bits of Marxist criticisms of Pater's aestheticism. I was afraid that Trotsky (whose Literature and Revolution I had nibbled at) would not have approved of my interest in orchids.

He eventually comes to the conclusion that flowers and Marxism have nothing to do with one another, and that this is okay. One can enjoy something without tying it to a particular ideology.

quote:

It is the attempt to see yourself as an incarnation of something larger than yourself (the Movement, Reason, the Good, the Holy) rather than accepting your finitude. The latter means, among other things, accepting that what matters most to you may well be something that may never matter much to most people. Your equivalent of my orchids may always seem merely weird, merely idiosyncratic, to practically everybody else. But that is no reason to be ashamed of, or downgrade, or try to slough off, your Wordsworthian moments, your lover, your family, your pet, your favourite lines of verse, or your quaint religious faith. There is nothing sacred about universality which makes the shared automatically better than the unshared. There is no automatic privilege of what you can get everybody to agree to (the universal) over what you cannot (the idiosyncratic).

[...]

I take this near unanimity among my critics to show that most people – even a lot of purportedly liberated postmodernists – still hanker for something like what I wanted when I was 15: a way of holding reality and justice in a single vision. More specifically, they want to unite their sense of moral and political responsibility with a grasp of the ultimate determinants of our fate. They want to see love, power and justice as coming together deep down in the nature of things, or in the human soul, or in the structure of language, or somewhere. They want some sort of guarantee that their intellectual acuity, and those special ecstatic moments which that acuity sometimes affords, are of some relevance to their moral convictions. They still think that virtue and knowledge are somehow linked – that being right about philosophical matters is important for right action. I think this is important only occasionally and incidentally.

Eugene V. Dubstep
Oct 4, 2013



Toph Bei Fong posted:

I think some of this is that a lot of them are just gatekeeping nerds begging to be taken seriously. You can see the same sort of behavior in comic book fans.

For example, Ulysses is a lot of dick jokes, written by a guy who loved loving the farts out of his wife. It's a funny book about a cuckold getting himself out of the house so his wife can continue her affair. And a lot of this is framed in the most deadly serious way, but at the core, it's a series of funny set pieces: a silly teacher gets bullied because he's such a dramatic loser compared to his Chad med school roommate, a guy jacks off to a pretty girl while watching fireworks, the teacher and his buddies have an argument over whether Shakespeare is the greatest author who ever wrote, or the greatest great author who ever lived... The dissonance between the subject matter and the tone is the point. Gravity's Rainbow is a paranoid fantasy about a Harvard doofus who gets caught up in shenanigans because the map of girls he's hosed happens to sync up with a map of rocket bombs dropped on London, which They are convinced means something, even though their math specialist keeps telling them that no, it's just a stupid coincidence. It features, among other things, one of the villains hiding out in a pig costume to escape capture, only to be captured and castrated because They are so incompetent that they're mistaken him for the hero...

This is basically right but can we at least be clear that, crude humor notwithstanding, Ulysses is a formally difficult novel. You're not likely to pick it up for the first time and understand what's going on, and for that matter the plot isn't even the reason the book is so widely admired and studied. Literature professors are positioned well to guide students to an understanding of it that they would never achieve without a much broader and more involved independent reading of the whole canon before Joyce, not to mention Irish history.

Same goes for GR.

Wallet
Jun 19, 2006



Eugene V. Dubstep posted:

This is basically right...

Sort of. There's a lot going on in Ulysses, including some engagement with the thing we're talking about. Stephen is terrified that he might be a sellout, that writing just to entertain is failing to live up to the potential of literature—Bloom daydreams about being a sellout while he's on the shitter and then wipes his rear end with the newspaper he's daydreaming about submitting to.


Eugene V. Dubstep posted:

Literature professors are positioned well to guide students to an understanding of it that they would never achieve without a much broader and more involved independent reading of the whole canon before Joyce, not to mention Irish history.

Some of them are. Some of them just want to provide a list of the animals symbolically associated with different characters in Ulysses as if that somehow gives it deeper meaning.

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Eugene V. Dubstep
Oct 4, 2013



Wallet posted:

Some of them are. Some of them just want to provide a list of the animals symbolically associated with different characters in Ulysses as if that somehow gives it deeper meaning.

Well yeah, that's why I only said literature professors are 'positioned well' to help students understand and appreciate what's going on with Ulysses. I meant it in the same sense that the Chiefs' offensive line is positioned well to protect Mahomes from a sack.

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