I am currently teaching six classes, three in online programs and three that started out as on-campus classes and have moved to the weird jerry-rigged sort-of online hybrid-ish format that many colleges and universities have implemented in recent weeks. I just want to write a quick post in praise of my students. I am so proud of the resilience they are all showing, from the online student I talked with on the phone yesterday who’s behind in her work because she’s been working ten days straight in a healthcare facility, to the on-campus students who had to quickly move out of their dorms this past weekend. They are all still writing thoughtful, thorough, intellectually curious discussion board posts. They are taking the time to encourage each other and me. I should probably be telling them this instead of writing it in a blog post–perhaps I’ll send this to them tomorrow. But for now, I would like to encourage you to join me in telling someone that you’ve noticed how wonderful they are. If you want, shout those people out in the comments below!
This post should not be read as me tooting my own horn (“you should be just like me”) but rather as me sharing some things that I’m doing that may or may not work for you–after all, you may have even better ideas. Also, it’s an aspirational post for me, too; I mean, this is only Monday, and even in a normal week, my best-laid plans can turn into a mess of arrows bumping tasks down to later in the week on my planner page (some of which tasks will fall off the page entirely). So, with all that in mind, here are three things that I (you are free to do as you like) am planning to do this week.
- Making risotto. This morning, I bought ingredients to make one of my favorite dishes, risotto. I know that not everyone loves cooking, but for me, it’s relaxing and a way for me to use totally different skills than the ones I use in my work. Also, there’s sometimes a temptation, when we are housebound or just generally in stressful situations, to throw basic nutrition guidelines out the window, but I think it’s important for us to continue to be at least mindful of what we’re eating and feeding those we love. I’m not saying risotto is the pinnacle of healthy eating, but it certainly is filling and nourishing, and I’m adding peas and shrimp to mine (thanks for the idea, Betty Crocker) for some green and protein. So, again, I’m not telling you what to do, but perhaps you’d like to use some of your time at home to prepare something special in the kitchen–even if it’s just toast with your favorite nut butter.
- Being student-centered. My university, like most, has moved on-campus classes online for the next three weeks. There’s been a lot of talk in higher ed circles about the best way to ensure students are still getting both the rigor and the support of a traditional classroom setting. I’ve chosen to make things relatively easy for myself by using the same format–loosely based on a typical asynchronous* online course–for all three of my on-campus classes. But the really important thing, I think, is that I’m trying to be present for and supportive of my students–answering their emails promptly and encouragingly, commenting on their discussion boards here and there, etc. For me, one of the most crucial (and enjoyable) parts of teaching has always been letting my students know I’m a real person (hence the many times I “accidentally” display my desktop, which features a cute picture of me and my fiance, on the screen in the front of the classroom) and letting them know that I care about them as real people. This can be harder in an online environment, but it’s worth the effort, especially in times when students are facing even more anxiety than usual. So, if you’re looking for takeaways (again, it’s okay if you’re not), here are two: a. Keep doing your best work, even if it looks different than it did last week, and b. Make sure the people you care about know that you care.
- Still planning a wedding. So, speaking of my cute fiance…we are planning to get married on May 24. As of now, that’s far enough in the future that we may as well keep planning as if everything’s going forward as normal. When we get closer to the date, we may have to make some difficult decisions, just like couples with March wedding dates are having to make right now. (My heart goes out to them.) But today, I’m working on booking a salon so my bridesmaids and I can get our hair done, because right now, I’m still fully intending to have a wedding on May 24. The takeaway here is that we can’t know what the future is going to look like. We never can; this virus has simply highlighted that truth for us in a particularly poignant way. Not knowing the future is frightening, but acting like we know it usually only leads to despair. As Gandalf once said, “Even the very wise cannot see all ends…and that is an encouraging thought.”
*a fancy word that means “not conducted in real time”
Last week, I went to see the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde. For a few years now, I have regarded Emma as my favorite Jane Austen novel. Arguably, it’s the funniest and has the most dynamic protagonist, and I like the coziness of it, the fact that it all takes place in one small community and is essentially about neighbors taking care of each other. (While most of Austen’s novels are set in similarly close-knit worlds, usually someone travels somewhere–to Bath, the beach, or London, say–and nothing like that happens in Emma except outside the narrative.) Also, despite the fact that he can be read as bossy and condescending (as in the line I quoted in my post title), I really like Mr. Knightley because he says what he means (unlike certain other secretive and brooding male leads in Austen’s novels) and seems to genuinely respect and care about his neighbors who are less fortunate than he is–which is, basically, everyone.
Until now, my favorite Emma adaptation has been Clueless, but I may have to update my ranking after seeing the new movie. In some respects, such as its lush, Oscar-hopeful costumes, it was a typical period piece; in many others, though, it was a surprise. For example, I really enjoyed all the traditional vocal music incorporated into the film, both diegetic* (like when Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax sing and play “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes”) and extra-diegetic, like the rousing rendition of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” that played whenever someone visited Robert Martin’s farm–an odd choice, but in keeping with Martin’s steady nature.
The amount and silliness of the humor in the film also buck the staid tradition of BBC Austen adaptations and, actually, align this Emma a lot more with Clueless than with its Regency-era predecessors. But I never thought the humor was unkind or mocking, except insofar as certain self-important characters, like Mr. Elton, totally deserve to be mocked. (It would be ironic if the humor in the film were mean, since one of the main lessons Emma learns is not to be mean in her humor.) And possibly my favorite thing about the movie was how sincere and unabashed everyone’s emotions seemed. In the climactic proposal scene, both Emma and Mr. Knightley were visibly crying.
Some things about this Emma (e.g. the Wes Anderson-looking sets, as well as a couple of naked butts) are going to anger some of those people who act like the Masterpiece Theater versions of Austen are the Bible, but I don’t think there’s much, if anything, about this adaptation that Austen herself would quibble with. It made me laugh and warmed my soul, and I recommend it with a full heart.
*a fancy word I learned in a film class that refers to music that is part of the story–i.e. the characters can hear it.
This past weekend, I received another royalty payment (which I know is a crass and demeaning topic that true artists are supposed to avoid [kidding!]) for my novel, Sam’s Town, so I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has purchased, read, reviewed, or recommended it. As Mac Barnett and Adam Rex’s recent picture book How This Book Was Made reminds us, a book really isn’t finished until it has readers. So thank you for making my book a real book!
In case you missed basically all of my posts last fall, in October I self-published (via Kindle Direct Publishing) my zombie apocalypse novel Sam’s Town, which has a title borrowed from a Killers album and fantastic cover art by Mike Nair. It’s more about relationships than about zombies, but fans of George Romero and The Walking Dead should find it satisfying. You can read more about it here and in most of my September and October posts. It’s available in paperback and e-book formats; the shopping link is in the post above. If you have questions, let me know in the comments!