Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pomp and Circumstance

I've been teaching mostly intro-level courses lately; a combination of departmental needs, the schedule-juggling brought about by widowhood and single parenting, and various other factors. This means that the current graduation ceremonies are relatively free of emotional entanglements for me; I know only a few of the graduates well, and have been surprised, in fact, by the number I don't know at all.

But in a small ceremony to celebrate their graduates, I received an honorary citation from our campus GLBT/etc. community, and got to listen to a lovely speech by a student I've worked with several times. The speech was lovely in part because the student writes well, speaks well, and is in general one of those shy, timid students who just blossoms at a SLAC; it's been a great pleasure to watch this student mature into a quiet "star" on campus. The speech was also lovely because the student said some very, very nice things about my teaching, and in particular the role my matter-of-fact approach to homosexuality played in the student's own coming-out process. Working with texts that present "alternate identities" (I know, I know, alternate to what?) is something very important to me; helping to challenge those normative 1950s values so many of my students bring to college is also a key element of my pedagogy. [So is debunking the whole question of "normal" experience as white and upper-middle class, and challenging assumptions about identity--sexual, racial, cultural--as somehow definitive of one's personhood].

So it was unbelievably gratifying, and humbling, to hear that my work had so much meaning for this one student. I think this is the most important "award" I have ever received for my teaching--or will ever receive.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is it about dentists? (For Snickollet)

It's odd how synchronous my experiences are with Snickollet's, even though I'm "ahead" in the whole widowhood game. Just last week, for example, at the dentist's office:

HYGIENIST: So, are you a married lady? [I kid you not--and she was about my age, which is certainly adult, but not old enough to ask a question in that way. I felt like I was having a conversation with Jimmy Stewart!]

DORCASINA: I'm a widow. My husband passed away [oh god--why can't I just say "died"?] about 18 months ago.

HYGIENIST: I'm so sorry. Do you talk about him?

DORCASINA: All the time.

HYGIENIST: Was it sudden, or could you see it coming?

D: [thinks to self: what difference does that make?] He had cancer.

H: I'm so sorry. What kind?

D: Esophageal.

H: (brightly): Oh. Was he a smoker? (emphasis on the last word, in a sort of "Aha!")

D: Ummmm. No.

---10 minutes later; in the same dental chair---

AVUNCULAR DENTIST: So, I understand you've been visited by tragedy recently...


AD: Was it cancer?

D: Yes. Esophageal cancer.

AD: Oh. Was he a smoker? (as above)

D: [wishing I had the nerve to say it aloud] No. But he did a lot of heroin. And he never wore his seatbelt. And rode a motorcycle without a helmet. And we had lots of unprotected sex. With other people. So yes, if it makes you feel better, it really was his fault. As a non-smoker, clearly you are safe.

Sallie Tisdale has a powerful piece in the most recent Harper's about nursing on a cancer floor, the science of chemotherapy, and the psychology of cancer treatment. If you can bear it, especially if you know someone undergoing cancer treatment, it's required reading. Worth the cover price, and evidently not yet available online, except to subscribers.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Everyone else is doing it... here's a note I only wish I could send:

Dear Obsequious Sorority Girl,

Thank you for the lovely and thoughtful thank you note that you carefully made sure I received before the final exam. It's lovely to know that mine was the best class that you ever took, that you learned more from me than from any other professor on campus, and that you really, really really look forward to taking another class from me soon! And that you want me to have the best! summer! ever! The only thing that might have impressed me even more is if you had not inadvertently put Professor X's note in my envelope, and the identical note to me in hers. Oops!

xes and oes,
Professor Dorcasina

P.S. Your excellent class participation in discussion will indeed be assessed in light of the private conversations you and your "sisters" insisted on having during class while I or someone else was speaking.

(Actually, as much as I enjoy reading the horror stories, I have [knock wood] not had a single grade challenge, request for last-minute extra credit, or demand that I reschedule the final to accommodate some student's snorkeling trip to Dubai. And that one student who, when I asked, "Are there any questions," said, "Can I have an 'A'"--well, he must have been kidding, right? Right?)

Labels: ,