Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tim Sisk is a poet

In true narcissistic fashion, I Googled myself and found another poet Tim Sisk out there. You can read his work here. I'm particularly fond of his piece "The Failed Project of Friendship" seeing as how I'm teaching a class on the topic, it's a research interest of mine (particularly gender and friendship, gay men's friendship, and friendship in literature), and I don't think my friendship projects have failed, interpersonally, academically, or otherwise.

Take note of his rhyme scheme and over-wrought tone. I feel you, emotive Tim Sisk, though I hope I'm a better poet that you are. But hey, you're fighting the good fight, writing what you have to, making sense of the world. Isn't that our project as writers?

Google yourselves and see what interesting bits you find!

Monday, April 6, 2009

From Folks Who've Never Been Happy

Momma's up to it again. Putting out her husband just to take him back. She told my father she wanted him to remarry her, build her a house. He said that would mean he couldn't retire next year. His way of saying "yes." But she took back the other one, the drinking one with herniated discs, because she doesn't know how to be happy without him.

Momma's never been happy. I called today and asked her as much, and she said "what is happiness"? I don't have an answer for her. Like her, I, too, am never satisfied. I don't know what having enough is because I'm from a place and a people who always had too make do with too little. My grandmother is a magician with canned soup and coupons, and the Mississippi legislature always shaves more off the budget. I was educated at over-crowded schools by under-qualified teachers and had a momma who worked second jobs waiting tables to buy expensive shoes for my wide feet. I know how to appreciate what I have, but I know everything I have is provisional; it comes at a cost for somebody, somewhere. Usually due to the sacrifice of someone who loves me but is too tired to tell me so. I don't want to be that way, but I don't know any other way to be.

Now, I'm job hunting and packing to move. Finished with school, I'm a capital A Adult, and I don't know what I'm doing. Yes, I can pay my bills on time and wash my dishes and clean behind my ears. I can stretch a dollar and make do on small portions. But I feel the pressure of my legacy bearing down on me, the weight of all my mother's unhappiness, and her mother's and her mother's, so strongly I might rupture.

I know I can make do. But I want to do more than that. But with this economy and all.

(I promise I'm not suicidal or sad. Just contemplative and scared. What if the Real World eats me alive?)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Still Kicking Around

I didn't die, y'all. Though that bout of the flu I had over Spring Break almost did me in. I just went on hiatus while I wrote a Masters Thesis, a collection of poems with a critical introduction called "Parts of A Man." There are body parts and speaking parts and car parts and hair parts all throughout. Rereading it this morning, I think it's about as good as it's gonna get by Friday. And I'm pleased with it.

Now I'm buried under a slough of papers and quizzes to grade. My kiddos are staring me down with fervor each time I walk into the classroom.

All I do is write and teach and grade and watch the local news, it seems. It's official, y'all. I've become a boring adult.

Anybody up for Yatzee and bed by 8:30?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Snowball Effects

It snowed in Knoxville today. Snow fell harder than I'd ever seen it fall before, and I was not scared. I'm usually irrationally afraid of inclement weather, but I think I've gotten to the point where snow doesn't bother me so much. Rain, on the other hand. I'd rather stay home all day than drive in any amount of drizzle.

The effect the cold winter in East Tennessee has had on me is interesting. I've taken a strong liking for college basketball (I love it) and I've begun watching more Must See TV. Do they even still call it that? Either way, I'm a fan of "The Office" now, and I swore I'd never be. Cold weather makes me back pedal.

If I haven't learned but one thing in 24 years, it's this: Everyone back pedals, to the extent that everyone says "Never will I ever" and winds up doing it anyway. What we must learn from this is how not to say, "Never will I ever again." But even if we do it again, it's not the end of the world. Well, unless you kill someone I guess.

Which brings me to Michael Phelps hitting the bong. Does anyone else share my "get a grip" mentality? He's 23 and was at a party. Smoking pot kind of goes with the territory sometimes. It's not like he was snorting coke or fighting pit bulls. Or worse, feeding pit bulls coke and then doing the back stroke with them. Perhaps my morals are too loose.

Anyway, I'll brag on myself then I have to dash to my beloved thesis adviser's poetry reading. My poem "Ceremony of Hormone Replacement" is being published in the Winter 2009 issue of Yemassee. My first print journal publication. I feel like I've joined the writer's club. Wanna know how I celebrated? By going to the UT basketball game Saturday night. Sheesh.

Keep warm, y'all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is this burning an eternal flame?

Back again after a break to get my land legs this semester. I'm one of those creatures of habit. I love routine, so the beginning of each semester is torture for me as I fumble to figure out when I'll squeeze in my writing, my lesson planning, my lunch eating, and my friend seeing. I've almost got it figured out for Spring 2009, so I'll snatch a second to write.

I turned 24 two weeks ago, and for the first time ever I feel less like an emotionally over-wrought 17-year-old girl and more like an adult. Since I'm teaching at morning times this semester (which I love so much), I've cut back on week night happy hours, and I've begun watching the local news at 4, 6, and 11 then going to bed. Gotta make sure I catch all the subtle changes in the weather forecast, y'all. I've paid off my credit cards, and I'm sending out resumes to schools all over the place while simultaneously keeping an eye on educational funding, praying to Jesus that I'll get a job somewhere.

I've started praying again, but I don't think that means I've rejoined the flock. Hell, I never was a part of the flock to begin with. But something's gotta give in these hard economic times, and I'm not strong enough to brave the job market on my own. All I ask of God: get me out or get me through it.

I'm teaching my course on friendship this semester. It's going extremely well. I'm more confident in the classroom, feel as if I've convinced at least half of my students why studying friendship and it's social and historical implications is important, and, well, they laugh at my jokes. That makes me feel like I'm doing something right. I love this new batch of kids. I think their 101 teachers did a good job of whipping them into shape: they seem motivated, interested, prepared, and polite. Sure, there's some riff raff; you'll have that in any classroom. But for the most part, these kids care and they are so damned polite. Another thing I pray for is the ability to teach them at least a little something.

Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking about my teachers. I can remember little things they said to me or wrote on my papers, things I'm sure they never gave a second thought to. Donna Bowman told me to put my thesaurus up when I was her freshman. Monda Fason told me to take chances when I was her Vortex editor. Lisa Mongno told me in college, one ceases to be the smartest kid in school because he is in classes with the smartest kids from every other school. These are things I've internalized, rules I live by. Chunks of wisdom that continue to guide me in my academic and personal lives. I wonder what, if anything, I have said that will stick with students forever.

This idea is something I want to explore in greater detail in a later post. I want to tell you the Jordan Lance story. But now, I have to run to poetry workshop. I look forward to hearing from y'all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back By Popular Demand

Today, my semester begins, atrociously early if you ask me. Still, I start teaching the course I designed, English 102: Inquiry into Friendship, at 10:10--a little over an hour away. I'm not nearly as nervous about the first day of classes this semester like I was back in August. I've got my land legs now, and I have an airtight syllabus that covers my ass against all the brouhaha I faced last semester. I hope. Plus, I've missed being in the classroom. Bitching and moaning aside, I love teaching. I love my students. I love wearing teacher clothes and being called Mr. Sisk. It's going to be a good semester.

It's going to be my last semester, at least for a while. I graduate in May, and I've already started applying for teaching jobs. One in Little Rock, one in Baltimore, one in Cincinnati. I'll be applying all over the place, so wish me luck. This economy is just awful. I wish I could stay in my beloved East Tennessee for work, but I doubt that will happen, what with the massive lecturer layoff at UT and the academic glut in Knoxville. I don't want to think about packing up all my stuff, U-hauling it to God-knows-where, unpacking it in the late July heat. Even more I don't want to think about leaving my friends behind in Knoxville. I have the greatest friends, y'all.

So I won't think about it. Right now, I'll think about what jokes I can crack on the first day of teaching and how I'm looking forward to happy hour tonight with Leah, Noel, and Eric. I'll think about how grateful I am to my professor Art Smith for giving me a copy of James Wright's collected poems, and I think I'll even try my hand at writing something Wright-inspired before I dash off to campus. God knows I need to write; I've been slacking.

Happy tidings to everyone. Keep the dream alive.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

10 Things I Learned About Teaching

Originally, I was going to list the top ten things I learned not to do in the composition classroom for this post. But I was being a bit down on myself that day, and I realized I learned some things that work extremely well. So, I decided to present to y'all a list of things I learned--both good and bad--and hopefully some of you experienced teachers will offer me advice. If there's one thing I can't seem to get enough of, it's teacher advice. So here goes, in no particular order.

10. Never let students revise every paper. Doing so only ensures that the teacher is always grading and the students are always turning in shitty first drafts.

9. Be OCD about your course policies and make sure you list EVERY CONCEIVABLE THING in your syllabus. I failed to list that failure to turn in one major assignment for the course would result in a no credit grade for the class and wound up doing some fancy footwork when students were surprised they couldn't pass having not even bothered doing one of the major papers.

8. Don't use blogs unless you are dedicated to keeping up with reading and commenting on them. Students get offended when you don't comment on all their posts.

7. Ignorance is often bliss. Sometimes, it's better to pretend you didn't hear what the frat boy in the back of the room said about you to his buddy. Usually, you don't want to know the reason little Johnny came to class with a black eye and busted lip.

6. Never, EVER check your comments on ratemyprofessor.com. They will only give you a misguided view of how you're performing in the classroom.

5. Make a grading rubric, share it with the class, and always remind them to check it before turning in their papers. I swear if I hear one more gripe about my "inconsistent grading" I'm going to explode.

4. Let students know you care about their ideas. The best assignment I gave this semester was a group research project where students got together and worked on developing a research question, then researching that question and presenting it to the class. They all really enjoyed working with like-minded individuals researching stuff that didn't seem like school work, like the BCS, internet pornography, and online gaming.

3. Be critical, but be positive. Sometimes I found myself writing more scathing comments on student papers than I should have. Thank God I grade in pencil. Com 1 students need guidance and nurturing more so than any other student, I think.

2. Never accept/review emailed drafts. Always have students come to your office hours with hard copies or you'll find yourself, much like I did, reading the same student's paper 10 times before you actually *grade* it.

1. Know that YOU control the classroom. You're not their friend; you're their mentor and, in Comp 1, their homeroom mom, to a certain extent. It's okay to love them, but you still must maintain an authoritative position in the classroom. (Sometimes I wasn't so good at that one...)

It was an okay semester, y'all. I loved my kids. Each and every one of them, even the frat boy in the back who cursed me under his breath. I really love teaching, and I want to do it for a long, long time. It gets in your blood, doesn't it?

How were your teaching semesters?