Thursday, March 31, 2011

Conferences and Teaching and Former Students

I spent most of this afternoon working on my presentation for the AEGIS Conference on Saturday morning in Carbondale (SIU). I thought that it was mostly going to be an opportunity for me to talk about my research "findings" but now that I am finished, it is more along the lines of why I think it's important to use race in the classroom (from a pedagogical perspective). Given the fact that I have been spending a lot of time reviewing my actual sources (since I am working on the lit review portion of my dissertation) I guess this makes sense. I am never sure if I should read my paper like at a formal conference or just talk about my paper, like at an informal conference so ... I am going to do a combination of the two. I still haven't heard back as to whether or not I can use a PowerPoint (since I have some lengthy quotations from sources and students that I would like to use) but I am thinking I might just throw a handout together and that way I am prepared to be non-technological! At any rate -- I am hoping to generate some discussion so I can revamp this presentation for the next conference (later in April) and apply any comments toward my dissertation in general.

I read a short article in The New York Times that made me sad today. Click here for the link! Marie Myong-Ok Lee talks about what she learned from some of her former high school teachers and one line in particular stuck out -- "Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults -- a result that won't show up in each semester's test scores and statistics." How gorgeous is that line?? Her insightful description of her English teachers, Ms. Leibfried and Mrs. Borman, are fabulous and Lee's prose reflects what she learned from these instructors -- but then you learn at the end that Ms. Leibfried was "laid off because of budget cuts, and never taught again." That, my friends, is a crime. And that makes me weep.

One last possible related note. One of the first students I ever taught (in ENG 101) about 15 years ago is in St Louis for a business trip. We'll be meeting up later tonight. I'm pretty sure I will be having an "old moment" very soon! :D

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Usefulness of Lists!

As you may remember from yesterday, I was feeling intensely bogged down in work. Not just work but WORK. My to-do list went something like this:

1. Finish booklet for fabulous colleagues to help prepare for next year's 4C's Conference (English teacher thing)
2. Work on conference presentation for this Saturday (Carbondale, IL)
3. Work on conference presentation on April 21 (Allerton, IL)
4. Work on Honors paperwork and marketing
5. Respond to online Learning Circle web site (which kept booting me off yesterday)
6. Grade mid-terms for Tuesday evening class
7. Prepare kick-ass lesson for Thursday's American Lit class (pretty sure they are bored and not liking the class)

So what on this list can now officially be crossed off? As you can see from above, the first item -- check! (I even campus mailed copies to all the folks who asked me via email; and I love the color of the cardstock that the Print Center helped me find). Number 2? I've been thinking about it -- does that count? Number 3 -- I've now officially talked myself into the idea that I don't need to think about this project until "after" my presentation on Saturday (sort of makes sense, I think). Number 4? Horribly failing. But on my list for tomorrow afternoon. However, I can check off number 5 (finally got the damn web site to work for me) and number 6 (worked on those yesterday afternoon while working on number 1). And while listening in on a webinar on teaching developmental writing this morning (See! I can multi-task!), I managed to create a game using Steinbeck criticism that will hopefully be educational (and fun!) once I add some chocolate in the mix! (the students are reading The Grapes of Wrath)

And now back to reading articles for the dissertation (I have a growing stack) and thinking about that presentation on Saturday .... (short break for a doctor's appointment this afternoon, though!)

PS: Nicole -- thank you so much for the note you sent via campus mail! You rock! (and I have it sitting above my desk so I can use it for strength!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Tuesday That Feels Like a Monday!

So have you ever had one of those mornings when you feel like you have 0% motivation and your butt is dragging you even further down? Or when the mounds of paper on your desk look cozy enough to jump into and have a nap?

Welcome to my day!

Writing-wise, my head is full of too many projects: A conference on Saturday that sits half completed on my desk, another upcoming conference in a few weeks that I haven't started on, a speech for a student group on April 23, a booklet I am trying to finish for some colleagues, about 12 written mid-terms that need to be read before our class meets tonight, some letters that need to be done for the Honors Program I coordinate here at SWIC, some advertising for the upcoming Honors fieldtrip to "Next to Normal" at the Fox Theater .... well, maybe that is about the gist of it. For some reason, though, I am just not feeling the love this morning. I am involved in a Learning Circle (a professional development activity that is similar to a Book Club) and I have been trying to post my comments to our group's web site all morning and I keep getting thrown out every time I write down my responses. Perhaps a metaphor for my mood this morning?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Three words, dear friends! I AM WRITING!

And if I wanted to add a few more specific words: MY DISSERTATION!
OK, even more specifically I am working on the literature review, a huge (and important) part of my entire study that outlines what has already been said about my topic(s). Besides the whole "I can't do this because I am not smart enough" mentality has been the overwhelming sense of "Holy Shit. There is just so much to write about!" But for some reason, I think I am now -- finally! -- ready to jump in.

Basically, my study is interdsciplinary -- there are numerous areas that I need to focus on in terms of the literature review: Basic composition theory, politics and teaching, whitness studies, themed courses, race in the composition classroom, and student resistance (and I'm not 100% sure that I have this anticipated list exactly "right"). This means that I have to be an "expert" on each of these areas of study; in other words, I need to talk about what others have said and written. Not only do I need to read (and reread) a ton of texts, but I also need to come up with intelligent things to say about everything.

Anyway -- so right now I am diving in with the politics in the classroom angle. I am always telling my students to jump into a huge project wherever you feel the most comfortable in terms of the writing. So there you go -- I am taking my own advice.

I spent a good part of this afternoon getting some texts/ thoughts down on paper (about two pages worth). And that felt good. Luckily, I have most of tomorrow afternoon off and I now have a date with my laptop! :D

Monday, March 21, 2011


Let me just say it from the beginning -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After is zombilicious! This book comes on the heels of the best-seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (published in 2009 by the fab folks at Quirk Publishing!). The story follows the plot of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but places the novel in an alternative universe version of Regency-era England where zombies roam the English countryside. And, thankfully, all of the original characters are here as well: Elizabeth Bennet and her lovely sisters, Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and even Anne, Catherine's shadowy and slightly menacing daughter. Last year, a prequel was also published -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. This novel explains how Elizabeth Bennet became the kick-ass zombie killer that she portrays in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies . And now, finally, we have the sequel -- what happens to Elizabeth and Darcy (and even Jane and Mr.Bingley) after the wedding? Do they continue to combat the dreadfuls?

But first -- a little academic talk! When I first analyzed the original Austen classic as an undergraduate, I never considered anything outside the parameters of "the white world" of Regency England. I recognized that Austen was using wit as a tool against a society of double standards and hypocrisy. But perhaps because I grew up as a white girl, I never thought about the characters (or the context) "behind" the page. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, there is a whole society of people who are providing the livelihood of many of the main characters (as in the British Empire "raping" the natural resources of India).

As many of you know, my literary field of interest is non-western texts (specifically African and South Asian literature). My studies in Rhetoric and Composition have also followed this angle -- race studies in composition. As a graduate student (for my MA), I started taking classes and seminars that completely changed the way I read the "greats" like Kipling, Conrad, Austen, etc -- it's hard to articulate in just a few words -- what I learned but essentially I was encourage to read against the grain for the first time in life. I also started to be more aware of "the other": I think the best way to overcome stereotype is to genuinely encounter "the other" -- to see "the other" as they really are. Whether it is understanding someone who is gay or someone who is of another ethnic group, opening oneself up to an alternative viewpoint can be liberating.

Which is probably why I loved, loved, loved the Bollywood version of the Pride and Prejudice book/ films -- "Bride and Prejudice" (a fantastic 2005 film staring one of the most beautiful women in the world, Aishwarya Rai). How would an Indian version -- a country, of course, colonized by the British Empire -- interpret a thoroughly British story? (the director, Gurinder Chadha was also behind the great film "Bend it Like Beckham"!) If you have seen this film, the opening scene starts in agricultural fields, underlining the fact the British empire exploited the natural resources of this country without honestly encountering the people who lived there. Though there are no "zombies" in this film version, there is something unsettling to viewers -- at least I think so -- in the fact that we western readers never question the white society we so complacently "digest" (pun intended!).

Are you still following me?! Connecting zombies (or "unmentionables" as they are called in the series!) with colonialism terminology is not an original thought on my part. According to Edna Aizenberg's article "'I Walked with a Zombie': The Pleasures and Perils of Postcolonial Hybridity," zombies can be highly representative of "the other" in the literature, especially texts from a non-western perspective: "A postcolonial perspective shifts focus from imperial centers and offers tools for comparing the formerly colonized's oppositional cultural politics and destabilizing, frequently innovating literary strategies. And a post-colonial perspective provides strong paradigms for reading in power situations, bringing into sharp view significant but ignored features of texts from, say, Latin America or Africa, permitting a more penetrating critical practice and a more liberating alliance-building among intellectuals." So, in other words, the zombies of this newest Austen revival are "bringing into sharp view" a new paradigm, a new way of looking at a world view that takes us away from the "imperial center."

Quite seriously Dreadfully Ever After is also just a good story! I won't give away all the details but Elizabeth saves Darcy's life after he is bitten by an unmentionable and we readers finally get to see the dastardly Lady Catherine de Bourgh get her just due. I found the story to be clever and engaging (and, interestingly enough, we readers discover that only England has a zombie problem and that the cure is found in the blood of "the other").

I am not usually a reader of the zombie genre but this is fun -- and wretchedly funny if you are a fan of Austen's original masterpiece! Even if you don't "do" zombies, give this book a chance -- you might find yourself saying, "How Zombilicious!"

Quirk Classics is having a give-away - just "like" the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After Facebook page to enter.

My Quads They Are A Quiverin'!

Here I am at the race yesterday (before I was covered in mud!)

So yesterday, March 20th, I ran one of the toughest races of my "career": The Quivering Quads Half Marathon Trail Run (organized by the fabulous folks at Fleet Feet Sports here in St Louis!). Basically, this non-pavement half marathon journeys along several of the trails in Quivre River State park, one of the most beautiful parks in Missouri (about an hour and a half north from downtown St Louis).

I ran the race for the first time last year and it was freezing cold the entire time (or at least I couldn't get my feet to get even close to warm the entire race!). I don't think I had ever run in mud before, so I was slipping around quite a bit. In addition, I was also experiencing a pretty bad case of Plantar Fasciitus last year but was happy with my time of 3 hours and 31 minutes.

So how did this year go?? Let me start off by saying that last weekend I ran the St Patrick's Day 5 Mile Run downtown and it was horrible. I couldn't get a groove going on at all and so I sludged (for lack of a better word) through the entire 5 miles wondering why the heck I even bothered. I was feeling pretty disappointed that I was feeling as if I was starting all over again -- post cancer treatment -- to get back to where I was before the diagnosis. A (short) triathlon the next day (last weekend) did nothing to shake this feeling of utter disappointment at what my body is not allowing me to do.

So I guess that going into the Quivering Quads, I was just hoping to finish before the five hour time limit. Even though it pretty much rained all day on Saturday, I woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning on the warm-ish side! Last year I wore a pair of trail running shoes I bought online at the last minute but thought that this year I would wear my current "retiring" pair of running shoes since they were already pretty trashed. I knew that those shoes might be more slippery but I also knew that those shoes were pretty comfy.

At the start line to the Quivering Quads, the atmosphere was relaxing and fun! I talked with some folks I had just met and said hi to a few folks I already knew. I had plenty of time to socialize since I wasn't starting until the last wave of runners. Because most of the trail run is on tight trails, each wave of 25 runners has a three minute headstart on the next wave (the race, by the way, is limited to 400 runners total). Originally I was disappointed that I was in the last wave (leaving 51 minutes after the "official start") but it can be stressful to have faster runners coming up on you on these tight trails. So I think there was less pressure on being in the back! And the folks I started with all great people! And to give Fleet Feet credit, their enthusiasm with the last wave was just as hardy as with the first!

The first 1.8 miles was on a dirt road that was muddy from the get-go. I tried to keep my running shoes a little dry and unmuddied but that only lasted about 500 yards! Once we were half-way down this road, you turned around and went back up the hill to start the actual "trail" portion of the race. And that is where the fun started!

After about mile two, I came up on three women running (all I remember is the Lindsay was the last of the three) and we stuck together for about five miles. They were doing a pretty nice pace and I was enjoying the company. Lots of mud, by the way -- about every 100 yards or so it seemed! This portion of the race was on the Big Sugar Creek Trail and it was pretty scenic (I even saw three deer!). Because of the rain, I think most of the creek beds were pretty high (I don't remember as many creek crossings last year!) But most of the creeks were only have ankle high or so -- at first I was annoyed by them but after awhile I noticed that my shoes got cleaned AND the cold water felt great! The only part of this particular trail that I hate is crawling over the side of a cliff but once that part was over, it was on to the next section .... the Lone Spring Trail.

At this point I was feeling great -- way better that I did at the 5 mile run last weekend. The Lone Spring Trail starts somewhere just after mile 7. At this point, my new friends stopped at a water station and I had a quick drink but wanted to keep moving so my "buzz" stuck around. The next few miles were beautiful -- my legs felt great and I caught up with some more people I hadn't seen before. I didn't wear a watch yesterday so I don't know what my time was but it "felt" better -- so I kept the pace up (except for a few hills that I walked up!). In fact, after the water stop at mile 11, I was feeling so great that I was wondering when the other shoe was going to drop.

And, boy, did it! The 5-6 water stops were all mostly located on paved roads that we crossed as we followed the trails. At the last one (about mile 12) I thought I was pretty much finished -- and for the last mile I had started to struggle. But then came that last awful mile. Uphill. Steep. Not fun. I had to walk a good portion of this but so did all the people I had been following. Near the top of the hill, though, I could hear people screaming from the finish line and knew I had to finish strong. So I ran through the mud (yep -- it was even on the uphills!) and crossed the finish line in record time for me: 3 hours and 22 minutes!

I am still a little dazed from the experience but I am delighted more about my "running mojo" coming back -- but the personal best was a nice icing on the cake as well! The folks at Fleet Fleet organized an amazing experience (which cannot be easy given the logistical problems!). They even had folks talking photographs so here are a few that I "stole" from their web site:

Running through the woods!

Creek Crossing!

Finish Line! (my time is 51 minutes less than the finishing clock time!)

So I don't know if I will be able to get back to where I was before the whole breast cancer "thing." But I know that I love running and I know that it makes me happy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Academic Stuff ....

So on the dissertation front ... I have a couple of things bubbling. First of all, I have two conferences coming up soon. The first one is at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where I am a grad student (April 2). I am doing a talk titled, "'I'm Not Racist But ...': Using Race as Writing Prompts in ENG 101." The whole objective here is to do a quick overview of my research from this past year. The second conference, at Allerton, IL, is sort of the same thing but with a different title: "Celebrate, Reflect, and Renew: Alternative Readings in FYC." Both should give me the perfect opportunity to bring material together so I will have a better grasp of what I am doing -- and still need to do -- in terms of the dissertation.

And then yesterday another cool opportunity came my way -- the Review Editor for Teaching English in the Two Year College asked me to review a manuscript that someone wrote (something about developmental English). Though this takes some energy away from my research, it DOES get me writing and thinking -- and that is always a good thing.

I am definitely an academic scholar wanna-be! I love Howard Tinberg, a two-year college scholar who adamantly believes that those of us teaching in community college MUST work at engaging with scholarship: "We need to ground our teaching in theory. We also need to go out to conferences and remain connected, which is difficult since we're teaching four or five classes a semester and we need to work harder to get out and meet other professors to exchange a dialogue." ( Tinberg came up with a term "Teacher Scholar" (at least, I think that was him!) to describe what we should be striving for (or at least *some* community college folks -- I don't think everyone needs to be like this).

Anyway -- In the real world, I am tired of being anxious -- about Libya, Egypt, Collective Bargaining, Japan ...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jane Austen and Zombies!

In this world of horrible earthquakes and tsunamis, political unrest in Egypt and Libya, and now talk of radiation poisoning, I would like to turn your attention -- for just a few moments -- to a "sillier" topic.

As some of you may know, I am smitten with Jane Austen. In fact, it was my good pal Les who truly introduced her wit and sarcasm to me when I was a freshman at St Martin's College. I had tried reading several of her novels before then but I guess I thought they were just about society and manners and that sort of thing just bored the 17 year old Dianna. But when Les introduced Pride and Prejudice to me -- well, that was the start of my Austen appreciation (and the BBC version of the book with Colin Firth a few years later only stoked the fires!). Anyway -- since Les's death it has been hard to pick up anything associated with Jane Austen or the Brontes or ... anything British really. It's hard to shake his presence. And I hadn't noticed how much of what I love in terms of books and music have been influenced by him (though my love of 80's Dance music is totally mine!).

Anyway -- Out of luck, I was able to do a review of the original zombie version (yes, I said zombie!) of Pride and Prejudice about two years ago, simply because I was curious (I am not usually a zombie aficionado -- though I loved the film, Shaun of the Dead) and I had a connection at Quirk Books, the publisher. As some of you might remember, I was astounded at how much I loved the book! (I know, it sounds crazy but the book was fun!). Last year, I read the prequel and thought it was OK, but like what often happens, I thought it wasn't as well written as the original zombie thriller. And then I was contacted about a month ago to see if I would be interested in reviewing (for this blog) the sequel, Dreadfully Ever After. I said yes (of course! a free copy of a book that doesn't come out until March 22! Hello!).

So I am dying to share my thoughts on this sequel to the popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- Dreadfully Ever After BUT I am not allowed to post my review until March 22. Quirk Books wants to have a blogsplosion of reviews on the day the book is officially released. Here is a link to purchasing the book if you are interested: click here! As you might be able to guess, my review is a positive one (always a good sign when I read the entire book within a day or two of getting it!) Sure, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but if you are an Austen fan, it's a fun read filled, in this reviewer's opinion, with all kinds of symbolic play (i.e. think post-colonial theory in terms of the zombies!)

OK, now back to working on my dissertation on this, day 2, of Spring Break!

PS: Did you make it to Japan, Rachel? I am guessing it probably isn't a great idea right now though I am hoping that our trip in July will still be OK!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Quick Response

First a few personal messages -- mostly because I am too lazy to email:

Laurie -- Thanks for noticing that the shirt is available through Cafe Press. I am about to order my own! :D I am not sure if you are in Hawaii right now but I hope your house is OK! And did those tests you mentioned a few weeks ago come back OK?!

Rachel -- Are you guys still handed to Japan? I was so worried about my friends in Chiba (where I used to live) but I talked to them this morning and they are OK. We are planning a trip there in July (I didn't know you were going next week, though! You are so lucky!) I hope that you guys will still be able to make it (not sure where you are headed).

Like everyone else on the planet, my thoughts are with the people in Japan who are dealing with major and catastrophic loss. As most folks know, this is my favorite country on this earth -- I spent almost four of the most "adventuresome" years of my life living in Chiba and Fakui. I loved the food, the culture, the people. I only traveled to Sendai (the hardest hit area) once but I can only imagine the devastation of what people have lost. Jim and I will be traveling back to Japan (his first trip!) in July with our great pals Greg and Martha (and Greg has been kicking butt with finding us traditional places to stay!). Thankfully, my good friends in Chiba are OK and now I just can't wait to see them!

Sort of makes a case of breast cancer seem like not that big of a deal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dissertating ....

So .... maybe I have finally hit a breakthrough when it comes to working on that darn dissertation. Let me explain: Given my last blog entry, it is probably no surprise that I spend some time each week working with a therapist (especially on the eating disorder issue) and then on Thursday nights, I attend a group for folks affected by cancer. I started attending the group last year right after I was diagnosed when I started having problems with just coping in general. Folks in the group have a range of cancers and some people are still in treatment and there are a few, like me, who are technically finished. Anyway, once I started going to the group I noticed that I would emotionally fall apart each time I talked. Brian, the facilitator, said something to me eventually about "that" place being a space in which I completely slowed down, something I don't do very easily. And when I slow down, I am open to how miserable I am about a lot of things in my life (i.e. cancer).

Anyway, I still attend the group because I don't think I am done with what I need there. It's hard to explain but when I think about the crap that I was thrown into since late May, I know that cancer opened up some other crap (sort of like a Pandora's box, I suppose).

And here's my point -- finally. I hadn't realized how connected the parts of my life actually are. It's hard for me to exactly explain what I mean but the whole "I can't write a dissertation because I am stupid" mantra I hear in my head is absolutely related to the whole "I'm fat" and "I'm not a very good teacher/ scholar" discussions going on in my head, too. This was an "aha!" moment for me: If I can work on the eating issues, for example, then perhaps I can tackle those other voices as well. And it was this realization the last few days that has somehow given me the confidence to work on the dissertation.

Goal number one is the literature review. So right now I am reading like mad and trying to organize the many articles and books I need to somehow bring together. It does seem a little overwhelming to bring all this information together but I am just trying to look at it one step at a time.

PS: I need to find a shirt like the one above! :D

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dragging Out of the Quicksand

So, after a lengthy absence here on this blog, I am stealing my beginning from the start of this blog: -- my husband told me about it (he saw it on "The Daily Dish")

It took a few days to come to terms with the words that lead this post: I. Have. Breast. Cancer. At first, I allowed them in my head in only a whisper: I have breast cancer. Soon I had to speak to them to myself. I have breast cancer. And now, I have to learn to say them to others. "I have breast cancer." To my son. To our dearest friends. To people I'm acquainted with who matter to me. And here, too, on this blog. I have to own them, let them in. I thought long and hard about posting them here--"should I? shouldn't I?''-- but realized its happening not only to me, its happening to one in six women, and its real; it is the very core of "swimming in quicksand." If breast cancer isn't a swim in quicksand then what is? A doctor said, "you are in a large sisterhood."

You don't see it coming. One day life is normal, and the next its off the cliffside.

Cancer doesn't mail ahead with an arrival date. It does not let you choose whether or when. It arrives--in my case quietly--and settles in.

I know that it has been almost two months since I posted anything. Some of that has been because of work (a busy semester!) but I know that part of it is that I simply feel so "traumatized" (if that's the right word) by everything that has happened the last 6-7 months.

I was diagnosed on May 25, 2010 after getting a needle biopsy on May 20 (the same day of graduation here at SWIC). That semester had been terrible -- I mean, really terrible. I spent the first five months doing research for my dissertation, observing and studying two of my ENG 102 classes. The classes were focused on the topic of race (yep -- a touchy topic!) and let's just say that it was the first time in my career as a teacher that I had something like three formal complaints from students. So let's just go with "terrible" -- it was a bad semester. So it's sort of ironic that it ends with a cancer diagnosis. I then get thrown into this world that I don't understand and have to make decisions about things I know nothing about (i.e. lumpectomy or mastectomy? Still not sure I made the right decision on that one). And then come two surgeries, followed by all kinds of allergic reactions to almost every drug going through my body. Lymph nodes were clear, so no chemo. And then that changes. My Oncotype DX score comes back a little too high and then, all of a sudden, I am starting 18 weeks of chemo. I start radiation after the fifth chemo. That continues for almost 7 weeks (the hardest part being the 45-60 minute drive to and from the hospital). Teaching Full-Time gets harder and harder but I make it to the end of the semester. Then -- I have a complete hysterectomy on Dec 20 and realize that my body is not invincible. Major problems with even walking for a while. And then one of the most important people in my life dies on Dec 24. To throw another wrench into the mix, an eating disorder that I thought I had conquered years ago comes back, probably because of stress.

So that is why I feel "traumatized." I am not even sure that is the right word. I just know that I find myself having to concentrate really hard to get through each part of my day. Some days are easier than others but I feel like there is a blanket over my head that I can't seem to pull off in order to gulp fresh air.

But I know at least one thing. I need to work on that damn dissertation. And so this week that is exactly what I have been doing. And perhaps that is why I feel like I can finally write something again.

My goal is to be this girl again -- or at least as close as possible: