Open Letter to the Construction Team Outside my Office

Dear Construction Team,
I would like to thank you for being here bright and early on a Monday morning to help me out.  Thanks for bringing your drills, hammers, and jackhammers and creating suck an unbealievably awesomely loud racket just five feet outside my office door.  You’ve not only managed to keep me wide fucking awake on this grey and rainy morning but you’ve also managed to distract me from the essays I’m supposed to be reading.
I’d also like to commend you for managing to bring in not one employee but five – FIVE EMPLOYEES – to stand around the giant hole in the wall and chat.  In These Tough Economic Times I would expect you to be downsizing.  After all, who can really afford extra workmen these days? But you guys are willing to go the extra mile no matter the cost, no matter the inefficiency.
Construction Team, here’s to you!
Ear-ringingly yours,
Dr. Vague

Dear Construction Team,

I would like to thank you for being here bright and early on a Monday morning to help me out.  Thanks for bringing your drills, hammers, and jackhammers and creating such an unbealievably awesomely loud racket just five feet outside my office door.  You’ve not only managed to keep me wide fucking awake on this grey and rainy morning but you’ve also managed to distract me from the essays I’m supposed to be reading.

I’d also like to commend you for managing to bring in not one employee but five – FIVE EMPLOYEES – to stand around the giant hole in the wall and chat.  In These Tough Economic Times I would expect you to be downsizing.  After all, who can really afford extra workmen these days? But you guys are willing to go the extra mile no matter the cost, no matter the inefficiency.

Construction Team, here’s to you!

Ear-ringingly yours,

Dr. Vague

Open Letter to a Bag of Discount Spinach

Dear Bag of Discount Spinach,

When I saw you in the produce section, neon yellow tag proclaiming that you were a rare and sought-after 99-cent manager’s special, I snatched you from the cooler with a quickness.  As I held you up to the light, inspecting your slightly wilted leaves, I looked upon you with the eyes of a hopeful lover.

I saw the good in you; I saw the fresh, beautiful, dark green leaves hiding among the wilted and slimy ones.  I saw your flaws, but with the naïveté I’ve often been known to exhibit, I thought I could change you. I thought I could save you.

Fine, I’ll admit I then forgot about you for a few days and I’m sorry for that.  Those nights spent alone and neglected in the depths of my crisper drawer must have been hellish. You must have felt so lost and alone as I passed over you time and time again in search of other foods.  But when I remembered you again, Discount Spinach, I tried! I really tried to make up for my neglect.

We spent so much time together then, you and I. Tonight, my arms sunk within your verdant depths, I sought out only the best in you.  I carefully extracted each leaf from within your plastic cloak, painstakingly separating the soggy scraps of rotten leaves from the healthy ones. When I had finished exploring every inch of you,  I observed with great sadness that only a fraction of your former glory remained. The bad leaves outnumbered the good; you had succumbed to a cold and lonely demise.

Was the money I saved by buying a huge bag of discount spinach worth the pain? Not only the pain I caused you, but (let’s face it, more importantly) the pain I suffered by having rotten spinach leaves clinging to my arms during the lengthy salvage mission I was forced to undertake? No. No it wasn’t.

Yours in Iron and Calcium,  but not in Decomposition,

AV

I am the Grand Marshal of the Lazy Parade.

I’ve been away from the blog for a while lately due to the frenzy of final exam grading and then the intense pleasure I found thereafter in doing absolutely fuck all. Bits of interest that you missed included but were not limited to:

1. A student whom I hadn’t seen since February came by my office to drop off every assignment from the whole semester. Along with his essays he had what turned out to be a forged doctor’s note claiming he’d been absent all semester due to his being incapacitated by the insidious and often overlooked disease of “monomuconusis.” No, that is not even a word. Nice.

2. The student I asked for your advice in dealing with — remember him? He kind-of-sort-of plagiarized his final exam essay. Nice, right? Nice.

3. Another student thought it would somehow be acceptable to send me her final exam essay four days after the exam date and two days after semester grades were completely finalized in the system. Nice, right? Nice.

Nonetheless, the summer is off to a great start. All of that bullshit is over with and I am enjoying my time off before teaching starts again. As it turns out, I have less time off than planned. I was going to be completely footloose and fancy-free until July, but I’ve been asked to teach an additional class in June.

I’m actually quite pleased about this and not just due to the extra money I’ll be making. I’ll leave out the specifics, but it’s a good program and something I’m happy to be involved in. It will also be just a bit different from my usual courses, so I’ll have the freedom to try out a few new strategies and ideas. All in all I’m very glad to have been chosen for it.

Before all that begins, though, I’ll have a brief trip to The Big City, where I’m finally going to get myself a chest of drawers for the bedroom and a better shelving system for my growing DVD collection. My clothes will be so happy to be freed from the Rubbermaid boxes they currently live in and be housed in actual furniture, I tell you what. I’m heading to IKEA on Tuesday and I’m still mulling over the exact pieces I want to bring home, but that’s really nothing to complain about. I love their website. Looking at all that sleek, clean-lined, efficient Scandinavian furniture soothes the savage beast within me.

Next on my exciting list of summer activities is the Decemberists trip! OH YES INDEED! My friends Clarabella and Philly are coming to visit, and we’ll be heading back to The Big City with Golightly and another friend to see The Decemberists! We all love love love that band and I think it’ll be the first time seeing them play for each of us. Very excited (if you can’t tell).

After that I have a trip out to California to see my extended family and pay respects to my Grandma, who passed away pack in March. While we’ll all be grieving a bit, my Grandma had a very long, busy, and happy life, so I think we’ll mostly be celebrating her and the trip won’t be too awfully sad. It will be exciting to see all the far-flung members of my family, some of whom I haven’t seen in over 10 years. When I get back from that trip it’ll be straight back into the classroom. WHEW.

As you can imagine, with this busy schedule coming up, I have been feeling the need to be as lazy and self-indulgent as humanly possible. The last week has faded into an endless stream of reading, TV, movies, and lounging only occasionally punctuated by rounds of the 30-Day Shred (I mean I can’t be fully and correctly lazy if that laziness isn’t tinged with fear for the next time Jillian Michaels will yell “AND NOW! SQUATS AND OVERHEAD PRESSES FOLLOWED BY PUSH-UPS!” – that lady can be terrifying).

I think tonight should be the last day of the lazy parade, though, as I have a million things to do this weekend, like purge my closet in preparation for the new dresser, neaten up the house, do laundry, and plan for the upcoming courses I’ll teach. I shall now conveniently forget that list of to-dos until tomorrow morning, however, because I have tofu a-marinatin’, whiskey a-chillin’, and my Caprica DVD a-waitin’ to be unwrapped. Happy weekend to all of you!

How Should I Deal with This Annoying Student?

So I have this kid coming to my office today to “talk about a few things.”  Because I am psychic (and because I have dealt with him all semester), I already know that he wants to talk to me to either complain about a grade or ask how to get a higher grade.

I don’t really know what to tell him about this.  The dude already makes B’s and some B-plusses, and I just don’t see him doing any better than that.  He’s fine on getting the assignments done in an adequate-to-good-ish fashion and meeting all the various requirements, but his writing style is in the not-so-good space between confusing and boring.  There are word-choice errors and syntax problems that aren’t such big deals, but they render the writing a bit confusing.  But then, I don’t feel like really trying to resolve my confusion because the material is so dry that I cease to care.

I can’t really tell him this, though, can I?  I mean, boring writing is a problem A LOT of my students have exhibited over the years, and I have never come up with a diplomatic but effective way to discuss it with them.  I usually settle on “make every word count.” Not so helpful, right?

Other things to note: This is a guy who asked for (and received) a one-day extension on his last essay.  I don’t mind granting these when someone is either sick for a long time or has a pile-up of assignments from other classes.  I usually only do it once per student per semester, and only if they ask.  However: I am already a little  peeved with him because he is always checking his math homework in the beginning of my class and I have to ask him to put it away every day.  Like, he’s already prioritizing other classes over mine before he even asks for an extension so he can get his other class’s paper done.  He really doesn’t deserve sympathy at all.  But I doubt he’ll bring up these issues in our meeting, and I’m wondering if I should even bother.

Maybe my advice on how to make a better grade should not focus on making his writing less boring, but rather on asking him to pay better fucking attention in my class and put the fucking math homework away.  Maybe I should just punch him in the neck.  What say you?

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UPDATE: My drop-in hours for today are ending in seven minutes and Dude has not shown up yet. He still could show up to my hours Wednesday (I told him either/or would be fine but he said he’d show up today) but at this point I am FED. UP.

Open Letter to the Boys in the Back

Dear boys –  my dear, dear boys,

I’m not sure how to begin this letter.  I still feel that there’s so much I don’t know about you.  For starters, I don’t really even know what your faces look like.  For the first eight or so weeks of class, I had two of you mixed up.  In my defense, those two of you are both of medium height, medium build, and have medium brown hair.  More than that, though, it’s the fucking hats.  They cover at least 60% of your face when you wear them like that, you know?

I’m sure you do know, actually.  I’m sure that’s why you wear them that way.  You don’t want to be here and the pain and torture of having to even look in the general direction of me or your fellow students is too much to bear.  And eye contact — the thought of that must send shudders to the deepest places in your souls, if in fact you have souls.

It would normally be enough to make me feel deeply sad.  You’re all (well, most of you) clever boys and you could do really interesting things in this class.  You’re perceptive and witty — I notice all this, see, when I hear you talking about your weekend plans, your moms, or any number of other off-topic things.

But you seem not to care what you could accomplish here, with my help and your own commitment to the class, so you shield yourselves with the hats, carefully coordinating the camouflage prints on them with those on your hunting jackets and the mud on your boots, and, in a move that belies your countrified senses of fashion, you pull out your cell phones subtly (not subtly enough) under the desk and txt away furiously during class.

You know you’re not supposed to — hence, I’m sure, the covert behavior and sneaky, slump-shouldered posture — so why look so shocked and appalled when I ask you to put the phone away?  Why — when at this moment you finally deign to look toward the front of the room — fix me with such a murderous glare?

Like I said, we really don’t know each other that well, so I have to ask.  I only know the few facts I have managed to gather via my awesome powers of detection (and the fact that I once overheard a relatively lengthy portion of the conversation one of you had with your mother when she called during our workshop and you actually answered the phone and proceeded to speak to her during class, during fucking class).  Are you a bunch of violent criminals, embittered by your years spent “on the inside” who view your liberal arts classes as a further extension of the long arm of The Man?  Is it just that your parents forcing you to go to college, threatening you with taking away your huge trucks?

I’d just like to know, see, so that next time one of you sends those daggers of ill will out of your otherwise hidden eyes, I will know whether to run and hide or just nail you to the wall with my words. Because I am done trying.

Love and kisses,

The Name’s Not Ms.

open letter to my twenties

Dear Twenties,

As I am sure you know, the time has come for us to part company.  It’s been a long, lovely ride, but this is my stop and I am getting off.  Goodbye to you, suckas!

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of things about you that were truly good:  I gave up vegetarianism, for one, and every piece of bacon I now eat tastes just that much more delicious for its long absence.  I was For Real In Love for the first time, which was also a pretty amazing thing.  In retrospect, however, I’d have to say that my relationship with bacon has worked out much better for everyone involved. Except the pigs, of course.

In my twenties I think I also got the friendship thing right:  I managed to keep the really important friendships and ditch the toxic ones.  Learning to recognize the toxic ones alone was a major accomplishment.  For some reason, it took me a while to figure out that if someone’s basic function in your life is to make you feel shitty about yourself, then that person is not a friend.  An ingenious insight, I know.

On the other hand, a lot about you straight up blew, Twenties.  The long-nourished infatuations with people who didn’t love me back (so much wasted time!), the exchange of running for sitting at a desk or on a couch, the mounting student loan and credit card debt — those are fun little mistakes I plan never to repeat.

I hate to tell you Twenties, but I think the Thirties are going to kick your ass up one side and down the other.  I’m no longer a student now, for the first time since before kindergarten.  I have a terminal degree and a real adult job and a dog.  I am at the beginning of my real life now, looking forward to establishing myself professionally and starting to earn a Serious Adult Salary (soon, we hope, right?).

The friendships keep getting better and better and I’m sure the relationships will, too, now that I know what I want out of them.  One lesson learned, relationship-wise, for example: It is not okay if your boyfriend thinks that sitting on his couch smoking pot while you watch him play Nintendo is a fun date activity.  Not okay.

Twenties, I bid you a bittersweet adieu.  I’d love to stay and chat some more, but I have a mission.  I am off to meet the Thirties and together we are going to step out and kick some serious ass. Sorry, Twenties, but it’s over.

Really, finally over,

Vague

memo from the desk of not impressing

If you are wondering, as many are, how to create a strong first impression when you make contact with the instructor who will be teaching one of your courses, you might be interested in the following tutorial. 

Email is always the right option: it’s sleek and elegant, and a subtly nuanced mode of communicating.  You are going to want to make sure your instructor is able to really see your personality and to connect with you as an individual.  For that reason, try to write the way you speak, or, better yet, tha wa u txt.  Capitalization, spelling, and punctuation are but brittle fossils of yesteryear, so don’t follow tradition in this instance: just fire away!

First, you’ll want to address the email to the instructor.  Now once again, we at the desk of Not Impressing must stress that you avoid outdated modes of address, such as "Dear Professor Lastname."  Seriously bo-ring! In fact, why bother looking up the person’s name or rank?  Quick communication is a must; there’s simply no time for research.  Just address yourself to "Proffessor"  (remember, spell-check is so Windows 95).

Then, state your case baldly and with no attention to style, manners, or artifice.  Who wants some kind of pro forma politeness when trying Not To Impress?  Here is an example of what we’re talking about:

I was interested in taking this class in the spring and i was wondering if u had a previous syllabus. Also i would appreciate it if you could tell me the course load (assignments) that are required in this course. honestly, i’m really looking for a lighter load because it’s my last term. It’s greatly appreciated.

Witness how this writer has made only sporadic use of the shift key, leaving the first person pronoun in lower case much of the time and even neglecting to capitalize the first words of some sentences.  What a breezy air it gives! How the prose sparkles on the page!  Don’t you feel refreshed?  Note as well that the writer prefaces the penultimate sentence with "honestly," then proceeds to state that she is looking for an easy grade.  Some might wish to hide this information, preferring to suggest a certain diligence or passion in the subject matter.  Not here, oh no.  The confessional tone followed by an admission of laxity provides an endearing element that would otherwise be lacking.  Now the professor in question will not only be inspired to offer her the information (and the lighter load) she seeks, but will also likely wish to become her friend.  The writer has thus set herself up to have both an easy A and some special treatment throughout the term.  Brilliant.

Finally, an appropriate closing will be required.  Forget closing greetings such as the stale, fussy "sincerely."  The professor already knows how sincere you are, right?  Maybe you’re thinking of signing off with an expression of thanks, such as "thanks," but that should be avoided as well.  Instead, simply type your name immediately after the final sentence of the body of the email.  Who needs their name on a special little line all by itself?  Not you, friend!

If you have followed these instructions, you will have created a winning email:  it will be quick and casual, just like you!  It will evoke feelings of comradeship and sympathy in your instructor, while simultaneously not risking creating an impression of intelligence or diligence.  You wouldn’t want expectations of you to be too high, now, would you?   Of course not.  Stay right there in the middle, just where you belong.