Saturday, January 29, 2005

the mist before my eyes

I've thought of a perfectly good reason why my advisor (may his good health continue) hasn't answered either of my messages. As it does not involve his ill health or demise, I'll relax for a little on that score.

I'm trying to go back to the train wreck of Chapter One, now that I have the really great idea from my former student, at least until I hear from someone. Reading about what I'm going to add is proving easy, but looking at the dratted thing and seeing how far I have to go is more difficult.

Just to clarify: I'm not wild about having Ms Rice as our Sec of State. Her refusal to answer questions about the weapons of mass destruction, and anger when this was pointed out, worry me. Though she's qualified, I could wish for someone with a bit more experience. (I could also wish for the snow to melt and the temp to reach 75.) Her appointment sends a strong message to Europe, as do her scheduled visits abroad; I'm not sure that this is the message we should be sending.

I do have more faith in Rice's intellect and capability than in some other folks presently in government, and am pleased to see women in positions of authority. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg swore her in, also nice.) I don't have the energy to be angry for four more years, so I am trying very hard to look (and work) for the positives.

Evan Bayh for president? Hmmm. Maybe. I think he was on Kerry's short list for V-P, which woudl have been interesting. It would be nice to show the country that not all Indiana Senators are like Dan Quayle. (I can hear the Indiana bloggers call out "Lugar!" Good point, but I doubt that your average Iowa blogger knows Lugar's home state.)

Words Written:
Lessons Graded:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lemming's Lament(s)

Progress of the Lemming, now speeding rapidly off the cliff - zero.

I've hit a massive brick wall with Chapter Three, thanks to Ralph and a few of his peers.

#3 and #4 have yet to send a smoke signal my way.

I've sent two e-mails to my advisor (may he live forever) in the last week and he has responded to neither. (This is comparable to me going without caffeine for a week: unheard of.)

The editor is now obsessed with convincing me that sentences can begin with conjunctions, and likes to send me further examples of its correctness.

I realize that there are plenty of people in the world with much larger problems than mine at the moment, so I'll shush. Wallowing in self-pity will solve none of this.

On a very different note, I am surprised and intrigued to learn that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) was one of the 13 to vote against making Rice Sec. of State. I expected no votes from, say, Kennedy and Boxer, but 13 nays interests me greatly. NPR said that this is the largest number of nays for this post, second only to a 1925 vote that I know nothing about, but probably should.

It's hardly surprising that I like seeing an intellegent and educated woman in such an important position, though I am saddened to note that she achieved all of this by not having a family. (Yes, it's possible that she didn't want one, I know, I know.)

(Scurries off to read more about it.)

Words Written: zero (sigh)
Lessons Graded: thirty-one It never ends...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

this is the wattle, the symbol of our land...

Happy Australia Day everyone!

On this day in 1788, the first ship full of convicts arrived in Australia, near present-day Sydney.

It is not the feast Day of St. Francis Xavier, patron of Australia. It is the feast day of Titus, who is invoked againist free thinking. Who says the Vatican doesn't have a sense of humor?

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: twenty-nine

I don't like those numbers. I need to stop chasing after Ralph and work on something else.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

clouds of qualm

Today's mail included:

1) my credit card bill. The rate has been raised again.

2) an offer from the same credit card company to get a new card at a lower rate of interest

3) an offer from another company for a credit card at an even lower rate of interest

I realize that credit card companies need to attract new customers, and that a low rate attracts more folks than does the chance for a card with angels or dogs on it. I understand that the credit card folks assume that I won't notice the rate change.

It's still silly.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: thirty-six

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bing! Bang! Alakazam!

One of the constantly surprising and wonderful parts of teaching, now that I've been at it for, er, well, since Clinton's first term anyway, are the occasional students who stay in touch after the class is over. Usually contact is limited to an occasional out-of-the-blue postcard sent from Gettysburg or Seneca Falls. I love these postcards, and have a small stache of them - they prove to me, during the dark tea times of the soul, that I've managed to make something about American history come to life in a powerful way.

Every now and then, I'll stumble into something more constant. One student (now a history teacher) shares my taste in novels, so we swap reading suggestions. Another comes through Indiana once a year and insists on taking me out for drinks and dinner.

One student, the only one to whom I have ever suggested graduate work, asked to read Chapter Two. He called to chat yesterday, raising some great questions and even throwing my suggestions to him back at me. Conversation then turned to Chapter One. "Oh," said I, "it's a mess. The ideas are there, but badly organized. It needs some serious revision before I'd let you see it."

"Really? Oh. Well, I'd love to see it when you can. Based on what you've said in Chapter Two, I assume that you explain Historical Event X and Historical Trend Y and their connection to your topic. I just read a great book about Y and saw a documentary on X, and they sound very interesting."

My advisor (may he live forever) agreed with me that Chapter One was a promising train wreck and should be ignored for a while and allowed to percolate, as neither of us had a clue how to fix it. Did explaining Event X and Trend Y and their connections ever occur to us? Nope.

Said former student has just secured a place in the acknowledgments.

The cold that arrived on the 13th of January is still with me. No, I didn't use the pills, syrup and batteries to make methamphetamine, though that might have been a more effective use.

Words Written: none, but I'm pretty psyched to tackle #1 again!
Lessons Graded: twenty-nine

Saturday, January 22, 2005

bothered and bewildered

Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in.

Maybe this is why the diss is taking so long.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: thirty, with another dozen to go

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Everybody's Got the Right to be Happy

I like to throw goofy extra credit questions on my exams. Usually they will draw on something I've said in class that students probably didn't write down, but was just goofy enough that it might have clung to their brains. For example, President Polk once had gall bladder surgery without anesthesia. Just for variety, I might add a university question, such as the name of the Dean of Students or that year's commencement speaker. My favorite question thus far? "The 'W' in George W. Bushis name is short for --?"

Few very students know the answer, but I do get some hilarious guesses.

Ralph (his real name) is proving very elusive as a research topic

Words Written: lots of books thrown around the room
Lessons Graded: fifteen

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

will work for coffee

Thanks for the writing support everyone. I feel much better. My (edited) prose will still appear with lots of dependent clauses, but I have the satisfaction of being right. That and $1.50 will buy me a cup of coffee. When the editor is done, I will be able to afford several cups of coffee, so everything is linked in the end.

I'm very fond of my mailman. No, no, I'm not fond of him in that way. (He does have a very nice smile.) After all, this is the person who shows up at my door with my boxes from Amazon. Anticipating what #3 and #4 might say, I placed a big book order a few weeks ago that Amazon had to split up. Those boxes, combined with some late Christmas gifts, meant that the mailman dropped a box off at my door every day for six days in a row. I happened to be at the mailbox when he showed up today. "I'm sorry Mizz Lemming, no books today, but you do have four book catalogs."

Happiness is...

Speaking of happiness, it's been bitterly cold for the last few days. Sam sprints outside three times a day to take care of business, then runs back in as quickly as possible. Yet at walk time, he is convinced 1) that we're going and 2) it won't be cold. I love my dog. I will walk him in the rain, and in the dark, and on a train. I will not walk him when the wind chill means that the temps are below freezing. After three days of this, he's taken to sulking.
Words Written: Ralph? who on earth names their child Ralph?
Lessons Graded: fifteen

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

conjunction junction

Being as my blog-readers are a smart and savvy group, probably more than capable of identifying a clause, I'll share my latest grammar struggle with you.

Is it correct to begin a sentence with a conjunction?

Based upon repeated viewings of the Schoolhouse Rock song "Conjunction Junction" I've always felt that since conjunctions join two parts of a sentence, they needed to be in the middle someplace. My advisor (may he live forever) does not allow his students to start a sentence with a conjunction, though his definition is far more eloquent than the one I just gave.

However, I've just been informed by an editor that this is an out-dated rule, one rarely followed today. Is this true? Am I out-of-date?

Words Written: did another big sheet of paper for the wall
Lessons Graded: twelve

Monday, January 17, 2005


Neil took his first class from me about a year ago. From the first sentence of his first quiz, he impressed me with his very interesting and original ideas and his utter inability to express most of them clearly. With a lot of digging and jotting notes to myself on scratch paper, I could work out his meaning, and it was always fresh and new, but buried under mounds of errors in syntax, punctuation, grammar and spelling.

I'm not trained in the teaching of basic grammar skills. I'm still not sure how to define "clause" or "participle." I did present Neil with an extra copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and tried to explain that we don't write the way we speak and that sometimes the best proof-reading happens when an essay is read out loud. I circled and crossed out mistakes, and tried to rewrite sentences. I crossed my fingers.

(Here Sam rolls his eyes and thumps his tail in weary understanding... He's probably heard more of my prose than anyone has or can ever read. I digress.)

One class was not enough. Neil signed up for a second and a third. ("I'm going to get a minor in Professor Lemming!") Slowly but slowly, his prose has gotten better and the terrific ideas have really begun to shine through. He's gained in confidence as well, learning that his instincts are good and his family's many road trips to historic sites can inform his writing, actively and passively. (I am convinced that his folks must own a camper, as Neil has family snapshots from all over the country.) The writing is still a struggle, particularly homophones. He has mastered the correct use of it's and its, which delights me no end.

The department gave Neil an extension for his latest class, so that he could attend a family funeral. His final exam crossed my desk today. He managed to fill a blue book (all pages and the back cover) with his usual brilliance, without a single error in spelling or grammar. Thrilled to bits, I dropped him an e-mail with the results.

Naturally his delighted reply included three misused their/theres and a plural subject with a singular verb. I don't care. HE DID IT!!! This means that someday, somehow, he will do it again.

The popular slogan, at least in Indiana, is to make MLK day "A Day On, Not a Day Off." Instead of sleeeping in and shopping at the mall, MLK calls us to do something positive and productive for others with our time. Neil has earned a day off - but only one. Tomorrow, I expect him to be on. After all, this semester means class #4, and I expect him to do it again.

Words Written: (hits head againist heavy object)
Lessons Graded: one

Sunday, January 16, 2005

digging out

On Thursday most of the neighborhood was underwater. I awoke this morning to the sound of a snowblower.

The weather has been pleasantly warm for winter - mittens only needed for the evening walk with Sam, and I've no idea where my hats might be at the moment. Now it's bitterly cold, and supposed to grow even colder.

To top it all off, the Jets lost yesterday, yet IU won in double overtime!

Nothing can compare to the constancy of an Indiana winter.

Words Written: writing a book review
Lessons Graded: twelve

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Chicken Soup Needed

It is raining today, for the umpteenth day in a row. Everything is flooding, and one neighbor has despaired of having a backyard and now jokes about waterskiing.

I confess! I confess! I am a failed criminal. Probably thanks to all of the wet days, I woke up this morning with a dreadful cold. Of course I am out of cold meds. As I'm on my way out the door, my neighbor with the lake asked if I would mind purchasing some cold pills and cough syrup. No problem.

Some of you may already have guessed what happened next. With three boxes of cold pills, a bottle of cough syrup and a package of batteries in hand, I had some of the elements needed to make methamphetamine. Far from taking pity on a sneezing graduate student with work to do, I was a person of suspicion. The clerk asked me some pointed questions and explained that I would have to put back two of the cold pills.

On a more serious note, I'd like to thank everyone who has given blood in the last six weeks. Another neighbor, the kind of neighbor who only seems to exist in fiction as she's so nice, is in her third day in the hospital and getting frequent blood transfusions. As the advertisement says, you're saving a life while sitting at work. Thank you.

Words Written: free-lance project done!
Lessons Graded: twenty-two

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I seem to have passed into an intermediate stage of adulthhood in that I don't get carded when purchasing alcohol, but cashiers instead ask for my date of birth. I'm always tempted to give another birthday and see if I can talk them into it - am I five years older than my actual age? Ten?

The week's grocery purchases included a bottle of red wine, and the cashier threw me a curve ball by asking for my age instead of my birthday. I honestly couldn't remember for a moment, which she thought very funny.

There's no word yet from #3 and #4. I'm starting to wonder what would happen if I sent them Chapter 3 before getting comments on Chapter 2. This is pie in the sky, really, as the chapter is still very much in its infancy.

Words Written: more free-lance work done
Lessons Graded: sixteen

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

St. Vitalis

No, I hadn't heard of him until today. (I'm praying my way through the saints, can you tell?) Sez in my guidebook that in the year 500, St. V. left his private meditations and traveled to Alexandria to convert prostitutes. Every night he would purchase the services of a lady, and then pray with her until dawn rather than, er, sample her wares. Eventually his frequent visits to brothels attracted public notice and St. V. was killed - you can probably fill in the details.

There are many kinds of courage, and I hope that I have some of them, but I don't know that I could do as he (and plenty of more recent folks) did.

Words Written: lots, but none on the diss (freelance project)
Lessons Graded: thirty-one

Monday, January 10, 2005

more music confessions

There's music that is great (Wagnerian opera) and then there's music that is fun (Gilbert & Sullivan Opperettas.) Though the greatness factor to G & S can and probably is debated by folks who actually know something about music history and technique, I must say that I'm far more likely to hum "I Am A Pirate King" than any of Wagner's leit motifs.

Though certainly not great, an awful lot of early 1980s pop is fun. I ran lots of errands today and heard "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves no less than five times. I would not claim greatness for this song, and it's several steps below even G & S on their worst days ( The Grand Duke anyone? Bueler?) but everytime that it popped on, I found myself happily singing along.

Yes, the woman whose computer is obsessed with Liza M. dares to make such assertions. It is it is a glorious thing to be a lemming (Hurrah for Professor Lemming!)

Words Written: kept 95% of what I did this weekend, and added another 678
Lessons Graded: does no one know how to use the apostrophe?!

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Scott (aged 8): Mizz Lemming, I have to do a report for school, and my mother says you know all about American History. Can you help me?

Lemming: Sure, no problem. (Utters silent prayer that this question not be about battles of the Pacific during WW II)

Scott: Well, I need to know about Paul Revere.

Lemming (much relieved): Well, midnight ride, courier to Congress, etc. etc. and fathered twenty children.

Scott's Mother: Hmmm. Explains why he had to take a second job.

Words Written: five hundred and six
Lessons Graded: going to need more coffee

Friday, January 07, 2005

better mood

Just when I'm prepared to be comfortably cold and miserable, Don at Hands in the Dirt composes an entry that makes the maudlin and mundane elements of cold and wet days beautiful. Wow.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: the coffee is brewing...

at least it's not a migraine

I had a headache for most of yesterday, and today isn't much better. I can't remember a semester ever beginning this badly, and that includes junior high school. This makes me feel quite sorry for the dean.

The book that I guarentee #3 and #4 will tell me to read still hasn't come out in paperback. The cheapest I can find it is $45 on Amazon. I've checked it out of the library twice, and it gets recalled from me right away. This probably isn't helping my headache any.

One of my favorite bloggers suffers from migraines. He's learned how to handle them over the years, and manages to write about them in a way that conveys the experience without sounding as though he's whining. (He probably doesn't mind a little sympathy, though!) At least I know the cause of my misery and can take some pain-killers for it.

Lesse here... St. Dymphna is patron saint of headaches and insanity. Yup, sounds about right.

Words Written: one hundred and six
Lessons Graded: the first big stack must be started tonight.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Attention students: Yes, X is a stupid policy. I did not make this policy. Yes, I still must abide by this policy, stupid as it is. I like being employed. If I bend the rules even once, the dean will find out and that will be the end of my employment. If you want the rules bent, go ask the dean, who, by the way, makes far more money and has a nicer office.

Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Sam is most unhappy about the continued rain (though it did change to snow for a bit today.) I've tried to explain about Sri Lanka, but he seems disinterested. (Maybe this is because Sam knows about it already, as he does listen to NPR with me.) He just wants to go outside without getting wet.

Not surprisingly, today is the Feast Day of Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior (the three kings of Orient etc.) In one of those "well, that doe smake a lot of sense" moments, they are the patron saints of travelers. I thank them for getting me safely home from the flooded library parking lot.

I've had a really terrific idea for Chapter Three - one too big for the sheets of paper on the wall, which means that it is time to start writing again. Wish me luck and/or light a candle for me, please.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: twenty

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

soon it's gonna rain

I had my first tsunami-related nightmare last night. Today it's raining - the hard, cold downpour that even I cannot pretend is November rain. This is "January in Indiana" rain. The streams are choked, lower parts of the roads are starting to flood, and everyone is going a little stir-crazy. Even the librarians were making bad jokes about hamster juggling and making sushi out of hermit crabs for story time.

My undergrad advisor once asked if I had any ambition to be a dean. After three days of sending students to talk to my dean, I can say, in all honesty, NO!

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: zero

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Comments from #2 arrive!

Having worked Chapter Two as much as we could, the advisor (may his health and prosperity flourish) announced that it was time to send it round to the others. Quite frankly, this is good and bad - good that he thinks it ready, and bad in that, well, it means not one but three more sets of comments.

Professor #2 is essentially happy wth Chapter Two, but does have some excellent if rather challenging suggestions. I think #2 may have come up with the solution to an organizational complication that really had me at a loss.

My advisor (may he live forever) is, as I've said before, a terrific giver of comments. My #2 is as well, but reads for very different things than my advisor. This is hardly surprising, since their specific expertise is in different fields. #2 trusts my style and revisions, and instead focuses upon the overall narrative and ways in which the larger pieces of the diss fit together. Indeed. I think #2 probably has a better sense of this at the moment than I do.

The use or abuse of the semi-colon matters not a bit to #2, and I could fudge the proper format of a footnote and be forgiven. Then again, #2 may trust in the advisor (may he live forever) to take care of this.

Now to await #3 and #4. Their comments will include, I predict, lists of at least twenty more books that I need to read. It is unlikely that any of them will be Dave Barry Does Japan, but I can always dream.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: fifteen

(need to reverse those numbers again...)

Monday, January 03, 2005

the semester begins

Though warm for January (57 F) there's a steady and strong rain falling. At the very least, it feels like November outside.

The term has begun, as of 8 AM. Naturally by the time I checked my e-mail at 1 PM, I already had dozens of messages, more than one of which wanted to know why I hadn't answered the message sent at 8:30. Naturally I can answer none of these messages, as all are the sort of questions which should be sent to the dean or the department administrator. (laughter)

Several students have looked ahead on the syllabus (good) and noted the book review. To my delight, some were given history books as Christmas presents and would like to read them for class. Of course, this will also necessitate that I read these books, and you can just imagine what a hardship it will be for me to read more history books.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: zero

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy New Year!

(yawns) I've marked the new year by getting a lot of sleep, between 10 and 13 hours a night, with the occasional nap for good measure. Now that I'm properly rested, of course, the semester is about to begin.

With my six month blogging anniversary approaching, not to mention the clean slate of a new year, I'm trying to live up to the title of this blog and MAKE PROGRESS.

Maybe tomorrow.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: zero