What’s next for Penelope?

I’ve been blogging at this site since December 2011. I started the blog so that I could review a couple of books that I wanted to receive for free. Since then, I’ve written about topics as serious as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and as frivolous as my hypothetical Roller Derby name. I’ve told numerous embarrassing stories about cooking mishaps and breaking things. I’ve reviewed movies and albums, shared a couple of fan fiction stories, and hijacked the blog for a couple of months as a promotional platform for my self-published novel. I once seriously considered and made some steps toward re-branding this into a “Hufflepuff leadership” blog. (I still think someone should do that.) I’ve written about my job, my faith, and lately, my marriage. And I have nine partial drafts in my queue, including a “zany” travel mishap story that turned out to be boring when I wrote it down and a post tentatively called “what Ross Geller has in common with almost every Jimmy Stewart character (and me?).” (This one was doomed from the start.)

I realize that if I kept pressing forward for another year and a half, I could celebrate the tenth anniversary of this blog. But I think it’s time for me to end this long chapter in my writing life. I’ll keep the WordPress account in case I want to write a special post now and then, but these will likely be rare. Writing will always be one of my primary means of processing my thoughts and feelings, but not all of that writing needs to be shared with a readership.

Speaking of you, my readers–I know I’ve always had a small following, but you’ve been incredibly faithful. Some of you left long, frequent comments on my posts; others read the blog quietly for months, maybe years, before dropping into a face-to-face conversation the fact that you were reading it–always a delightful surprise. Thank you for paying attention.

I’ve thought for a while that it would be fun to have a podcast or a YouTube channel (actually, I have a great channel idea that I’m trying to convince my husband to help me with), but I don’t think I’ll jump into anything like that anytime soon. I’m thankful for the years I’ve been able to share my thoughts with you, and I hope we can stay in touch by other methods. Now I’m going to go cry a little.

marriage observations from a non-expert

Remember a couple years back when I kept talking about re-branding this blog into a Hufflepuff leadership blog? (If you think this idea sounds strange–I agree–and want to know more, check out this post and others throughout spring 2018.) This never happened because I ended up leaving my job for a regular classroom faculty post, and thus organizational leadership no longer formed a major part of my reading and thinking. I bring this up because I’ve noticed that for the past few months, I’ve been posting fairly regularly about marriage, and I imagine this will only become more frequent now that I’m actually married. Even though I do not plan to leave my marriage like I left my job, I probably will not re-brand Penelope Clearwater into a marriage blog–Hogwarts-themed or otherwise. One, there are too many marriage opinions out there, and two, I like the freedom to be able to write about whatever the heck I want to. (I am currently mulling a post about Ross Geller, Jimmy Stewart, and the enneagram.) Just know that I will probably be posting about marriage fairly often, at least for a little while.

And sometimes my marriage posts will be fairly sappy. Today, I basically just want to tell you how great my husband is. See, I’m having one of those days that might be funny on a sitcom but in real life is mostly sad. The day began with a large portion of the built-in shelving in our closet breaking and crashing to the floor because it was overloaded with my clothing. Then, this afternoon, while trying to start the process of getting my last name changed on my Social Security card, I fell for a scam that, though relatively benign, cost me $40 for basically nothing. (Ironically, I was just “teaching” my online students this morning about how to evaluate a website for credibility.) It’s one of those days when I feel like quoting Charlie Brown after he puts an ornament on his sad little Christmas tree and it droops to the ground: “Oh, everything I touch gets ruined!” It also doesn’t help that I’m reading a novel about a man who gets Alzheimer’s disease at a fairly early age; I keep thinking I notice his symptoms in myself. I have cried at least twice today, and I have tried to shoddily cover up my embarrassment (about how much clothing I own and how I could be so stupid as to fall for an obvious internet scam) by alternately over-apologizing and blaming my husband for making me feel bad about myself. It’s been ugly.

Here’s what my husband did, though. He hugged me. He calmly helped me pick the clothes up off the floor. He told me a story about how he recently almost fell for an internet scam. He kept walking back into the room where I was working to tell me that I wasn’t stupid and that he loved me. He did this so often that it kind of got annoying, actually–I mean, I was trying to reply to emails! But if given the choice, I’ll always pick being annoyed by too much love over wondering whether my husband is mad at me and thinks I’m dumb.¬†Always.

gaming with a gamer

As many of you know, I got married a few weeks ago! My husband, Jordan, and I decided to postpone our Hilton Head honeymoon until later in the year, but we still found ways to make the week after our wedding special, despite the fact that I had a lot of grading to do: we had a movie night, took lots of walks, and even went on a DATE (i.e. we picked up coffee and drank it in the car while waiting curbside for tacos, which we brought home and ate).

As you know if you read my interview with Jordan, he is a massive board game geek and owns more games than anyone I’ve ever met, which is not a judgment but merely an observation. (I have no room to judge; my books take up way more space than his games.) He/we had received several new games over the past few months that, for understandable reasons, we had not had time to play, so one of the special things we did during our honeymoon week was a game night…which turned into a game week-and-a-half. That’s because the game we decided to play that night–Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a Cooperative Deck-Building Game–is actually seven games, one for each year at Hogwarts, and while we breezed through the first several, it took us multiple tries to beat the higher levels.

This was my first experience playing a cooperative game and only my second playing a deck-building game. I should add that, while I’ve enjoyed board games ever since I was a small child who made my parents read the Candyland backstory to me every time we played, I tend toward games that play to my strengths (vocabulary, trivia, yelling) and not my weaknesses (strategy, backstabbing, learning complex rules). My idea of a complicated game, until I met Jordan, would have been something like The Game of Life (though my favorite part of that one has always been naming my little peg children) or Monopoly, a game that Jordan finds so embarrassing that he hides it in his closet instead of displaying it on his nerd game shelves. I say all that to say that I’m probably going to show my ignorance of games in this post, and I’m okay with that.

So if you’re like me or even less of a gamer, let me explain what a cooperative deck-building game is. Deck-building means that you start out with a few dinky cards (in this game, you start with mostly Alohomora! spells worth one coin each) and gradually use these to acquire increasingly powerful cards that eventually help you win the game. Cooperative means that instead of trying to beat each other, Jordan and I worked together to beat increasingly powerful villains, from Crabbe and Goyle (mildly annoying) to Fenrir Greyback (will bleed you dry in several different senses) to, ultimately, Lord Voldemort (when you beat him, you’ve won the game). This sounds like a good way to start off a marriage, right? I thought so too.

And I was right. ūüôā (You thought I was going to say that I was wrong, didn’t you?) The week and a half during which we played this game almost every night taught me a number of things about myself, my new husband, and how we work together. We were very predictable and played as Ron (Jordan) and Hermione (me), but in this case, Jordan was actually the highly logical one who was able to look at a complex situation and immediately understand it. I was the one who yelled, “Bloody hell!” a few times. I generally think of myself as a pretty smart, quick-thinking person, but games are Jordan’s domain, and my quick wit looks pretty slow next to his in a gaming situation. And in a cooperative gaming situation, that works to my advantage!

We had to be a team. I had to swallow my pride and let him explain things or gently correct me sometimes. He probably had to swallow his impatience when my turn took forever or his amusement (or fear?) when I got mad and threatened to throw the cards. (I never actually did.) And in the end, all of this deference and kindness helped us to defeat the forces of evil and save the wizarding world (not to be too dramatic or anything).

I highly recommend this game to anyone who loves¬†Harry Potter¬†or games, but especially to anyone about to get married. Go, put it on your registry now! You’ll thank me.

one of my periodic existential crises

This afternoon, a colleague who edits a theological journal came to my office and invited me to contribute an article to an upcoming issue on theology and literature. He assured me that I wouldn’t need to write an entirely new piece but could update something I wrote, say, during my doctoral studies. Knowing my love for¬†Harry Potter, he said that a piece on the series would be enthusiastically welcomed. I said I’d be happy to contribute, and the conversation left me feeling honored and excited.

Now, a few hours later, I’m feeling more worried than anything else, for two main reasons. One has to do with the fact that I produced the bulk of my academic writing before cloud storage existed, or at least before I was using it regularly. I have a few PhD. papers in my Dropbox, as well as my dissertation (which–shameless plug–you can read on ProQuest), but the only academic work I still have from my master’s and bachelor’s programs are my respective theses, which are also accessible through library databases. One might correctly argue that most of what I wrote during those first two degree programs is not worth resurrecting, but I can think of a few papers from those years that, with some revision, would fit well with the theme of the journal issue–such as the first paper I ever presented at a conference (in 2008, during my master’s program), which connected Dorothy Sayers’ analogy of the Trinity with the author-character relationship in the film¬†Stranger Than Fiction. This paper, which actually made a lot of sense, exists now only as a line on my CV.

My other, bigger concern has to do with the imposter syndrome I regularly experience, which leads me to believe that I’ve lost the ability to write. I realize the irony of expressing this fear in a blog post, but I worry specifically that I’ve lost the ability to write academically. A few weeks ago, while organizing the files in my Dropbox, I made a folder called “things I’ve written,” and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of written and oral contributions I’ve been able to make in the almost five years since I finished my doctorate–a short reflective essay published in¬†Collegial Exchange (a publication of the professional organization for women educators, Delta Kappa Gamma), two lectures given at meetings of the local creative writing group I belonged to in Virginia, a short story written for my current employer’s annual magazine. I’m proud of these, but not one of them was scholarly in nature. I did present at an academic conference last year, but even that paper was a humor-laced analysis of the character of Loki in the Marvel movies, skimpy on sources and not rigorous enough for publication in a journal.

So I’m nervous. I haven’t written anything truly scholarly since my dissertation. Perhaps I can comb through said dissertation for segments that I might be able to expand into a journal article, but the problem is that there’s no obvious connection to theology or faith in my dissertation. There’s kind of a sideways connection, which I mention in the introduction, but I’m not sure if it would make sense as an article outside the context of the full study.

Underneath this nervousness, though, I still have to admit I’m a little bit excited. This will give me an excuse to go back and read at least parts of my dissertation and see if I still think they’re good. I have a feeling that there’s something there that might work for this assignment. The ideas are vague and formless, but watching an idea take shape was always my favorite part of writing for school. I’m ready to get started.

long stories

I’ve been listening lately to Ann Bogel’s podcast¬†What Should I Read Next?. I have to admit that this show is not at the top of my to-listen list, and that’s because it stresses me out a little, for the simple reason that the question that Bogel says “plagues every reader”–what should I read next?–does not plague me. Setting aside my purely aspirational Want to Read list on Goodreads, I have a list of books that I already own and haven’t read yet, and it’s still quite long despite the fact that I’ve been systematically attacking it since fall 2018 (when I realized it was a problem). So the podcast just gives me a bunch of titles of books that I’ll probably never read. Nevertheless, I get some pleasure out of hearing people chat about books, even ones that I’ll never read, so I keep this podcast in my rotation. If you’ve listened to the show, you know that Bogel asks each guest to name three books they love, one book that didn’t work for them, and a book they’ve been reading recently. So naturally, I’ve been thinking about which books I would name if I were a guest. The first two of the three books I love are easy: Charles Dickens’¬†David Copperfield¬†and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (if she forced me to choose one, I’d go with¬†Prisoner of Azkaban, the one that really made me fall in love with the series). I’m still mulling over what I’d choose for my third book (it feels like a high-stakes decision), but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what makes me love a book.

I thought about this last night after I got out of the bathtub, where I had spent a relaxing half-hour reading one of my Christmas gifts from my sweet book-loving fiance:¬†The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I am now about halfway through the book, which means I’m about halfway through the series, and it just struck me last night how much I am enjoying these books (though I don’t know if I’d use the word “love” yet. For the books, I mean. I love my fiance.). I realized that I am looking forward to long periods of time when I can sit down and read¬†The Well of Ascension, that I can picture the setting vividly even when I’m not reading, and that I really care what happens to the characters. I know part of the reason why I’m just now getting into the story is that there were too many blow-by-blow (literally) action sequences in the first book–and I understand why this might be necessary for the first book of a fantasy series that involves a specific, unique type of magic. But I really don’t care who punched whom and when. This second book is much more about relationships, political intrigue, and human psychology. But I think another reason why I’m so into this book is that it’s long.

Well, not just long. Quantity does not supersede quality for me. But I’ve realized that I love books (and movies and TV series) that have extensive world-building, deep character development, and layered plots–and on top of all this, a sense that the story-world has been lived in, not just made up on the fly. And in order for all that to work, a writer needs space–hence, length. Most of my favorite stories–stories you’ve seen me write about on this blog–have these qualities:¬†Downton Abbey¬†(with its hour-long, commercial-free episodes), the Godfather films (a major time commitment I embark on only about once every other year), the novels of Charles Dickens (it’s no accident that one of Dickens’ shortest novels,¬†Hard Times, is probably my least favorite). [I have written on this blog about Dickens’ “teeming world,” crowded with memorable people.] One of the greatest compliments I can give a story is that I’ve spent so much time inside it that I feel like the characters are my family. That’s why I cried so much when Sibyl died in season three of¬†Downton Abbey, why the birthday party scene at the end of¬†The Godfather Part 2¬†blows my mind every time I watch it, and why I’ve written fan fiction about the Weasleys going about their mundane lives after the defeat of Voldemort. However flawed they are, I want to be part of those families. I don’t know if Sanderson’s ad hoc family of thieves and kings will make it into my top tier of favorites, but their admission to that circle currently looks promising.

getting psyched for NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, not an official holiday but the flagship event of the eponymous nonprofit organization. If you complete a 50,000-word novel during the month, you can claim to have “won” NaNoWriMo, though it’s not a competition. I did this once, almost 10 years ago. I wrote a novel, heavily inspired by¬†The Dark Knight and¬†Harry Potter,¬†about a man who goes around taking the punishment for other people’s crimes. I had also been reading a lot of George Eliot at the time, so my prose in the novel is very dense, and my narrator often breaks out into philosophy. Unless you already know a lot about guns and police procedures, crime drama is not a good genre for NaNoWriMo because there’s little time for research. So my novel, which I self-published as¬†A Man of No Reputation, has a lot of problems, but it inspired a number of themes that continue to appear in my writing, such as loneliness, self-sacrifice, and a protagonist with a perpetually sad-looking face (he can’t help it; it’s just what his face looks like!).

This year, I’ve decided to use NaNoWriMo as motivation to complete the zombie apocalypse narrative I have been working on, slowly, for over a year. I won’t be able to claim to have “won,” since I have no intention of writing 50,000 words; I am at roughly 26,000, and my story arc is nearing its end. (I’m not sure what the finished project will be properly called–a long short story? a novella? I’m mainly thinking of it as the source text for a movie.) Since November starts this Thursday, I want to take a few minutes to look back on the changes my story has gone through and forward to how it might end up. (I really do mean “might”; I have a general idea but no actual outline. I am what they call, in writers’ group lingo, a “pantser”–I plot by the seat of my pants.)

Originally, although I was and still am calling my story a (dark) comedy, my main character was going to die. It was going to be a beautiful, self-sacrificial death, kind of like in my 2009 NaNoWriMo project. I maintain that a comedy can end with the main character(s) dying, like in (spoiler alert)¬†Thelma and Louise, a major inspiration for my story along with¬†Zombieland and¬†Planes, Trains, and Automobiles¬†(yes, I’m writing a road trip story). But after getting a lot of feedback about how much people in my writing groups loved my main character, Sam Larson, I started to reconsider killing him off. Yes, I was partly trying to please my audience (not a bad thing), but it also occurred to me that perhaps I could better reinforce one of the themes of my story by allowing Sam to survive.

That theme is LIFE, and it’s a theme uniquely suited to a zombie narrative, which is permeated with a grotesque parody of life. Readers learn early in the story that Sam suffers from clinical depression and that about ten years ago, he attempted suicide. Although Sam has learned to live with depression and no longer wants to die, he constantly struggles to believe that his life has value, especially in this new world in which people tend to be judged by their physical prowess and survival skills. (I’ve written extensively on my blog about this issue in zombie apocalypse narratives.) I think I could still convey this theme with Sam dying a heroic death at the end, but I believe the theme will come through even more clearly if I show him living.

I’m also using a motif that is especially suited to the zombie subgenre: eating. People are constantly eating in my story, whether it’s oatmeal heated up over a fire on the side of the road or a full Italian meal in the safe house. Of course, zombies are always eating too, but they derive no joy or satisfaction from this meaningless activity. In contrast, I wanted to show my characters enjoying food as a gift of life and sharing it with each other. So the eating scenes are not throwaways but integral to the message of my story.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Are there any other themes and motifs you can think of that are particularly appropriate to zombie stories? Let me know in the comments!

my teaching philosophy

I’m taking an online class about how to teach online (it’s a totally understandable standard requirement for first-time online instructors at my new school, even those of us who have taught online elsewhere), and I have to write a paper about my teaching philosophy! With sources! What? I didn’t sign up for this! And now I feel exactly like my students feel in every single one of my classes. It seems the course designers were trying to teach us a lesson in empathy (ya think?). I think I have a teaching philosophy somewhere that I wrote for a previous purpose, but I thought it might be self-plagiarism if I turned it in for this class (again, this is the kind of stuff my students worry about). So I thought I’d try out some ideas in this post.

The first aspect of my teaching philosophy [Comment: This is kind of a clunky transition. Can you think of a way to introduce your topic without announcing?] is that teachers should model their expectations. If I want my students to get into the habit of consulting a manual for APA format, I should show them how to look up information in the manual, not pretend I know all the APA answers from memory because I’m the teacher. If I want my students to be able to perform a close reading of a story, it’s okay if I spend most of the class period retelling Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” (which I’m not sure if my students read in the first place even though I told them to) with an open textbook in front of me, pausing to ask questions (and admit that I don’t know all the answers and explain that some questions have many possible answers) and point out the kinds of literary elements I want my students to be looking for. If I don’t want my students to be on their phones during class, maybe I shouldn’t always be playing on mine while they’re taking quizzes (yikes, that’s a hard one!). [I don’t have a source for this. Can we use personal experience in this paper?]

Teachers should also make themselves available to their students, but with boundaries. [Comment: There, that’s a better transition!] During the workday, I try to respond to emails as quickly and as thoroughly as possible; I keep my office hours even though students rarely come by (and I keep my door open during office hours, which seems obvious to me but apparently isn’t universal practice), and I will always pause during class to answer a student’s question (but that’s mainly because I’m pretty sure I have adult-onset ADD and can’t ignore a raised hand). I see myself as an approachable helper, not an elusive oracle who speaks only in enigmatic proverbs. But I also set boundaries (e.g., I usually don’t check email in the evenings and on Sundays) not only for my own mental health, but also because I want my students to develop problem-solving skills and patience and learn not to panic when they don’t receive an immediate response from me. [Still no sources. Maybe I can throw in a gratuitous reference to¬†Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend?]

Finally, I believe [Comment: No need to say “I believe”; I know you are the author.] that teachers should show the mercy and grace they have been shown. For example, the necessary flip side of my being unavailable on Sundays is that I’m usually a little lenient with Monday deadlines (shh…don’t tell my students)–i.e. if a student is waiting for a response to a question he/she emailed me over the weekend, I will usually allow that student to turn in the assignment a little late and/or resubmit it if it was submitted incorrectly. (Unless the question was stupid. Wait, there are no stupid questions! Don’t we all tell our students that? It’s mostly true.) I know some professors who approach students with skepticism (at least claim that they do so), muttering comments like “I bet his grandmother really didn’t die; he just doesn’t want to come to class.” I have to admit that I’ve had similar uncharitable thoughts before, especially about online students, whose faces I don’t see and voices I don’t hear, so it becomes far too easy to think of them as machines rather than people. That’s why I believe that it’s imperative, especially with online students, to assume positive intent and give students the benefit of the doubt. I’d rather be defrauded by one student (even though I HATE the thought of being lied to) than take a disbelieving stance toward every student. Like Albus Dumbledore, I want to believe the best about people, and it’s usually a good policy, except when hiring Defense against the Dark Arts teachers (Rowling, Books 1-7). [There! I got a citation in.]

Well, hopefully I can copy and paste some of this into my paper and just add some big words make it sound a little more academic. But would that be self-plagiarism?

how Harry Potter defeated Voldemort

Over the weekend, I responded to a Facebook post asking how the main character of the story I’m writing would respond if he were in the place of the main character of the last movie I watched. The last movie I watched happened to be¬†Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2¬†(the odds were pretty good), and the main character in my zombie apocalypse story is Sam Larson, whom you can read about here¬†and here. I said that Sam wouldn’t be in Harry’s position at all; he’d be in Hufflepuff minding his own business. But, I wrote, if he did happen to find himself in such a critical situation, he’d probably do what Harry did: sacrifice himself for his friends and accomplish a quiet, understated defeat over evil.

That last part surprised me as I wrote it. My character, Sam, is certainly quiet and understated. But what’s quiet and understated about the most epic battle between good and evil of our time? With wands and spells and people flying through the air and Hogwarts castle burning to the ground? The answer is that Voldemort isn’t defeated in a battle. He’s defeated after a battle. In the final movie, which follows roughly the last one-third of the book¬†Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the first half is loud and fast, with lots of cuts and lots of people on the screen at any given time. Then, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione slip away from the aftermath of the battle and witness the intensely private death of Severus Snape, things slow down. Harry watches Snape’s memories and learns his fate alone (and this is quite a long scene in the movie), and he walks into the woods to face Voldemort alone, except for the unseen presence of the spirits of his loved ones. When Voldemort finally faces Harry, there’s no music and no sound from the other characters, just Voldemort’s curse ripping through the silence.

A quiet, thoughtful conversation between Dumbledore and Harry ensues in Harry’s personal version of limbo, a whited-out King’s Cross Station (even the muted color creates a sense of hush in this scene). And when Harry returns to life, he stays silent, pretending to still be dead, until the right moment. Keeping quiet about his defeat of death is surely difficult for the ultimate Gryffindor, but Harry has learned wisdom to balance out his eagerness.

Once Harry reveals that he isn’t dead, chaos breaks out, and the battle resumes, but it isn’t the focus of the story. In the book, everyone eventually stops fighting and watches and listens while Harry and Voldemort face off and Harry gives a long, detailed explanation of the Horcruxes and why the Elder Wand doesn’t work for Voldemort–why, in fact, Tom Riddle is already defeated. In the movie, the conversation is much shorter, and the face-off has no audience; Harry and Voldemort fight alone on the ramparts of their mutually beloved school. Both portrayals, in different ways, value privacy over display and wisdom over physical force. Voldemort goes out, to quote T.S. Eliot, “not with a bang but a whimper.” And, in an anticlimactic but perfect move, Harry destroys the wand that brings about Voldemort’s defeat, knowing that it would come to defeat others.

Much has been written on how the valued qualities of all four Hogwarts houses are necessary in the defeat of Voldemort, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone explain how Harry comes to embody all four in the end. (I’m sure someone has written about this; I just haven’t seen it.) Obviously, Harry is most of all brave like the Gryffindor he is. He faces death, “the last enemy” as the Apostle Paul puts it. But he is also incredibly logical and thoughtful, like a Ravenclaw, figuring out the wand conundrum that still confuses me a little bit every time I read the book. He is wise in a different way, too–“wise as a serpent” (to use Jesus’ words), shrewd like a Slytherin, knowing when to hold back information and when to reveal it. And like a Hufflepuff, he gives credit to the others who participated in Voldemort’s defeat. Harry knows that although he is the Chosen One, his bravery, wisdom, and cunning would fall short if not for the friends he remains loyal to, even when (as he often is) he is tempted to strike out on his own. And not just friends, but surprising allies like Snape.

Well, shoot, I just made myself cry while blogging–AGAIN. Harry Potter fans, I’m interested to know what you think about all this. Let me know in the comments.

back to school

Today was the first day of classes at my new institution. Last time I wrote about the first day of classes, I wrote about being so scatterbrained that I could barely organize my thoughts for a blog post. While I wasn’t exactly a chilled-out guru sitting on a mountaintop in mountain pose with a cup of green tea today, I was considerably more focused and less stressed because now teaching is my¬†entire job, not something I try to fit in around meetings and administrative tasks.

It’s an unusually hot day in western Michigan, and this morning it was raining, so my office has been a little damp all day. But at least it has air conditioning, unlike the room where I taught this afternoon. (There were fans blowing, but only the students who sat in the back of the room got to benefit from those, I realized when I went over to talk to one of them after class.) I like to wear a cardigan while teaching because of the pockets, so there was sweat actually dripping down my back and my legs after about an hour of class. On the positive side, my classroom has windows, and it also has an upright piano, which I doubt we’ll ever use, but it looks cool to have in the background. Actually, maybe I’ll see if any of my students can bang out a rendition of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” on October 31, when we have the Reformation/All Saints Day party that I really did schedule on the syllabus. (It may end up being a Halloween party as well, but I wanted to get a sense of who my students are before I start foisting pagan celebrations upon them.)

All classes here are 90 minutes long, and I was worried about filling that much time on intro day, but I neatly rounded out the first hour by taking attendance and rambling about myself, the syllabus, and the textbooks (I am a champion rambler), and then I had my students write a literacy narrative during the remaining half-hour. I’d read about literacy narratives in composition journals–apparently they are rather passe now–but I had never assigned one myself. My off-the-cuff version of the assignment probably didn’t exactly conform to the standards of the genre, but not only did it use up a good chunk of class time; reading the results also taught me quite a bit about my students as writers and readers (e.g. several of them are¬†Harry Potter¬†fans; some lack confidence about writing, and all of them have decent handwriting)–and my students got a 10-point completion grade. Win, win, win.

Eleven of my twelve students are women, so I promised the token male student I would not single him out in class. All but two are brand new freshmen, though a couple of them have parents who work at the university and/or took pre-term classes, which means they probably know more about this school than I do. Still, they all looked sincere and eager to learn, many of them were taking notes during my course introduction (and I didn’t penalize them for doing so, like Snape did to Harry Potter), and one of them asked approximately ten questions during the syllabus review. She apologized for having so many questions, but I thanked her and told her that others probably had the same questions. The best student feedback I received today, though, probably wasn’t meant for my ears. Before class, I heard one of the students saying to the person next to her, “I’m so excited about this class.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a student say that about a freshman writing class. I wonder if she still felt the same way after class.

I wrote a brief note on each student’s literacy narrative, and in many of them, I asked the student to talk with me about something–not incorrect grammar or ineffective transitions, but¬†Harry Potter, creative writing, or some other such enjoyable topic. I hope they will come see me, even the ones who are shy about their writing or terrified about starting college. Especially those ones.

I don’t have any classes tomorrow, so I’ll have time to prepare for my Wednesday classes, which I think are in a room with air conditioning. Every time I walk into a class for the first time, I’m nervous that I’ll be met with faces that are judgmental, sarcastic, or completely checked out, and occasionally that happens, but most of my students really want to be in college. I just hope that after sitting through my class on day 1, they want to stay.

I quit my job.

Today is my official last day at my current job, a position that has given me incredible experience, educational advancement, challenges for personal growth, and colleagues who have become my friends. And really good pay to boot! I went to college to be an English teacher, but after graduating I quickly realized I wasn’t ready for a high school classroom. (I would have been eaten alive, and I don’t mean by zombies.) So I went to college, part 2, to be a person who studies literature and puts off getting a real job a little longer. During my first year in grad school, I was a graduate student assistant, which those of you who have done anything similar know essentially means a hard-working, poorly-compensated instructor. (But we wouldn’t trade that experience for the world!) During that year, I realized that I enjoyed teaching college students–they were a little bit more mature and motivated than high school students, and I only had to see them 1-3 times per week, for about an hour at a time!

During my second year in grad school, though, I accepted a full-time staff position in the Graduate Writing Center. I took it because I was flattered to be offered it (by my thesis chair, to whom I owe both my career path for the past 10 years and my interest in Victorian literature) and because the pay and working conditions sounded better. I started as the instructor for a graduate-level basic writing course (I was teaching grad students before I had finished my master’s—talk about imposter syndrome!); two years later, I became the director of the Graduate Writing Center, and eventually I became the director of nearly all of our university’s tutoring services. I had never intended to go into writing center work (which is a field of its own, a vibrant and growing one), but I professionalized myself into the field: reading the major journals, attending conferences, getting involved in organizations, and learning to speak the writing center language. All along, though, I was still thinking of myself as a teacher, picking up courses even though my eventual faculty contract didn’t require me to teach (even though this made me crazy busy) and trying to stay current in the fields I would be teaching. When it came time to get my Ph.D., I didn’t go for a degree in writing center studies, nor even composition, but literature and criticism. The degree wasn’t practical for my job, but it was practical for the career in teaching that I still believed I would have.

As time went by, I received advancement opportunities, leadership experience, and pay increases for which I was (and still am) grateful. But trying to have both my administrative career and a teaching career on the side was making me crazy, and often it was my “real” job as the tutoring center director that suffered. I knew I should give something up, but while the classes were where my passion truly lay, the administrative work was where most of my pay and all of my benefits came from. And, let me be clear, I didn’t hate that work. It just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

So a couple of years ago, I started applying for jobs elsewhere–not just in other schools, but in other states, where I could hit “reboot” on my life, reassessing things that were cluttering up my schedule and my mental space–not just professionally, but personally. And just last month, I received a job offer that would allow me to do so, and I took it. For the first time in my academic career, I won’t be a director of anything; I’ll just be a plain professor (well, associate professor). And I’m very happy about that.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my plans to rebrand this as a Hufflepuff leadership blog, since I won’t be in a leadership position anymore except insofar that all teachers are leaders in a sense. I’m thinking about making it more of a (sometimes Hufflepuff) emotional intelligence blog, which is basically what it has been recently. I’d still like to use my fictional characters Patrick Weasley and Becky Weasley, and maybe even Sam Larson, who appeared last week. As always, I am open to your suggestions.

As Bilbo Baggins once said (in the movie¬†The Hobbit; please don’t hate me for quoting it), “I’m going on an adventure!” I’m glad you, my readers, will be adventuring with me.