Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Reentry: A Conversation

Apologies for the prolonged blog silence, kids. As you know, my typist returned to the classroom last week after a year's leave from teaching and administration, thus completing the transition from Moose on the Loose to Moose Back on a Very Short Leash. After a week of typing syllabi and welcome-back messages and e-mails aimed at charming colleagues into doing this, that, or the other thing, Moose finally agreed to sit down with, um, the Spirit of Roxie's World (SRW) for a Labor Day chat about how her reentry was going. We'll illustrate the conversation with a series of hilarious images (all picked up here) of an emergency reentry vehicle designed by General Electric in the early 1960s to bring an astronaut down from earth orbit to the planet's surface. The vehicle, which, alas, was never actually built, was conveniently known as MOOSE, Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment. Which means, of course, that its appearance on this humble blog was inevitable.

SRW: So, Moose, busy week. How's the reentry going?

Moose: So far, so bueno, but I'm here to tell you that life off leave is nothing like life on leave!

SRW: Fascinating, Moose. Could you elaborate for our readers?

Moose: Well, for one thing it involves a lot more talking -- to other people! -- and listening, lots and lots of listening. Oh, and clothing. Every single day. Clothing that fits and looks presentable and everything. It's going to take a while to get used to having to get dressed before 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

SRW: Now, Moose, aren't you exaggerating slightly?

Moose: Maybe a little, but, hey, I don't have a dog to walk anymore. That always got me out and about, gave me a sense of order and purpose, you know. I read a couple of stories this week about the trapped Chilean miners, about how important psychologists say it is for them to maintain a routine in order to keep from going all Lord of the Flies. I think it's possible I fell down a little in that department in the last few months of my leave, without, I hasten to say, killing anyone or even stealing their glasses.

SRW: Ah ha! Are you saying that it's good to be back on campus and to have more structure to your time again?

Moose: I'm saying it isn't all bad by any stretch of the imagination. I have a great appreciation for the value of time spent off and away from the clock. Even though it's important to get stuff done in order to justify one's time "off" -- to have something to show for it, as we say -- one of the best things about leaves and sabbaticals is that they open up space for moments of non-doing, which, as I have said before, are as necessary to one's creativity and learning as doing is. I firmly believe that daydreaming and other mental activities that don't appear to be productive can free up our minds in ways that will eventually help to advance our projects. Sometimes looking away is the best way to see something more clearly. (I note with interest, for example, a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on academics who find that running increases mental acuity and helps with professional problem-solving.)

On the other hand, after spending a year mostly in a quiet, fairly unstructured time/space, I have to admit it feels good to step out into the daylight, as it were, and into a different energy. (Yes, I am thinking about those miners again, empathizing with their confinement to a dark, underground world, imagining their eventual [we hope!] return to life above ground.) There were moments last week when I really did feel that I was mentally blinking as I tried to adjust to a brighter, louder, more fast-paced world, but I also enjoyed it. Right away I felt my own pace quicken a bit and my reactions get a little sharper. I didn't miss a beat, for example, when my dean asked me at a meeting early in the week to take on a significant new service obligation. I agreed to do it -- in exchange for funding for a small but important initiative in my office. I think I even had the audacity to use the phrase quid pro quo as I was making my demand. Oh, yeah, I thought as I left the meeting, Moose is back on the leash -- and back in the game!

SRW: You're also back in the classroom. How does that feel?

Moose: Great, of course. Teaching really is like riding a bicycle. You don't forget how to do it and it can be a whole lot of fun. In this case, I have the added thrill of feeling like I am riding a shiny new bike, since the course I am teaching is brand new and the method of teaching it -- a writing workshop, really -- is so different from what I do in the lit or theory courses I usually teach. Plus, the course doesn't fulfill a single requirement for any degree program on campus, which means the students are taking it not because they have to but because they want to! That is like an academic hot fudge sundae with an extra dollop of awesome sauce on top!

SRW: So, how's it going?


SRW: Moose? I asked how the blogging class is going.

Moose:  Oh, fine. I just don't know how to talk about it yet, at least not here. I know people want me to, and I appreciate the interest. I just haven't figured out how to do that without feeling, I don't know, a certain boundary weirdness or perhaps some potential role conflict. In teaching this class, I have put blogging at the center of my public, professional life, and yet this place -- this quirky little corner of the blogosphere that has been a source of so much delight and fascination for me in the past four and a half years -- still stands in ambiguous and at times tense relation to my so-called real work. If I blog about the class here, I run the risk of making students who stop in for a visit think I am using them and the work we are doing together as blog fodder. If I don't blog about the class, I feel slightly disingenuous exhorting my students to embrace the challenge of what Richard E. Miller and Paul Hammond of Rutgers describe as "learning in public," which they see as the condition and the opportunity of thinking and writing in a network-centric world. I wholeheartedly agree with their position -- which is why their "This Is How We Think" presentation was one of the first texts assigned in my course. At the same time, the idea of going fully public with my teaching feels alien and slightly terrifying to me, as I imagine it would for most of my peers in colleges and universities. Oh, sure, the Interwebs are full of English profs, some from pretty fancy schools, doing their professing in front of the camera for all the world to see, but most of us were trained to think of teaching as an intensely private matter. You did it, but you didn't talk about it, and it wasn't polite to ask others how they did it. Weird, I know, and it's wonderful that attitudes and practices have shifted on campuses in recent years. Still, I've got some stuff to work through as I make my way across a new pedagogical terrain. I hope our readers will bear with me.

SRW: Sure they will, Moose. We're all here to assure your reentry is a smooth one. Think of Roxie's World as the multi-colored parachute automatically deployed to drop you gently and safely back to earth. Just stop in and type every now and again, OK? We miss you around here!

Moose: Oh, you know I will, Rox. I couldn't live without the work I do here. It's too much fun.

SRW: Alrighty then. There you have it, my pretties. The Moose has landed, and all is well in Roxie's World. Here's hoping all your landings are soft, all your students are brilliant, and all your deans are amenable to the making of mutually beneficial deals. Peace out.


  1. Howz aboute you tell your students that you are considering blogging here aboute your blogging course, and ask them whatte they thinke?

  2. I wonder how people can assume that we don't obsess about teaching, doing it well or even better than that! as well as all the other hats we wear. I was sorry to see this in my email this am:

    Weekly Briefing -- Chronicle of Higher Education
    Tuesday September 07, 2010

    This Week's Highlights

    Why Teaching Is Not Job No. 1
    By Robin Wilson
    Efforts to assess learning often fail because there's little incentive for faculty members to be better teachers.
    Audio: Do Professors Pay Enough Attention to Whether Students Are Learning?

    yes we do! We care! how could you possible assume otherwise?

    here's to great teachers who are recognized for caring -- that is to say -- virtually ALL of us!!!

    To the new year! Katie

  3. Yes, teaching is central and crucial to our work. . .teaching is research just as research is teaching (as our friend Cathy D. wrote a few weeks back), and this interview shows that well. Welcome back, Moose!

    Always yours,

  4. Anonymous2:56 PM EDT

    I do understand about not wanting to blog about the class on this here blog. I'm just so curious about how it goes. I like Comrade's idea of having the students blog about the class.

    Enjoy the class, Moose! Have a blast!

  5. Anonymous2:58 PM EDT

    One more thing: I vaguely remember Roxie mentioning an article about feminism and blogging that is coming out soon? Is that out yet?

    PS: Really, I just wish I could TAKE that class!

  6. I like Comrade's idea of having the students blog about the class.

    That was not what I suggested.

  7. True, CPP, but it's still a good idea -- The students will blog as part of the course on a course blog, the address of which shall be shared in due time. It's not quite ready for its debut yet. As for what you actually DID suggest, CPP (i.e., asking students how they would feel about Moose blogging about the course here), that is also a good idea. Perhaps she will do that.

    Oh, and AnnieEm: The article will be in the winter 2011 issue of The Journal of Women's History, which has to be a world record for speed in the production of a scholarly journal in the humanities. Credit Tenured Radical and the crack team of editors at JWH.

  8. The students will blog as part of the course on a course blog, the address of which shall be shared in due time.

    Don't forget to schedule my guest lecture!!!!

  9. GlassPen8:44 AM EDT

    can't imagine how your blogging course failed to make this list.

  10. @CPP: You bet, my friend. We're just trying to fit the special unit Anglo-Saxon vernacularisms onto the syllabus. We'll be in touch.

    @GlassPen: What can I say? No respect. Hard to believe they are not following America's best darn dead dog blog over there at the Daily Beast!

  11. Anonymous12:51 PM EDT

    Sorry for misreading you, Comrade. Clearly I'm losing any multitasking skill I used to have...

  12. Roxie, my agent will be in contact regarding the honorarium and a few other minor details.


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