Monday, November 21, 2011

Why You Should Read The Hunger Games!

So I just finished reading the first book in the series centering on heroine Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games. Katniss is the heroine of these young adult novels written by Suzanne Collins (this first book was published in 2008). The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of the current counties making up North America, in a "new" nation known as "Panem." Panem consists of a rich Capitol, located somewhere unknown in the Rocky Mountains, and twelve (formerly thirteen until one is destroyed) surrounding, poorer districts which cater to the Capitol's needs. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol (explaining the destruction of the thirteenth district), every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the "Hunger Games." These games are televised to the people of Panem and the winner is the last person (child) alive.



Yeah ... I know. This doesn't sound exaactly like young adult literature. Or even the type of fiction that I generally like. However, I had heard of The Hunger Games in passing the last few years when I would overhear conversations of students (or even academics) who would claim that Katniss was a much better female character than the popular Bella in the Twilight series (and films). I had actually tried reading the first Twilight book a few years back (on the suggestion of students) but I couldn't get past the first few chapters because (1) I thought the writing was so unedited and awful and (2) I just simply didn't like Bella. But when I was playing around with the Kindle app on my new ipad I downloaded a few free "first chapters" of some current bestsellers and the rest, well, is history. I fell into The Hunger Games and couldn't stop reading. Not only is this novel well-written, but Katniss is likeable and fun! (she sorta reminds me of Salander from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series!)

I suppose one huge reason I liked the novel was the subliminal political message I saw brewing up beneath the surface of this supposedly youth novel (Occupy Wallstreet anyone?). Katniss is "playing" in the Games with Peeta, a boy from her district. It turns out that these two have known each other their whole lives (Peeta has had a long time crush on Katniss) but as you go further in the novel, the reader realizes that the death of either one of these characters would be truly awful (not that the deaths of the other gamers are actually desired either). Why do "the rules" need to be followed anyway? According to the rules of the Game, either Katniss or Peeta must die in order for the other to leave the arena (as they both end up the last two players). At one point a severly injured Peeta attempts to force Katniss to kill him. Katniss doesn't want to do this (and neither does the reader!). Because the Capitol must have a winner from the games to exhibit, Katniss suggests that they both eat poisonous Nightlock berries, and therefore die together. After placing berries in their mouth, they are hastily interrupted by the Games' host and both allowed to live.

However, since Katniss Everdeen has humiliated the Capitol and its rules (Oh no! She questioned authority!), she becomes a political target and inadvertently inspires a rebellion in the districts. She and Peeta make it back to their disctrict by the end of this first book but that is where it ends. As you can imagine, I am absolutely dying to read the next two books (which I will do once we make it to the holiday break in December! -- I have to focus the next month on work and school).

I suppose one could argue that I need to be spending the limited time I already have reading dissertation "stuff" and writing every chance that I get. I think I do sort of do this (though I could be more dedicated I agree) but this novel is the type of reading that I do when I have hit my bed and I am looking for about 30 minutes of good reading before I fall asleep. I didn't think, though, that I was going to be as excited about this novel as I got -- I love Katniss! And I am super excited to discover that there will be a film version of this novel coming out in March 2012 (featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanely Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz!). I am no book critic, but I will encourage anyone looking for a good read to pick up the tale of Katniss Everdeen. If only more of our young women had a role model like this -- a teenager who is confident and knows what she wants! And if only more of our young people (like many of the Occupy Wallstreet protestors!) had such confidence and a willing attitude to change what they don't like!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Evening

So this has been a productive weekend -- for once! Saturday I worked at the Hope Clinic (a super cool place that I volunteer at on Saturday mornings) and then Jim and I spent the day running errands and I worked on grading some papers and doing some paperwork in the late afternoon. I also went through about 40 job applicants (I am on a hiring committee).

This morning I was up super early to run the Jingle Bell 5K over at Harrah's Casino (it was a fundraiser for arthritis and all of us folks who are on the Fleet Feet Racing Team showed up! I probably don't need to tell folks in the St Louis area that it was so cold this morning! Luckily, the great folks at Fleet Feet had some hot chocolate out and that helped me stay warm until the horn went off signaling the beginning of the race! The course was fairly flat (except for one gravel hill at the start and the beginning). It took about a mile for me to feel my fingers (did I mention it was cold?) but I felt pretty strong for the first two miles. I was honestly shocked. I am getting so used to feeling winded right away that I was sure how to respond to feeling strong (and speeding up even!). After the two mile mark, I sped up even more and that is when I first started to feel that I was racing but it wasn't until about 2.80 miles that I started to "really" feel it. I struggled up that little hill and then the finish line was there! My time was 30:03, just shy of the 30 minutes that I started hoping for as soon as I realized my legs were feeling pretty good. My PR is just under 24 minutes but since my more recent 5K times have all been around 35 minutes (with lots of pain), I was feeling great about this run!

And then I did it again tonight! I am in the middle of doing a bunch of indoor triathlons at the St Peter's Rec Plex and tonight was #2 (the first was two weeks ago). My pal Melissa is doing the series with me so I am realizing how much more fun it is to do something like this with a friend (more pressure to actually show up and do it in the first place!). Last time I had a total time of 1:13-ish (300 yards in the pool, 10 miles on the bike, and then 3 miles on the treadmill). Just like this morning, I felt pretty darn good. The swim was a tad bit faster (thanks to my ongoing swimming lessons on Monday nights), the bike was much faster (I had gotten dizzy last time and had to slow down), and I just kicked ass on the treadmill (29:25, a wee bit faster than this morning's run!). My final time was exactly 1:03:00 -- yeah! Both Melissa and I beat our previous times so now we will have to work just as hard to beat our times for the next on (on December 11). I wish I knew why today was such an amazing racing day for me when so many of the other days the past few months have been crap. Dare I hope that my body is FINALLY bouncing back?

I still have about 13-14 Annotated Bibliographies to look at (I HAVE to make sure my students get these back in the morning) but ... this will be a short week! We teach on Monday and Tuesday but then we have the rest of the week off. I am not sure why, but I need a break for a few days. There are some articles that I need to get to for the dissertation and then I need to jump more fully into my coding (the next big step for my dissertation).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Decision

So a decision has been made. I spent a good week going back and forth about the job at St Martin's .... but I have decided NOT to apply for the job. It really came down to my friends and former life in Washington vs. the wonderful life that I have here in St Louis (and isn't it sort of a coincidence that both places have a "saint" in them?!). Partly the decision was about money but there was a big part of me dedicated to the community college system and even though I would have loved teaching at St Martin's (a dream I have held for most of my adult life), I think my life has been taken over by the fabulous community college students who have impacted my life in such life-changing ways. Though I never saw myself as "settling" in the mid-west, I think it might be a little too late for that. I have a great job here, along with great friends and colleagues. And I love the history of St Louis, as well as the downtown center of the city (where I live!).

So after struggling with this decision for over a week, was all this energy for nothing? Well, as many folks might say, I learned something from this minor dilemma (apply or not?). First, I know now that I want to actively seek opportunities to be more active in any department that I would ever teach in (as well as in my current position). I have tried so hard to be the best FYC teacher that I can be but I don't think until recently that I recognized a desire to go beyond that -- I know now that I want to help in building an effective first year composition program. I am not sure if this means necessarily being a "leader" in the traditional sense but I want to do something outside of the classroom. And that is really the only quality of my present job that I struggle with (being located outside the "main" campus where I have to make a huge physical effort to get more involved -- and we know that gas prices are getting crazy!). But the actual job itself -- teaching FYC and literature -- that part I love, love, love. I keep wondering now if pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership wouldn't have been a better idea but I love my work in Rhetoric/ Composition and I know for a fact that I wouldn't be the teacher I am today without my work at SIU (and my idol Dr McClure!).

So here's a plan -- keep working 250% at my job and seek opportunities within the college to play a more active role in shaping the way writing is taught. I have no idea how that will happen. I have often said that I want to be "Howard Tinberg in a dress" so as I finish my own PhD, I need to step up to the plate. (Tinberg is "the most awesomest" composition scholar ever! Here is a link to an article about him: http://mccc-union.org/FACTS/Tinberg/howard_tinberg.html) Somehow I need to devise new strategies to help our students graduate so we can improve the statistic that nearly 2/3 of community college students won't graduate (as discussed in the recent PBS film, Discounted Dreams -- see video below).


If I were to take a position at a four year school -- even an absolutely fabulous one like St Martin's -- I would not be working toward this goal which has ever so slowly become my, I guess you could say, my new dream.

But so I miss home? Absolutely. The seemingly never-ending humidity and the crazy St Louis weather (hot one day, freezing the next) always make me think longingly of our mild Washington weather. Food-wise, I can't seem to embrace the toasted ravioli and the Gooey Butter Cake -- two specialties of St Louis -- but I love St Louis style doughnuts and there is small chocolate shop down the block that makes homemade Hot Chocolate that a person would kill for. I love our neighborhood and the fact that I can walk to yummy restaurants and services like the post office, my doctor, the cleaners, or even Macy's. My students are some of the most wonderful souls that you would ever meet -- genuine academics who seek more knowledge and more life opportunities. And I have some kick ass friends here.

And a bunch back home too. Which is why I need to come "home" more often! I don't know if cancer has made me look at life differently (that seems like the biggest cliche ever!) but I know that I want to make a difference in whatever time I have left on this planet and I think I will be making that difference here in the St Louis area. Part of this plan also means not taking my friends for granted. I love you all and want to see everyone as much as possible. So I suspect that I will be out to Aberdeen in 2012 (Eleanor and Diane -- we have a lot of catching up to do!) and I need to get my full of Greg and Martha/ Tanya/ my second mother Mary and my little sister Amy/ Cheryl and her family/ and everyone else who I miss and admire!

Thanks to anyone reading this. I guess I truly needed this space to figure out what I was thinking ......

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Do I Even Apply?

So how in the heck does time keep flying by so fast?!?! The last time I checked it was the end of October, beginning of November and now here we are nearly at Veteran's Day. Yikes. (and it doesn't help that I am already starting to hear Christmas music!)

I desperately need to write today because I am having a bit of a dilemma. I am thinking about applying for an English position at St Martin's University in Lacey, WA. For those who don't know, I graduated from this fabulous college (back when it was St Martin's College!) in 1991. I have always said that my dream job would be teaching at St Martin's alongside my fabulous mentors and friends Les and Mary. Mary is about to retire and Les, well .... he passed away last December and I don't think I am exactly "over" that even now. Would I still want to be there teaching if these folks aren't there? Are the dreams you have at one point in your life the same dreams that you now have? I don't know if I can answer that (and by hesitating, does that mean that I don't really want this job?).



I like lists so here is a pro/con (to make it simple and didactic!):

Pro:

* I would get to move home (the Pacific Northwest).
* I would get to hang out with cool friends that I never get to see
* I would be teaching students that I would get to interact with for longer than the short amount of time that I do now (since our students transfer to a four year school just when we start having fun!)
* It's a 4/4 load so that is one less class than I am teaching now per semester
* I might have the chance to play an active role in helping to shape a writing program (I didn't notice any rhet/comp folks in the faculty listings)
* Getting a job offer would mean making sure that I finish my dissertation this summer

Cons:

* The deadline for the job application is coming up soon -- I would need three letters of recc. by Nov 21 (just over a week away!) Who would be willing to do this?! Do I let my Dean know?
* My dissertation is not finished. But the job opening does say needed "at time of appointment." So perhaps I would need to have it done sooner to be considered since I am guessing that the appointment would come sometime in the Spring Semester?
* Money -- I am pretty sure I would be taking a pay cut. I would also lose out on a PhD bonus at my school.
* More money -- I suspect the standard of living is going to be higher in WA than where we live now (MO)
* Jim would need to leave his family and the only area he has ever lived -- would his family hate me for "making" him move with me?
* We would have to either sell our wonderful loft or rent it (and that would mean living in a house since the Olympia, WA, area doesn't have the skyline for lofts).
* Logistically, this could be a tough move since we would probably have to do it ourselves.
* What about all my great and fabulous friends here?
* If offered an interview -- these are being done at MLA in Seattle (Late Dec) -- I would need to pay for a plane ticket and hotel costs.
* If offered a position, I don't know 100% how stable SMU is -- I am assuming my job here at SWIC is pretty stable since I am tenured.
* Which means I would have to go through the tenure process again

Questions to ask at a possible interview (and there is no guarantee that I would even get one anyway):

* What is the pay scale?
* How exactly is FYC organized at SMU?
* How active a role can I play in shaping FYC at SMU?
* Is publishing a requirement for every year of teaching?
* How does the tenure process work?
* How much does plain good teaching count?

Given the committee's responses to these questions, would I fit it? Would this be a place that I would enjoy teaching at? I want to be happy. I don't just want to jump ship at SWIC because this job position has been a "dream" for so long. Do I even still want this "dream"? Do I want to teach what I think are primarily traditionally aged students instead of the great diversity I have here in the two-year college system?

I am not the best teacher in the world but I think I am pretty darn okay. I work super hard at what I do and spend lots of time, energy, and even money preparing courses, discussions, activities, and assignments. I would love to have the opportunity to do this for a college that gave me so much when I needed it as a confused, knowledge-thirsty young adult.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How in the World is it November?

OK, I am not dead. But sometimes I feel like it! This has been a crazy semester -- and when I mean "crazy," I mean "crazy!" The last few weeks have been so hectic that I am pretty tired by about 9 PM and pretty much head to bed, read a little, and then fall asleep! (and for the record, I am reading the BEST novel right now in my "spare time" before falling sleep -- Aravind Adiga's new novel, Last Man in Tower -- he wrote the amazing White Tiger a few years back -- if you haven't read an Indian novel, this is the one to try first! Amazing!). I've been submerged in paper grading with all of my classes that I haven't even had time to focus on my post-prospectus meeting notes and work (I passed earlier this month!). Somehow I need to manage my time better. Seriously. And -- to make matters worse -- not blogging is getting me out of the habit of writing everyday and I need to change that behavior. So here it is -- November 1st and I am committing to getting back at least a little bit of my life so I can write!

Quick Athletic Note: On October 23, I ran the St Louis Rock'n'Roll Marathon and can say that I am pretty sure that I completely recovered now! It wasn't a smart idea to run a marathon with little training but, oh well, when have I ever done the smart thing?! The race was great -- lots of rolling hills (just like St Louis, of course!) but the weather was perfect and the organization of the race was fantastic. I loved the people who came out to watch the race -- and the Sports Expo was great (it's quite possible that I spent a teeny weeny too much money there!) I loved the course (way better than the St Louis Marathon held in the Spring). My time was slow (for me) -- 5:33:15. I wish I could have gone a little faster but I told myself that I would be happy with anything under 6 hours so there you go -- I am happy!

I have a bunch of indoor triathlons coming up -- I need to keep practicing, especially at the St Peter's Rec Plex (because their Olympic size pool scares the crap out of me!). I am hoping to do my first open water tri sometime next year! It will be the swimming which will get me -- water still scares me a bit!

I have another goal to take on this month as well. About 6 weeks ago, Jim and I decided to sign on with a cooperative farming sort of a thing in which we get a weekly delivery of organic fruits and veggies once a week (on Tuesdays). So far, we have used maybe 50% of what they have sent to us (they deliver it right to our front door, by the way!). I hate that we are wasting food but it's so hard to cook when I am not home a lot. But we both need to eat "better" so my new goal is to make sure that we try and use as much as the food that comes in our box as possible. So here goes Week #1. Today, here is what came in our "small" box of organic vegetables and fruits:

1 package of whole mushrooms
1 bunch of bananas
1 red pepper
1 small head of butter lettuce
1 red onion
4 yellow pears
1 package of carrots
1 red tomato
1 avocado
2 oranges
2 apples


So I guess the first thing I need to think about is what do I make with this stuff? We still have some apples and pears left from last week so I am thinking of doing some sort of apple/ pear crisp later this evening. I will probably use the lettuce and the tomato for a salad to bring to work tomorrow (long day since I also teach a night class).

We are more than halfway through this Fall semester and I am looking forward to having some time at the end (around the holidays) to work a bit harder on my dissertation. It is truly hard to work on this while I juggle teaching FT, grading a zillion papers, cleaning our place and keeping it decent, and trying to exercise a bit so I don't go crazy! I know people have done this before but geeze! How do they do it!?